There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in iPhone app developer circles around how successful 99 cent apps are, how biased apple’s distribution system is toward cheap apps, and how hard it is to sell finely crafted complex applications for which developers have to ask for more money.
My initial reaction to almost all of this is: Waaaaaah.
And I hate to be that way. I genuinely love small mac indie developers and the software they create. But watching them squeeze into the iPhone market is just painful. I’m not going to link to every breakdown or complaint-fest here but I’ve got some general observations that I think will help put things in perspective.
The iPhone market is not the Mac market. It’s not even the PC market. It’s not even the smartphone market. It’s the cellphone market. The cellphone market is a fucking sludgepit full of shitty vendors who abuse their customers, lazy OS and software vendors who write crappy software and customers ranging the gamut from advanced computer users to people who can barely tie their shoes.
You’re accordingly dealing with customer expectations that are set and maintained by the cellphone market. Those expectations are roughly: My reception will suck, my phone will break or be replaced by a new one in 6 months – 1 year, physical accessories should cost less than $20, preferably less than $10, any stuff I download to my phone is $.99. The accessories are cheap and will probably break, but I don’t care because I’ll just get a new phone soon anyway. The apps or games or ringtones or whatever will probably suck or crash or not transfer to whatever phone I move to in 6 months so I’m not getting invested in anything. Vendors want to lock me in, so even moving my fucking contacts from one phone to another is a pain in the ass, so I’m not thinking about any horizon longer than 6 months.
It’s a fucking phone. I know we all feel like the iPhone is the first real step toward a small mobile computer that will change our lives in every conceivable way for the better. In many ways I agree. But it’s early, and apple is selling this thing as a phone, to phone consumers. Apple is doing this for a variety of reasons, once of which is to create a insurmountable market share, but probably the chief reason is that it makes them a shit ton of money. The message here is that while Apple will use the functionality you provide all day long to market it’s product, it isn’t motivated in the same way you are. And the vast majority of customers of the iphone see it as a phone. People have only so much attention available in any given day and you can image how much they are willing to dedicate to the excellence of their phone software.
Who’s your customer? For the indie mac developer, working with the indie mac developer mindset, you’re probably going to find an audience slightly larger than the mac market, but probably not all that much larger. Mac users are qualified by some pretty particular traits that you target with your apps. You probably share those traits. Unfortunately the vast majority of people on earth do not share those traits and don’t see the value you provide by targeting them. For the majority of people, they want cheap and marginally functional. It’s great that you’re writing software with a passion for excellence and want to provide an unparalleled user experience. Unfortunately you’re trying to sell fine china to the mongol horde.
Welcome to the dark side. Surprise, you can make a lot of money by writing shitty software and selling it cheap to chumps who will use it once or twice until the novelty wears off. It’s true. Your principles may preclude you from such activities, but lets not blame apple for biasing the system, lame developers for writing it, or consumers for not seeking better quality. Remember, it’s a fucking phone. Want to fund your world-changing iPhone app that will be a revelation to the 300 people who will ever use it and for which you will never recoup your costs? Spend 4 hours writing the next iFart, sell it for $.99, make $30k in a few days and get on with it. I know you became an indie mac developer to avoid having to do stupid, meaningless, soul-killing, trivial bullshit work just to make money, but I think the trade off here is acceptable. There is a word used to describe those who won’t sacrifice their principles in the face of adversity. That word is: Poor.
You’re a pioneer. It’s a new market, and there will be significant chaos until things settle down. You’re out there breaking trails for the rest of us, and we all admire you for it. But a significant portion of pioneers have this habit of starving to death. If you don’t want to be a pioneer, stay at home. Your neighbors won’t hate you. No one is making you go.