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Respected Developers Begin Fleeing the App Store 485

Posted by Soulskill
from the also-known-as-the-french-rush dept.
wiedzmin writes "Facebook's Joe Hewitt, Second Gear's Justin Williams, the long-time Mac software developer known as 'Rogue Amoeba' and other respected App Store developers have recently decided to discontinue their work on the platform, citing their frustration with Apple's opaque approval process. Continued issues with erroneous and snap rejections of applications and APIs are prompting more and more developers to shun the platform entirely. Though there are tens of thousands of other developers who have pumped out over 100,000 apps for the platform, continued migration away from iPhone development will most likely result in lower quality software."
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Respected Developers Begin Fleeing the App Store

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  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:14PM (#30159004)

    I've got an iPhone and I use a Mac at work, but I certainly don't consider myself a "fanboy". I got the iPhone in part because there were a few good apps that I wanted on my first smartphone. However given all the bad press Apple gets over summary rejections of apps I'm very inclined to NOT buy another iPhone when I decide to get rid of this one. There are a number of smartphone apps that I'm aware of that Apple doesn't allow on their phones for one reason or another. My brother can dictate entire e-mails or text messages on his Blackberry using an app from a company called Vlingo. It apparently provides high quality speech to text capabilities and integrates with almost any app on that platform. They released an iPhone version a year ago but it's very limited in what it can do because Apple restricts things so much. The iPhone Vlingo app is limited to Google searches and updating Twitter & Facebook, and it's all apparently because of the way Apple restricts things.

    If a company like Vlingo can extend the functionality of smartphones like the Blackberry, Android, etc. in ways that Apple and others never seriously considered then I'll very likely go with those phones in the future, and not one that's artificially restricted due to the limited vision of people like Steve Jobs.

  • part of the story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icepick72 (834363) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:15PM (#30159022)
    They may cite disapproval with Apple's approval process but the reality the app store is getting diluted with more and more apps and developers, and it's getting tougher to make those million dollar apps. Like anything, the first on board have the best chance of benefiting the most fiscally and in popularity. I assume some of these developers are also getting disillusioned that the glory days are gone.
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:15PM (#30159040)

    I'm a full time iPhone developer. I'm going no-where.

    I find Joe Hewitt's whining to be maddening. He made a very popular iPhone library (the Three20 project) and knowingly used some private API's inside - as far as I can tell without anyone knowing. Then when it turned out Apple started looking to see what symbols your code was using in an extra step to enforce this, Joe basically abandoned the community and decided to quit.

    The sad part is that he didn't even need to use them. There are multiple forks [google.com] of Three20 now that fix the use of the private API's with no loss in functionality.

    The other guys, they have more of a reason to be angry although apps rejected continue to be a pretty minor aspect of things, and many rejected apps get through with a few simple changes. But Joe lost any right to complain when he abandoned the people that relied on his expert judgment in the creation of a framework.

  • by jameson71 (540713) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:20PM (#30159140)
    Not the trend I have noticed. In the beginning lots of useful apps came out. Lately i have noticed a ton of crappy 99 cent "games" and anything more complex is having a heck of a time getting approved.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:29PM (#30159298)

    Amusingly (because of the purpose of the software): Visual Studio.

    In terms of IDEs, nothing compares, and I say this as a Java developer at work running both Windows and Linux. At home, I own a Mac and a PC, and I can only code for very short bursts using Apple's development tools because I find them that irritating.

    The Java tools (Netbeans and Eclipse) are great, but I get a lot more work done coding in C/C++ in Visual Studio. Similarly, I feel more productive in C# than Java, but it's harder to say what is the language and what is the tool.

  • by Etone (627948) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:33PM (#30159386)
    /. has posted this same story or variants on it about three or four times in the past week. I guess keep saying it til' it's true.
    btw, in regards to the headline: "developers" in this case equals 2. "respected" in this case means "working for a well known company" in the case of Hewitt. "fleeing" means dramaposting and ragequitting.
  • by jumpingfred (244629) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:34PM (#30159394)

    It will be interesting to see if. Verizon opens up the possibility of getting aps for the android phones without going through Verizon. If they do then perhaps Apple will have to change their ways. If Verizon continues to lock down aps then there is very little pressure for Apple to make things easier.

