The App Store’s Golden Opportunity

Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal:

There is a second reason why iPad sales fell 23% in the fiscal year ended September 2015, from their peak two years earlier: Apple has put onerous constraints on the makers of software whose apps are key to the success of the iPhone.

“Whenever my friends say, ‘Denys, we want to make money on the App store,’ I spend a lot of time trying to tell them not to do this,” says Denys Zhadanov, head of marketing for Readdle Inc., a Ukraine-based company that has had best-selling productivity apps on the App Store since the store went live in 2008.

Mr. Zhadanov says Apple makes it hard for developers to connect directly with users, or to encourage them to buy upgrades. This means app makers can’t reach users through mailing lists, critical to generating repeat sales and marketing other software and services.

As a result, apps that Readdle first released in 2009 generate no additional revenue from the company’s most loyal users. Readdle says the lifetime value of those customers can be as little as $2.

Mims followed up on Twitter:

A very experienced iOS developer told me Apple is talking directly to devs about how to fix the app store’s issues since forever

That fact was anonymously confirmed by a source who would know. So perhaps in the next 6 months we’ll see big changes in the App store.

Picture a number line, of sorts, with the Apple Watch at one end and the Mac at the other, with the iPhone and iPad equally spaced between. Along this gradient of — for lack of a better word — capability, the first three products are treated similarly in terms of their ability to add third-party apps, insomuch as that they all run through the App Store. The Mac is the exception, in that it can run apps from wherever.

Apple would like to move the iPad’s needle closer to the Mac, and I think that’s terrific. But one thing that seems fairly clear is that the number of complaints with the App Store increases with the capability of the product. The Mac App Store is a dreadful place for developers, but at least they can make their apps available elsewhere. Perhaps one of the ways to make the iPad more like a Mac would be to increase its flexibility with installing third-party apps.