Tag Archives: Apple

Free App Landscape

Last week Apple reversed policy and made an announcement regarding a change to now allow free apps the option of supporting in-app purchases via the Store Kit.  It remains to be seen how the change plays out, but I suspect it’s a win for consumers and Apple and something of a mixed bag for developers.

Previously, the revenue model in the app store was narrow: paid apps could continue to charge; and free apps needed to stay free.  This produced a bounty of “lite” apps where developers would strip out functionality from a paid app and offer it for free in order to entice consumers.  While it’s hard to gauge the affect of this duplicity, the previous policy undoubtedly has lead to a fair amount of app bloat in the store as developers released multiple versions of the same app.

For developers, the older model required maintaining a completely different app or conditionally building source.  Both choices require additional testing and support.  Now, the code can be unified but the burden shifts to adding and integrating in-app purchase features into the app itself.  While the APIs are pretty straight-forward, the UI experience isn’t and each developer (based on their needs) will need to create a meaningful interface within their title and do a bit of bookkeeping to manage purchases.

While this announcement benefits newly arriving apps, it leaves those functioning under the older model somewhat out in the cold.  Given multiple apps with similar functionality, wouldn’t a consumer rather try the free app over the paid one at least initially?  One could argue that nothing precludes developers using the current approach of multiple releases and in some cases, it may still make sense.

However, it puts further pressure on developers to deliver more substantial content to consumers in a free format as the download rate of free apps is typically significantly higher than a paid app alone – especially given the market saturation.  With nearly 100,000 apps available at the moment, my suspicion is that this will make competition amongst 2nd tier developers more fierce but largely leave the major developers unaffected.  I can’t imagine we’d see a free version of an app from major commercial developer who’s price points hover well north of the $0.99 median of most apps.  Maybe that’s a good thing, as there are a plethora of shovelware apps out there already.

By encouraging in-app purchases, Apple helps to reduce the App Store clutter and duplication of effort in approving multiple titles.  Further, each in-app purchase nets Apple another 30%, which for the providing a distribution mechanism and platform, starts to seem pretty steep.  I can see why the music industry balked a few months ago at Apple’s cut and renegotiated the terms.  While the major studios had a reasonable block, I can’t see that happening with the 22,000+ different app developers.

Perhaps the biggest winners of this change are the consumers.  New apps that offer “more” for a price can now be unified as one app rather than multiple versions.  This will help remove some bloat and allow people to better find what they’re looking for.  Plus, it provides a business model that might support more innovative apps – like a “chapter based” adventure, or subscription based games.

Unexpected additional time for review…

Not really the first (well, second) entry I was thinking of making – but sometimes events aren’t as one would expect.

Daily Value has been in development since April ’09 and was approved for sale in Aug ’09 (see the blog or main page for details) and I’ve been working on an update for the past few weeks.  Not only are there some neat new features planned, but a number of “quality issues” were discovered after our first binary came out.  The first submission went very smoothly – as I recall it took about 6 days for the app to go “live” in the stores.

Obviously, it’s very disappointing that problems weren’t discovered during the testing and stabilization phase and even worse reached our customers.  Not to rationalize too much, but it’s challenging to fully regress a product and anticipate a nearly infinite range of error states and conditions.  That said, I’ve started adopting unit tests to help cover corner cases and prevent functional regression or re-introduction of bugs.  Unit testing is a broad topic worthy of a longer and dedicated post or two – but suffice to say, I’ve found and fixed a number of problems and would like to deliver some new features to our users too.  Exciting!

Daily Value was resubmitted to Apple for approval with some bug fixes and new features.  I didn’t expect a quick turn-around this time, however.  Recent guidance from Apple mentioned that “90% of apps are approved within 14 days.”  It had only been about a week, but I received a rather vanilla email from the app review team that Daily Value “is requiring unexpected additional time for review.”  Not the kind of email to read before quitting for the day as my mind considered largely negative possibilities!

Unfortunately, the email is all of two lines and vaguely promises to “update you with further status as soon as we are able.”  So, I did a bunch of Google searches to see if others have encountered the same email and what the general results are – it seemed a largely mixed bag, but many of the posts were pretty old.  So, I thought I’d weigh in with my conjecture and update this post as I get more information.

In the earlier days (a year or so ago) of app development, this email seemed to indicate some sort of problem with your app – usually procedural.  Folks would use language, subject matter, or content that in Apple’s opinion was inappropriate.  In some cases, it appeared Apple may have held up an app if it may have encroached on another company’s trademarks or patents to not only protect themselves but the developer.

In fact earlier this month, Looking Glass submitted an app, iGive Blood, that not only received this same “unexpected time” email but was also rejected.  The problem was the app, and app store text mentioned that proceeds from the app’s sales would be donated to charity.  It wasn’t appropriate and the text had to be removed from the app and store text before being resubmitted.  No problem – a new binary was made and was resubmitted nine days ago.

Daily Value, however, was approved earlier in the month.  The changes in version 1.1 are feature enhancements, new functionality, and quality improvements – so, I’m curious about why it’s possibly being held up.

While I don’t have any concrete evidence other than anecdotal experience, I’d like to believe that the app review team is being flooded with apps.  When Daily Value first was being designed, there were fewer than 24,000 apps available – but four months later the number has reached nearly 65,000.  That’s not even counting updates and fixes to existing applications.  I thought I read on Apple’s web site that they get roughly 4,000 submissions (updates and new apps) per day.  Approval time has gone from 7-10 days to nearly 14.

Anyway, optimistically, I’m hoping that the form email is generated by an automated system after an app submission has been in the queue for a week – and with the deluge of apps to review and pour over – more and more developers will be receiving this email that is just serving notice “you app is in the queue – be patient” – and it’s not always as ill an omen as it used to be back when app approval was much quicker.  Fingers crossed, anyway!