Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

WWDC is a Developers’ Conference After All

Apple’s relationship with the developer community has often been fractured, but I am not sure there has been such outright animosity and grief with the company as that expressed in the past year. The arguments expressed on the blogs of many developers — from Marco Arment to Becky Hansmeyer to Michael Tsai — are the norm, not the exception.

The developer community is deeply unhappy. While the opening keynote of WWDC has undoubtably become more of a consumer marketing affair, the rest of the conference is just for developers — and they have long needed to feel heard.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

Usually, the hours before Apple’s keynote event are filled with speculation and excitement, but this year there is far more frustration and antipathy than I can remember seeing in my decade and a half covering Apple. There’s always been some degree of dissatisfaction, especially amongst developers, but it’s hard to escape that the current story about Apple is less about its products and more about its attitude.

[…]

WWDC marks Apple’s opportunity to take control of the story. Whatever its executives announce when they take the stage later today has the potential to dominate the tech news cycle for days and weeks to come.

But the real question is whether, by sheer compelling nature or simply by volume, it can drown out the existing narrative.

So, how did Apple do?

Well, that depends on which issues you would like to focus on. Fraud is a hot-button problem, with a lengthy story about App Store scams appearing in the Washington Post on Sunday.

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send a scam app higher in charts and search.

[…]

But a new update to these guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.

This could be beneficial to developers who may stumble across fraud, but it does not users, and particularly not those who have found themselves close to becoming victims but did not fall for a scam. While I get that a reporting mechanism could introduce a new vector for misuse by less-knowledgeable users, I still cannot believe there is nowhere for an average person to say that they found a scam.

The long-requested TestFlight for Mac is finally real, as part of the new Xcode Cloud service. It will also be possible to A/B test App Store pages, something else many developers have wanted for a long time. So that’s the good news.

What about the thorny problem of some high-profile developers getting access to platform features and APIs that most do not? For example, it was possible to get a refund for Hulu and Netflix subscriptions bought through in-app purchases from within their apps — something developers are generally unable to offer. While there is a promising new beginRefundRequest method, it just displays the App Store refund request sheet within the app with the same two-day turnaround, still controlled by Apple.

I do not know that there was a single developer who expected Apple to relent on its in-app purchase policy. It remains unchanged, and likely will until lawmakers demand a different policy.

A story today by Jacob Kastrenakes, of the Verge, noted — almost as an aside — that Patreon is allowed to offer third-party payment services in its app. For example, I tried upgrading one of my subscriptions to a level that had entirely digital perks, and Patreon threw up its own payment form. I tried subscribing to a creator account and once again saw Patreon’s own form, not an in-app purchase dialog. You can try it by subscribing to my perk-less Patreon account. I am insufferable and I am sorry.

I do not know that this is enough to cool Apple’s tense relationship with developers. Judging by the number of people I saw taking issue with Apple’s annual payout slide, I doubt it. I imagine all of the presenters this year are thrilled they did not have to talk about how great the App Store is in a room full of people who resent it, but the reasons for their disdain continue.