iOS Developer Sustainability and the End User


Jan 24, 2012
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by PD. Devins

Over the last couple of months I have been interested in the topic brought up by Rene Ritchie, iMore Editor-in-Chief, Seth Clifford, of Iterate, and David Barnard, of App Cubby. Namely, iOS Developer Sustainability. David Barnard sums it up best:

Given the incredible progress and innovation we?ve seen in mobile apps over the past few years, I?m not sure we?re any worse off at a macro-economic level, but things have definitely changed and Sparrow is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The age of selling software to users at a fixed, one-time price is coming to an end. It?s just not sustainable at the absurdly low prices users have come to expect.

My interest was piqued first on iMore's iPhone and iPad Live #297 when Rene, Georgia, Seth and David brought up the topic of "too cheap apps". Summarily, they built upon the idea that, until iOS (and many other more contemporary mobile platforms like Android), software was priced more reasonably considering the amount of effort, time, and technical skill that is involved in creating said software. And how right they are. Previously, on a PC, solid productivity software would cost you upwards of $50 depending on the company that produced it, extra features, and a host of other minor factors. For example, the Student Edition of Microsoft Office (including only Word, Excel, and Power Point) costs $125 plus tax. That equates to about $42 per piece of software. And you don't even get a CD.

I am currently writing this article in Pages for iPhone and iPad on the new iPad. It is a universal app, produced by Apple, and only cost me $9.99, no tax. It performs all the major functions for which I use Word, and has a similar level of quality and polish. Why the disparity in price, then? Exactly what Rene, Seth, and David dial into when they spoke of this topic on the iMore podcast #297: unrealistic pricing expectations from the End User. Expectations set and perpetuated by Apple through the App Store pricing structure.

The quote above by the respected David Barnard, of App Cubby fame, lays the proverbial cards on the table, from a developer's stand-point. I am not a developer, so I will bow to the sentiments put forward by Rene, Seth, and David. I am a consumer, however, and I believe there is another side to this story that needs to be considered. Namely, what I like to call "app fraud". In this I do not mean the many apps on the App Store that claim to be something that they are not, although that does add into the overall effect for the end user. What I mean are apps that have little-to-no polish, do not perform cleanly, and add no advantage to my mobile device for having them. They perform a task, but not at the level I expect from the iOS platform.

As a consumer, I'm more likely to download a Free or even 'Freemium' app to try it before I buy, but not all apps have this option, nor would it work with all apps. I own a lot of good apps, that I would have gladly paid more. And I've paid for a lot of terrible apps and been burned. Unfortunately, developers and end users are stuck in a broken ecosystem. I, the consumer, am apprehensive to purchase an app at $14.99 that says it will perform some great function to ease my workload throughout the day for fear that it will not measure up to what is promised and I will be stuck with the bill. And I'm sure developers are overly occupied with deciding on the right price to get their app in view of the most consumers. I want to support all the great developers and apps out there, but I can't support them when I get ripped off by Voice Actions ($4.99 at that time in the app store, almost immediately deleted). I would have loved to give it to David when I purchased Launch Center Pro, which I use almost daily (and I bought at the introductory price, but would have happily paid more). Unfortunately, David won't ever see my $4.99 because I can't get it back. It's lost. And that reduces my leverage as a consumer to support worthy apps and great development teams.

It is a complicated issue, with a solution. And it isn't up to the developers alone to fix it. Unfortunately, in this infancy of apps and mobile platforms, we have growing pains. I am grateful that there are so many developers out there that are true artists; willing to produce at a loss because they love to create. I can't speak for every consumer, but I wish I could when I say, "thanks for all the fish."

Is there a way to reconcile the gap between Developer and Consumer to create a forum so that we can have a conversation about quality and value? Will Apple help us, or are we on our own? Is a simple "return policy" implementation going to fix it? I really don't know, but as with all great human endeavors, if we work together with cooperation and open minds, the solution will present itself. We will just have to find a balance between developer sustainability and consumer confidence. Here we go...
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