  • by drfreak (303147) <dtarsky@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:39PM (#30159468)

    But if you care about your sanity, or the sanity of your users, you are shit out of luck with Access. There is a mass exodus occurring with Access Runtime developers to .NET. Join them and be free to code your own way, in your favourite language. With SQL and .NET Express, there is really no excuse for writing apps that way anymore.

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:39PM (#30159470)

    What software on windows is "so great/must have" that there isn't a viable alternative for other platforms. Windows has a bunch of bullshit software that isn't worth paying for besides custom in house apps.

    I've never seen an image viewer that compares with irfanview used on Mac or Linux. Then again, I rarely even see a Windows machine with irfanview. Games. Photoshop, to some extent, because the new version is so much faster on Windows than Mac. This will probably be fixed within a version, though.

  • by Silentknyght (1042778) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:51PM (#30159686)

    ...and many rejected apps get through with a few simple changes...

    FTFA, Rogue Amoeba's issue was with a rejection to an update to their existing application, though the rejection itself had nothing to do with the proposed change. Instead, Apple decided that features in its existing, approved version are now a problem.

    Apple's problem is that they have put a guard on the gate to enter their walled garden, except there are thousands of gates each with their own, different guard, and apparently only the vaguest of ideals are guiding their decision-making.

  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @12:55PM (#30159796)

    There may be 100,000 apps, but 95% of those are useless crap and of the remaining 5%, 80% of THOSE tend to duplicate each other's functionality. Whether Android or any other phone can compete in sheer numbers isn't really relevant so long as it covers the main types of apps people want.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:46PM (#30160792)

    I was sort of with you until there. Why does this guy have an obligation to help everyone who can't figure it out themselves?

    Because he put forth a library written by someone with a lot more knowledge than the average user of the library.

    It would be one thing to announce you were dropping support for it, and let users migrate to other things. But the moment a technical issue comes up that is probably beyond the ability of a lot of the users of the framework to resolve - that to me is shirking the responsibility you have to your fellow coders to support something you put forth with your name behind it.

    If you don't want to be responsible, then don't publish the API - or at least put forward a best-effort to help people out instead of outright fleeing.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:57PM (#30161026)

    The way I see it, the problem is not with Apple enforcing its unknown API restriction. The problem is with Apple *selectively* enforcing that particular restriction and many others.

    The thing is, that is almost true but not quite.

    I would slightly rephrase the problem is not selective enforcement but selective allowment (you are now free to use that as a word since I made it up for you).

    The reason I would phrase it that way, is that there is no-way Apple can realistically wall a developer off from every private API. So they detect what they can, and warn you not to use them. Lots of people get away with slight infractions for a while but in the end, they were not supposed to be doing that and everyone knows it.

    The "allowment" part comes in when some apps are obviously "allowed" to bypass the rules. The biggest example of this is the recent "Trench Run" Star Wars game that uses a huge iPhone graphic on the instruction page, clearly disallowed and something many other apps have been rejected for. While I personally find that a bit maddening, it's not something you cannot work with simply by keeping your own nose clean and shaking your head when you see examples like that - or writing something so compelling Apple "allows" you to bend the rules, too.

    For example, the RedLaser app which is one of the top selling apps in the app store uses an undocumented API, specifically, UIGetScreenImage().

    That's not a good example because some apps slipped through but all of them are being denied now. I am using that in one project and they had to issue an emergency update that does not use that call so that applications could ship updates. The good news there is that since a number of people were using that framework they have a compelling case for Apple to offer some kind of API to make that possible, so I think it will happen sooner rather than later.

    Many of the original camera tweaking apps also skirted the API.

    Also not a good case because they didn't really skirt the API, they simply altered the view composition. Again though that was actually helpful because it pushed Apple to provide an API to assist with that by stripping out all the view elements and letting you add your own.

