Nothing's perfect--certainly not the App Store. Granted, Apple's mobile application marketplace has been a gold mine for developers: Since launching July 11, the App Store has introduced more than 15,000 iPhone and iPod touch applications in all, to the tune of more than 500 million downloads. Still, the mobile development community has not shied away from voicing its concerns over Apple's often mysterious application approval protocols, its failure to communicate key information and its pricing policies. A San Francisco Chronicle feature published Monday further probes the collective iPhone developer consciousness to determine what Apple can do to transform the App Store into a more hospitable and lucrative environment for coders, and the responses suggest there remains significant room for improvement.
Some key takeaways from the Chronicle article:
Concerns over the preponderance of free and bargain-priced apps are not going away. In mid-December, Apple quietly instituted a series of changes improving how applications are featured in the App Store, spotlighting the most popular applications on each category page while at the same time separating the most popular free applications (which previously dominated download rankings) from the most popular premium apps. But developers contend there is more work to be done. "I think that one of the big challenges for the App Store will be how to continue to make room for both experimental, simple and shorter-lived apps that are free or 99 cents while also making a platform that is viable for developers who are making something like a feature film with a high price point," said Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, the firm behind the popular rhythm game Tap Tap Revenge.
Discoverability remains a huge challenge. As the volume of App Store applications continues to grow by leaps and bounds, it's getting tougher and tougher for apps to stand out from the crowd. While Apple has expanded its Top Apps lists to 100 applications per category and introduced Staff Picks, What's Hot and New and Noteworthy features, developers believe Apple can do more to shine a spotlight on noteworthy downloads, suggesting the answer may lie in user reviews and recommendations. "I'm really looking forward to something like what Xbox Live does, where your friends or your contacts can see what you're playing," said Dan Walton, co-founder of Retronyms, whose Recorder app has sold more than a quarter million copies. "It's like an automatic word-of-mouth recommendation."
The one-size-fits-all billing model doesn't work. At present, the App Store billing model is limited to either free distribution or a one-time fee, a restriction that compromises the efforts of firms offering navigation applications and related software solutions dependent on repeat consumer charges that help keep data up-to-date. Retronyms' Walton suggests Apple should introduce mechanisms supporting micro-payments or subscription services, effectively enabling different improvements to existing apps. Ge Wang, founder of Smule--the shop behind the popular Ocarina audio app--adds he would like to see more flexible pricing, as well as alternative metrics to gauge the success of apps. His idea: A Top Apps list determined by revenue, not the number of downloads. "If the lists could favor revenue, we could then price apps to reflect their value," Wang said.
What we've got here is a failure to communicate. Apple needs to offer developers greater insight into how and why applications face approval or rejection--sometimes apps languish for weeks or even months in certification limbo, with no word from Apple on what's responsible for the holdup. The San Francisco Chronicle cites the example of Newber and iCall, two applications waiting since October for approval--four months later, neither has received an official thumbs-up or thumbs-down. According to iCall CEO Arlo Gilbert, Apple initially offered the company advice on its application, then cut communication altogether: "Our hope is not to shame Apple but raise awareness so other developers don't waste their time," Gilbert said. "It's like building a house and then being told you can't put it on your land." -Jason