Apple’s Indifference to Developers

Developer Greg Gardner, whose app was rejected in September for violated unpublished guidelines, wrote a detailed account of the process.

App development is seriously difficult work. The competitive landscape is brutishly crowded. The APIs that developers use to write apps are complex and ever-changing. The tools that we use to compose code and run it on our devices are byzantine, unreliable and becoming increasingly more so. And even when everything is going smoothly, developing a high-quality app is a huge endeavour, best done with the contributions of several people with multiple skill sets. It costs a lot of money, or like Gardner, even more: he gave up a job to chase his dream (and mine, incidentally) of being an indie developer.

Too bad he didn’t get the memo. Despite hundreds of millions of potential customers, Apple has configured the App Store to be an inhospitable environment for indie developers. Gardner’s account of the rejection process lays it all clear: take a chance on new technology and you will most likely get chewed up in the wheat thresher.

To Apple, developer time is expendable because they don’t bear the brunt of the wasted months of development. As far as they’re concerned developers are an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of Macbooks and every once in a while, one of us stumbles upon an app that not only passes all of their written and unwritten guidelines, but is actually successful too. The opportunity cost of developers either not working on an app for fear of rejection, or wasted developer time when an app is ultimately rejected appears to be of no concern to them.

Gardner goes on to state that App Review told him his app was being used as an example to others: a widely-publicized rejection would do more to warn other developers than systematically rejecting all similar apps. And it is apparently their preferred technique to, say, updating their actual published guidelines.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the App Store is a toxic environment for independent-minded developers. Yes, we’ve known this for a long time, but I think we’re moving from feeling to action. Another spot of evidence came just yesterday, as the developer of a highly-ranked app revealed his profits. They’re nice, but let’s just say that you shouldn’t quit your day job.

Apple is screwing this up. Instead of creating a vibrant market where we can participate democratically, the company is using us like cheap replaceable parts. I guess the crowds jostling to get WWDC tickets make us look that way.

It makes me wonder how far the company has to go before fewer people want those tickets. Or whether any developers there will bring protest signs.