    The problem with Apple's approval process has never been about the restrictions, the problem has always been with Apple's unpredictable, arbitrary and selective application of those restrictions.

    But again Apple has only been really unpredictable with what they have allowed - not with what they have denied (there are a few app exceptions but they mostly got approved eventually).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @01:59PM (#30161052)

    The problem is that you aren't even given a chance to profit in many cases anyway, regardless of app quality and despite jumping through all the hoops.

    Take my own app, "The Watcher". It was approved yesterday morning but still hasn't filtered through onto any of the storefronts - it should be at least listed at the top of the puzzle section but is not in there at all, despite me matching the approval date with the launch date etc. etc. So at some point (maybe, who really knows) the game will actually be listed, but by that point will be pushed way back down the list and not noticable at all because of all the newer stuff above it.

    Now it's not the best game in the world, obviously, but it's a nice version of The Sentinel and brings something a little bit different to the platform, and it took a fair amount of time to make - but why would I bother in the future when there is not even the smallest chance of it even being seen by a human being to buy? If you have the PR connections you can get placement and make some money still, i'm sure, but for the indy developer it's getting pretty frustrating out there.

    Really not sure what the solution is to this though, Apple is a victim of its own success to a large extent. What I do know though is that back when I used to do shareware on download.com they would at least post your app immediately in the new list on the frontpage so you had a running chance at getting some eyeballs.

  • by budfields (1663047) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:05PM (#30161152)
    No one will tell you what you cannot do? Um, this is obvious bullshit. If you design something that interferes with the wrong person's profits, or might mess with the stability of the device, then that app will be disallowed just as surely on the N900 as it would be on any other cellphone, including the iPhone.
  • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:27PM (#30161538)

    You're missing the forest for the trees. Vlingo's app is crippled on the iPhone because of Apple policies. It may not be everyone's killer app, but it is for some. The same policies are equally likely to cripple other people's ideas of the killer app. That in turn leads more and more people who do the research and choose the phone that runs whatever they consider to be the "must have" app to decide against the iPhone whose crippling policies kill their favorite app.

    When one platform is highly restricted and another is wide open, useful apps will tend to be ported TO the open platform and not away from it.

    No I'm not.

    I understand that the iPhone is a less open platform. I understand that Apple is refusing to carry various apps for no reason other than they don't want to. I understand that this may very well lead to people choosing other phones.

    None of that has much to do with my original statement.

    If your major criteria for a new phone is a fairly open platform where developers can roll out software without some other company telling them NO just for the hell of it, the iPhone is not the phone for you.

    That does not necessarily make it a flawed product, nor does it mean that anybody is lacking vision. All it means is that this isn't the product for you.

    I'll admit that I don't have a smartphone of any kind. I don't have a Blackberry or an iPhone or anything. I have no idea what redeeming qualities any particular smartphone may or may not have. But the fact that Apple is selling millions of these things suggests to me that somebody out there is buying them.

  • Yes I am (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:31PM (#30161622)

    You may be a full time developer, but your clearly not the person who works with the approval process.

    I have some of my own apps in the store, and several I have worked on in tandem with others. We have not had any issues in any of the apps with approval outside of very reasonable crash and UI related objections (in one case I had forgotten to disable rotation in a specific view that came up as a sort of random cluster of UI elements, clearly wrong).

    We have not had problems because we know to follow the rules, even though some of the UI's have been more on the experimental side and outside the UI guidelines we still were not using private API's (well, outside of the ones in which we included 320 - my fault for not doing a more complete code review, but then who would have thought you could not trust the developer of Facebook? Take that comment as you will). When the rules are stupid we push for change, but we know enough to not break them in the meantime. We also know enough to know that using private API's could cause our app to break easily with future updates which is another great reason to stay away from them even if Apple said nothing about using them (though there are techniques to mitigate that).

    How much experience have YOU had with the approval process? Or are you just one of those people who reads rants on blogs and thinks that is the whole world having the same issues.

