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When Apple announced in December that global marketing chief Phil Schiller would be taking responsibility for the iOS and Mac App Stores from Eddy Cue, it was clear Schiller had a great deal of work on his hands if he was to make the company’s stores the best they can possibly be for developers and users alike.
Complaints from developers about both the iOS and the Mac App Stores are numerous. Add to that the recent addition of two more app platforms, Watch and Apple TV and you have to wonder whether the intention is for Schiller – who’s already surely the busiest exec at Apple – to run the stores permanently or whether this is an interim arrangement until Apple finds someone to head up all the stores.
If the company takes user and developer experience seriously, having a senior exec who’s only responsibility is the app stores would seem sensible. If nothing else, it would give developers more confidence that their concerns and criticisms are taken seriously, and that the store experience is important to Apple. If it remains just another part of Schiller’s portfolio, it’s hard to see how Apple can show it takes its developer community as seriously as it says it does. However, there’s no indication that the company plans such a move.
There are other things the company can do to improve the experience of both developing and downloading apps, for example, cutting the length of time it takes to approve apps would be a good start. Every time a developer releases a new app or updates an existing one it has to submit it for approval. That process can take anything from a few days to several weeks, making it very difficult for developers to plan release schedules and marketing activity.
The process itself is highly-secretive. And while Apple issues guidelines for developers on the type of apps which are likely to be accepted or rejected, as well as the kind of content which is downright unacceptable, consistency is not a word often used to describe the approval process. Notices of rejection are often opaque and leaves developers mystified. Even when apps are accepted initially, they can then be pulled for what are often seemingly arbitrary reasons, such as those which were removed because they featured the Confederate flag too prominently after the Charleston church shooting last year. Meanwhile, apps like Stolen, which allowed users to ‘own’ others’ Twitter accounts made it safely through the process and only left the Store when its developer pulled it.
A more consistent and transparent approval process would certainly benefit both developers and users.
The problems don’t end when an app lands on the the store, either. Unless it’s highlighted by Apple’s curators and featured in one of the large carousels, it’s very difficult to make an impression. One way Apple could help developers here is by tailoring which apps are displayed to users in a way that is dependent on what they’ve shown interest in before, similar to the way Amazon shows you what it thinks you might like on its store. Most of us stay logged in to the App Store, so customizing what we’re shown based on activity on our own user account should be possible. That might make it easier for apps to reach an audience of potential customers, and it would certainly help users find apps they might like to try.
Apple’s approach to updates could also do with a re-think, although that seems unlikely. Currently, updates to paid-for apps are free to everyone who has previously bought the app. No distinction is made between major updates and minor ones. That means, in order to fund the development of the app in the future, developers are forced to create an entire new app if they want to charge for ‘version 2.0’, but because they have no access to customers’ details, they can’t contact users to tell them about the new version. Nor, thanks to the App Store’s pricing structure, can they offer existing users a special upgrade price on the new version.
A system where a developer could declare an app as a major upgrade and therefore be allowed to set an upgrade price for existing customers, should they want to download it, would allow them to generate revenue from upgrades and give customers a discount. The App Store review process would include an additional check to determine whether the upgrade is significant enough to warrant a price tag.
Sadly, it’s unlikely that Apple will implement any of these ideas – it seems happy enough with the App Store as it is. That’s a real shame, because there’s plenty of room for improvement for both developers and customers.