Under the Radar

Under the Radar 96: Risky Business

 

  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm mark

  Worman and I'm David Smith under the

  radar is never longer than 30 minutes so

  let's get started so this week we wanted

  to talk about a little bit of a current

  event and then brought it into a general

  topic the current event is that the the

  third-party YouTube client Pro tube was

  removed from the App Store Apple

  basically forced it out on Google's

  request because it was violated in the

  YouTube Terms of Service apparently and

  I want to talk about some of that and

  then brought that into the topic of

  generally developing apps that rely on

  other big services or that are not quite

  they're kind of on the edge of what's

  considered okay or what might be allowed

  or what might be legal the pro 2 bath

  specifically that you know it was a

  third-party YouTube app for iOS and it

  had great reviews I know I'm pretty sure

  Mac stories did a big review on at once

  that's one of that's where I heard of it

  first

  and it had many YouTube Pro user

  features many features that people want

  out of YouTube app that the main app

  either didn't or wouldn't offer you know

  different playback you know speeds and

  originally it offer downloading a for

  offline YouTube forced them to remove

  that a long time ago it offered things

  like stripping out the audio and just

  playing the audio and not having to rely

  on video so it could be played in the

  background things like that that the

  official app didn't offer for a long

  time or if ever things like picture and

  picture support on the iPad the official

  app made you buy YouTube read to do so

  you can kind of see why the why the

  official app and why YouTube might not

  have wanted this to happen but there

  there is quite a market to be had in

  doing things that people want that like

  the man won't let them do pro tube

  existed in this market this is something

  that I have a little bit of experience

  with ultimately though I try to stay

  away from this these days a lot of

  developers try to build their business

  on a third party API or app of some sort

  whether it's you know YouTube or a

  social network like Twitter clients or

  other you know other such things and I

  get a lot of requests for

  to open up an overcast API so people

  could make third-party clients this

  there was a brief time in the internet

  where where this seemed like an okay

  business model I'd say around like 2004

  or so where all the web services were

  opening up public API is that you could

  basically do whatever you wanted with

  and access wasn't controlled at all so

  anybody could write clients that said

  pretty much anything and this way this

  was considered like a big part of web

  2.0 for a little while and then

  everything started getting locked down

  and and what was public became private

  what was free became controlled and and

  locked out and more recently you know in

  more recent apps and services that have

  taken off they either haven't had an API

  at all or like in the case of Instagram

  there's an eight there is an API but

  it's extraordinary limited or it might

  just be discontinued at any point or you

  can't do what you really want to do what

  most people would really want to do with

  with such an API there's there's a case

  to be made there is lots of demand for

  apps that live in this gray area that

  that do things that a service might not

  want or even even if it has a public API

  that for the moment you're doing things

  that the API allows there is a big

  market there because usually if you've

  heard of these services they're pretty

  big they have a lot of users and

  everybody wants you know something to

  enhance their favorite service or to

  make it easier to use or or whatever

  else so it seems like there's there's a

  business there or there's there's a

  market there rather but trying to build

  an entire business in a situation like

  that where there is this massive

  fundamental dependency that your app has

  on someone else's service that I think

  is increasingly unwise over time and

  that it's not to say that nobody should

  ever do it but it certainly should I

  think give you pause before you invest

  heavily into it so for instance in the

  case of Pro to Bleich I'm pretty sure

  that was somebody's full-time job

  or at least that was like that was their

  primary app that they made and and I

  believe that I believe the author even

  seven blog posted it did pretty well for

  a while and it had lots of users I

  personally at this point in my life I

  cannot imagine having my app be a

  hundred percent dependent on someone

  else's service now in the app store we

  are always 100% depend on Apple like

  that that is one dependency we always

  have is that well Apple at any time

  could kick us out of the App Store but

  in general if you align your incentives

  with Apple's you know or at least if you

  avoid stepping on their feet there's not

  much reason for Apple to remove you from

  the App Store like if you just have some

  regular app why would Apple remove it

  like that would that would be a huge PR

  risk to them maybe even a legal risk if

  you're big enough you know they the fact

  is Apple does not want to go around

  removing apps for no reason so like I'm

  not worried with overcast

  I'm not worried that Apple is gonna come

  along and all of a sudden say you know

  what podcast apps are now illegal again

  in the App Store and therefore you have

  to leave like that's I I don't stay

  awake at night thinking about that

  because I think it's incredibly unlikely

  because there's not much reason for

  Apple to ever do that that and that

  would be too much downside for them for

  it compared to whatever little upside

  there might be but if you're basing your

  entire app on something like Twitter or

  YouTube or somehow or Facebook you know

  some other big service like that you are

  building a business in someone else's

  property like they can do whatever they

