John Gruber, on the perception that apps 'should be free';
One would hope they’d see the difference between Apple’s financial situation and that of the indie developer, but the truth is that many — maybe most? — people think that everyone who writes apps for the App Store works for Apple. (I know that’s hard to believe, but ask your neighborhood app developer next time you see them.)
Everyone outside of the immediate Apple tech sphere assumes, since I make apps for iOS, that I work for Apple. People with iPhones and iPads. Professionals, including my lawyer, accountant, and doctor. Relatives. Everyone.
It’s therefore non-obvious why I need to charge money, and it’s not widely understood that I get most of that money.
Obviously, Apple is a very, very big company.
Obviously, people building their own apps and selling them through the App Store are doing it for themselves – not for Apple. Apple gives them an opportunity to build businesses, and the developers take it.
Here's the thing though; if you are making apps for the iPhone/iPad (and, more recently, for the Mac) and selling them through the App Store, then your pay isn't coming from the people buying the apps. Its coming from Apple.
They decide what you can sell, they set the terms and conditions, and as far as placement and marketing within the App Store – that is pretty much entirely up to Apple.
So, it seems to me, you are working for Apple.
One of the key elements of the value of the iPhone, iPad and Mac is the software ecosystem. By building apps that increase this value, you are working for Apple.
Suppose your business isn't selling Apple applications – for example, you are building an app for Facebook. You get paid by Facebook for building something that helps improve the Facebook experience… for people buying Apple products.
Sure, you get paid by Facebook… But even if you take away the Apple paycheck – the 70% of the app's sales value; you're still working for Apple.
Of course, you aren't employed by Apple – you don't get the benefits of a salary, job security, a contract, the idea that if your job goes away you will either get a redundancy payment or moved to a different team/project/role. If your app doesn't sell well enough to cover the investment (whether that is time or money) that you put into it, then the risk is entirely on your own shoulders. And if you are successful enough that your ideas end up being a core part of the iOS product then, instead of getting paid off, you might just find one day that you've been sherlocked.
Back when Amazon had to change their Kindle app for iPad from a 'Kindle store' to a 'Kindle reader', it was because Apple didn't like it. If you were following the story with the idea that Amazon were building software for their customers, it seemed unfair. If you were following it with the idea that Amazon's developers were, in building on Apple's platform, working for Apple, then it seems much clearer; the work Amazon did for them didn't work for Apple.
Of course, it was generally understood at the time that Apple's new iBooks platform was setting out to directly compete with Amazon, who had the dominant ebooks platform at the time. iBooks was new, the iPad was new, and it seemed pretty reasonable for Apple to refuse to turn the iPad into an ebooks platform for Amazon.
Recently, HMV launched a new mobile app for iPhone and Android. Last week, it was pulled from the App Store.
It offered a new way of buying music, with features like image recognition (take a photo of a CD cover or poster to buy the album – something Amazon have been offering for a while and technology that HMV themselves were using in their "listening post" app back in 2011) and audio recognition (powered by SoundHound- record a song, and the app identifies it and enables you to buy it).
The thing that surprised me wasn't the app being pulled from the store. I was vaguely surprised that it was allowed on in the first place – I assumed that it passed the technical tests that an automated check would pick up on (ie. the app didn't crash, it didn't use any private APIs, or code that Apple didn't allow in apps), but had failed on policy tests; the app did something that an app developer agreed not to do in accepting Apple's terms and conditions.
What surprised me was that HMV thought it was a good idea to build a direct competitor to iTunes, and then rely on it being an iPhone application.
I mean, I can see why it would seem like a good idea – mobile is the future of digital media, HMV need to have a digital business to support their physical business, and there are things that a music retailer could do that iTunes doesn't do; an opportunity for rebuilding a well-known and well-loved brand like HMV. For an app on any other platform – Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry etc. then sure, it makes perfect sense. But on the iPhone – it feels like the only apparent benefit of building a sure-to-be-pulled app would be the PR value of creating a story about HMV at the same time as the website relaunch (which, it has to be said, looks good.
You could take the view that the Entertainment Retailers Association did, that HMV has;
achieved something no physical retailer has done in a decade of iTunes - it put Apple on the back foot in their spat over HMV's music discovery app. In the process it has become a lightning rod for other retailers' long-standing resentment of what they perceive as Apple's anti-competitive behaviour. In a word, HMV has recaptured for the moment its time-honored crown as industry thought-leader.
My immediate view was that HMV were demonstrating a lack of understanding of the iPhone platform when they were building their iPhone app. I don't see this as the action of an 'industry thought-leader' – more as either a failed attempt to disrupt Apple from within, or a moderately successful publicity stunt.
What they didn't appear to understand is that Apple's iPhone platform ultimately only exists as a tool to add value to the hardware, and an app that lets you build a music library outside of the Apple ecosystem is not something that Apple want to help you build.
Or to put it another way, they didn't recognise that by building an iPhone app, they were working for Apple.
And Apple wasn't happy with their work.