  • by CodeInspired (896780) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @02:59PM (#30162140)
    My guess is that most of the developers leaving the iPhone platform are leaving because there is no market for them. Mainstream consumer applications are a very small percentage of the software written in the world. There are a few companies that have the talent and resources to invest in producing highly polished apps that appeal to a broad range of users. It takes time, creativity, and marketing dollars to be successfull in that playing field. For the rest of us, we are most likely writing some internal software app that attempts to solve business problems at the least amount of cost. It doesn't need to be pretty. Hell, it doesn't even need to work well. But we all get paid for doing it and, hopefully, what we write is useful to someone. I know it's not Apple's target market, but I can think of a thousand ways to utilize the iPhone hardware, just none of them would matter to anyone outside my company. I guess my point is, until the iPhone platform is opened up to where it can be used to solve custom business issues, iPhone development will be little more than a side hobby for most developers.
  • by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:41PM (#30162860)

    Because they are pro-user.

    Really? As a user they sure have made it a PITA for me to use google voice.

  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @03:58PM (#30163200) Homepage Journal

    The only ones to "stick it out" are the ones who are the most likely to profit. This tends to be apps people mostly want.

    Speaking as somebody currently living on the proceeds of a software company I sold, this is a naive view.

    It's not enough to have an app people want. You have to (a) sell it for enough money to make a profit and (b) keep support costs down enough so your sales profit doesn't disappear.

    Right off the bat, when you sell software, it's not a matter of "a lot of people wanting" your product; it's how many want it at the price you set. Let's say you have a product that nobody would be willing to spend much money for, but you could sell it for about the price of a cup of coffee. Let's suppose the product is cheap to make and after you sell it your customers never call you. You can make money with that.

    Suppose you come up with a ringtone. It takes you a week to get it into whereever you are selling it, then 5000 customers download it at $1.99, of which you clear $1.00 after the store gets its cut. $5000 for a week of work isn't going to make you rich, but it's a respectable payday. You can live off of that kind of project.

    Is this something that people "want"? Well, sure, so long as its priced cheap. The key is that of those 5000 customers, you'll hear from maybe one or two, and you can just pay them $2.00 to go away.

    Now suppose you (like I did) develop some kind of mobile data collection app that drives important enterprise decisions. That's pretty damned valuable. You can easily convince a company to pay you $500 *per seat*. The problem is that even if you could wish the software into existence, the customers need more than $500 per seat of support. In fact that's why an open source model works very well for critical systems -- you give the software away and charge for the real expensive parts. In any case, my calculations showed that we broke even on a $10,000 sale, after all was said and done, so we might as *well* have given the software away. We typically sold consulting services at anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 a pop, which was where we made our money. Believe me, when you've got a team of six engineers, a $20,000 project doesn't look so big.

    The point is that the "build a better mousetrap" theory is simply wrong.

    Your ringtones and iFarts are bottom feeders in the world of app development. They are profitable for their developers precisely because users don't care very much about them. Price a product like that low enough and you can make money.

    The kind of apps that developers garner respect and admiration for developing are a different kettle of fish. It's *hard* to make a profit selling apps that people really care about, because customers demand a relationship with you. That's expensive.

    The last thing you need is a third party inserting itself into that expensive and delicate process -- especially an opaque, unpredictable one. You work with your customers and discover they really need some extra functionality. You build it, then have to wait to find out whether you can sell it? That's nuts. You need that like you need a hole in the head.

    And this is even worse: you make a portfolio of apps, and then you can't sell them to a different developer? That's a critical exit strategy for many small developers. They have the vision and brains to create an app, but don't have the size to support it. So they develop and market it, and sell it to somebody who is already supporting apps for the main customer base. That's what I did when I sold *my* business. When I had more customers that I could know personally, it wasn't fun anymore so I told one company that if they didn't buy the software I'd sell it their competitor.

    Basically, what Apple is telling is that the iPhone is *still* not a platform. It's a music playing phone that can also run toys like iFart.