  want and they don't have the kind of

  neutral incentive collection that Apple

  has in that kind of scenario like if

  you're building a Twitter app you're

  competing with Twitter and their own app

  using their own service and they're an

  API to do it so they are not going to be

  too keen on that and even if one of

  these services has an API where they

  they say that they're okay with

  something one day the next day that

  could change the next year that could

  change they might have to boost their

  metrics and your app might be taking

  away their metrics they might get new

  leadership that wants to take the

  company they

  and direction or their investors might

  force the company to take a different

  direction you know they might need to

  make changes to the product and the API

  that your app relies on is getting in

  the way of that progress there's all

  sorts of reasons why most companies and

  apps and services don't really need to

  let you build apps on them and it

  usually is actually against their best

  interest these days to do that and

  therefore it is unwise to make your

  business rely on that and so in the case

  of Pro Tube and YouTube it is really a

  shame that this great app that had a lot

  of big fans and had really been

  critically acclaimed it's a shame that

  app is now gone because YouTube decided

  they had enough and they they made Apple

  take it down and by the way I don't

  think Apple had any choice in the matter

  like that's a simple you know legal

  request thing and Apple does not need to

  put their neck out for that that's not

  worth it for them so this was really you

  know if you if you wanna be mad at

  somebody about this be mad at YouTube

  not Apple but it's it's a shame this app

  is gone but at the same time it was

  never on solid ground

  it was never guaranteed to be just

  forever the author of it had no right to

  like no guaranteed right that it would

  exist forever because it was always from

  the beginning built upon YouTube's

  property using YouTube's service doing

  things that YouTube really probably

  didn't want anybody to do and you know

  living on the edge and that really

  really sucks for the developer that it's

  now gone and that that business just

  disappeared but on someone well that's

  just the risk you take when you live on

  the edge like that like when you're in

  when you live in these gray areas it

  could disappear at any moment

  and so I'm not I'm not saying that you

  should necessarily never build an app

  like that but you should expect that you

  know you should go into it knowing that

  massive risk knowing that at any time

  the ground could shift below you and

  your

  fire app could just be gone like in this

  in the snap of fingers like it's just

  it's just gone and so how much do you

  want to invest in that how much do you

  want to rely on that how much do you

  want to plan for the future of his

  business when that could happen at any

  moment

  yeah it's so tough to cuz it's like I

  feel at a personal level I feel really

  bad for this developer I think it's

  Jonas Gessner I think it's his name like

  I have been in the position of making an

  app having it be successful and then

  having it sort of taken out at the store

  and thankfully for me that has that was

  many years ago when the App Store was a

  slightly different place and so like

  eventually I was able to get it back in

  and so on like that's a long story for

  another day but like I have been in this

  exact position and I know how this feels

  and it feels awful so at a personal

  level like it's very very sympathetic to

  like how frustrating this meant we must

  be but it is yeah I think the thing that

  most fundamentally when I think about

  these types of apps like there is any

  time there was a popular service like

  there is a built-in audience and so

  building applications to cater to that

  audience it makes sense because you're

  it's like if you wanted to create your

  own video you know video sharing viewing

  platform that hosts all the content and

  has Pail you know has video creators

  publish your videos on your platform etc

  like that is completely insurmountable

  so piggybacking on top of a big popular

  or probably the most popular video

  service in the world YouTube makes a lot

  of sense but inherent in that is like

  what you are in some ways doing is it's

  like you're it's you're making money off

  their service off their costs like

  YouTube is paying all the infrastructure

  costs YouTube is paying all of the

  bandwidth costs for hosting this video

  and then they're not activate on their

  own a they don't have a mechanism to

  make money from that you know YouTube

  makes most of its money from its

  advertising or its YouTube red

  subscription service both of which are

  things that as you know any third-party

  client isn't really showing to them I

  mean it's theoretically possible that

  YouTube could make

  mechanism by which you know developers

  have pay for that the use of the API but

  in general I don't think that's the case

  and so you're always in this kind of

  tricky position where you're making

  money off someone else's work in a

  certain way in a very helpful useful way

  but it's a really tenuous thing because

  that money that you are able to bring in

  that business that exists in many ways

  belongs to YouTube like and from a like

  they're made there they're creating the

  opportunity for doing that they're

  choosing not to necessarily explore and

  exploit that themselves you know they're

  not making the YouTube pro app that

  would do all of these things and they

  may have reasons for doing that and they

  could be you know who knows what that

  what that is like maybe they don't want

  a lot of apps to exist that have you

  know background audio playback because

  then they get in trouble with music

  labels who then people are you know just

  using YouTube as a as a CEO music

  streaming service and that creates legal

  issues or problems for them and so that