  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @04:16PM (#30163584) Homepage Journal

    I disagree. The unprofitable applications will be unprofitable on other phones too.

    That's not necessarily true. Look at the whole problem with Flash. I understand why Apple doesn't want people deploying virtual machines or interpreters through the App store, because it undermines their monopoly on selling apps to users, but sometimes that's simply the most efficient way to build an app.

    I once did a mobile application for humanitarian relief. You wouldn't believe the number of wrinkles involved in something like siting a refugee camp. I would have had *hundreds*, if not *thousands* of screens to test if I did it in the standard VB bound control style. The only way to do it economically was to have a model driven data collection engine. That way I only had fewer than a dozen UI forms to test. It was purely an engineering decision.

    Now if I wanted to deploy that app on an iPhone, it very likely would not be allowed. I would have had twenty times the programming and maybe a hundred times the testing to get it working in a way Apple would accept. It would not have been profitable for me to develop an application for the iPhone, even if the result looked exactly the same to the users and every humanitarian relief worker on the planet carried an iPhone.

  • Re: Access... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by colinnwn (677715) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @04:39PM (#30164076)
    "But if you care about your sanity, or the sanity of your users, you are shit out of luck with Access."

    Access isn't a great tool, but it is perfectly passable for both users and "developers." Frequently it is the only tool available due to Tech Services / IT restrictions.

    I work in a department of about 10 people responsible for maintaining the spare parts inventory integrity at a very large transportation company with 30,000 people and $500,000,000 in spare parts. Now we don't track the actual parts and movements using Access, but we use it to track what we should inventory, how often we should inventory it, what the results were, and reporting the audit results. I'm the only current "developer" of this Access frontend / backend system.

    We can't get the IT resources for IT to build us our own system. We can't get IT to let us have a server, or run MSSQL or anything else as a real backend on their servers. We can't even get VB6 installed on my computer so I could develop frontends in something other than Access, due to IT/purchasing and software installation restrictions. I'd like to use VB6 in the short term because we have a couple legacy apps that I'd like to maintain, and I know it better than VB.net right now. Long term they will let me have VB.net express edition and I will eventually work on learning it. But Access still looks like it will have to be the backend.

    In light of this, I try to learn and use "best practices" with Access to keep the problems to a dull roar (and I have been able to significantly reduce them). Your disdain for Access seems a little overblown and self-righteous, though I admit to its weaknesses. In my situation, what else would you suggest?
  • by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @04:50PM (#30164302) Homepage

    Exactly - I spent a couple of weeks and a reasonable amount of money to develop a small app that I thought was useful. Not million-dollar, but useful.

    Many months later, apple rejected it. A nice chap called me up. I'm not breaking any rules, it isn't offensive or bad taste. It's just a utility that they don't want.

    He said that he felt bad - but that there it was.

    It certainly makes me think twice about investing time or money in any idea that is at all innovative in the way that it uses the platform.

  • by Kalriath (849904) * on Thursday November 19, 2009 @07:44PM (#30166684)

    So true. In fact, even Microsoft hates Access so much there's a group policy setting in the Office 2007 resource kit to prohibit the creation of Access databases, to prevent your users making Access apps then bitching at you when they break.

    That policy setting is godly.

  • by theurge14 (820596) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @08:11PM (#30166944)

    Mac comes with Preview, which is more than adequate for viewing images and other filetypes.

    As for IrfanView I was not aware people were still using it or that it was still required on the Windows platform. The last time I was aware people used IrfanView was the same time ICQ was the best instant messenger and Pegasus was the best email app.

  • by Cederic (9623) on Friday November 20, 2009 @04:23PM (#30177556) Journal

    Irfanview still rocks. Sadly no longer free for commercial use, so I don't install it at work, but an essential on every Windows PC I own.

    It's not just that it handles every image format I've ever heard of, it's not just that it works simply and effectively, it's the fact that it takes one straightforward and relatively common task (viewing images) and does it better than anything else out there.

    That said, I'm about to reboot into Linux to download, install and try Gwenview. Hopefully it's comparable.

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