  they don't want to go down that road and

  sometimes they may want to let that

  exist like it's some it reminds me in

  many ways a lot of sort of the early

  days of Twitter where it existed part of

  what made it catch and fueled its

  initial growth I think was their

  openness of their third part of

  third-party clients because it allow it

  GAE essentially gave them this massive

  free developer effort that they didn't

  have to directly pay for they just paid

  for the infrastructure but there was a

  lot of this creativity and innovation

  that happened around their platform that

  they didn't have to manage and direct

  you know they could just sort of let you

  know let a thousand flowers bloom and

  then ultimately they just they picked

  the most successful flower there and

  they went after they purchased Tweety

  and you know made that the official

  client and then now now that that's sort

  of that that phase has happened it's you

  know increasingly they are shutting that

  down and I mean it's there's a few

  players who make third-party Twitter

  apps now but largely it's kind of this

  grandfathered in now

  really supported or encouraged kind of

  thing and in some ways that's great if

  you happened to like that's a very as

  the best possible scenario probably that

  if you make this kind of dependent

  service where ultimately yours kind of

  grandfathered in and you can just kind

  of exist and you have this mode of

  protection around you because no one

  else can make these apps anymore and so

  you're the only one so like that's

  awesome but probably much more likely is

  what's happening here where they just

  say you know this is not something we

  want to do and because you're sort of

  operating at our at our pleasure like at

  any point we can just turn this off

  they'll just turn it off and while at

  some point maybe you can find like crazy

  technical solutions to work around that

  and things where you're like you're not

  it's not an official API it's an

  unofficial API or you're just like

  you're posing as the official client

  like there's all kinds of crazy

  technical things but ultimately

  especially because we're exist in the

  app store environment where YouTube can

  just go to Apple and say this developer

  is essentially is violating our Terms of

  Service is doing illicit things we need

  you to take them down you'll get taken

  down like it's not a world where that

  might exist and so it's yeah it's it's

  unfortunate that this happens like I

  feel really bad for the people involved

  in the actual situation both the

  developers as well as the users but yeah

  it's it's always so tenuous and it's and

  it's something that I think we'll get

  into this a bit more later on too but

  it's these types of opportunities when

  they appear they look so enticing

  because the audience of the platform is

  so big and the user base is so large

  that you look at something like like

  when I think if these types of things

  and I've thought about making YouTube

  related apps and content and features

  it's like the universe of you know it's

  like there's probably under hundreds of

  millions if not billions of people who

  use YouTube and you start to play that

  game of like well what if I could only

  get like 1/10 of 1% of those people to

  download my app then that's huge and

  it's like well if you did get to do that

  if you did have an app that had a lot

  had a lot of success in almost it almost

  necessarily you will bigger you

  the more trouble you will have and as a

  business that sound it's like that

  sounds kind of fundamentally problematic

  that most of us when we're setting out

  to build something you know we wanted to

  have you have the ability to grow

  steadily over time whereas in a

  situation like with almost all these

  types of apps the bigger your app gets

  the more likely it is that the service

  that you're reliant on is either is

  going to become suspicious or you know

  concerned about you and maybe on the

  upside eventually that would lead to

  sound like an acquisition which is like

  I guess the best version of this you

  know like if YouTube had come along and

  said hey we're gonna buy you know we're

  gonna kind of a queue high IQ higher the

  Pro Tube app and you know get gained

  from the expertise and the experience of

  this developer like that would be the

  happy ending but you know there's no

  guarantees if a happy ending in

  something like this also keep in mind

  like if even even in that scenario where

  they equi hi are you think about the

  leverage that they have that situation

  versus the leverage you have in a

  situation yeah they could bring you in

  the room and say look you can come work

  for us for whatever amount of money

  we're gonna offer you which probably

  doesn't need to be that much because of

  what we're about to say or we're gonna

  shut you down

  that's it like we're gonna cut off your

  API access or you can come work for us

  like you don't have a lot of leverage in

  that negotiation they have all the power

  so that even that is not a great outcome

  especially to if you do implemented

  features that aren't things that are

  technically difficult in this editing

  like like Twitter bought Tweety because

  Lauren bricked her is a deus and was

  doing things like he invented

  pull-to-refresh and he was doing crazy

  iOS performance stuff in a way that at

  the time very few people could touch and

  so like his leverage wasn't that he was

  doing things that he was he was doing

  things that Twitter just couldn't

  recreate whereas in you know in this

  case it becomes much trickier and your

  position is would definitely be a much

  weaker where it's like it's things that

  the content provider or the platform

  owner is consciously choosing not to

  implement your leverage goes down

  dramatically yeah and I think one of the

  reasons I think we see a lot of younger

  developer

  falling into the trap of assuming that

  they can build an app on this kind of

  thing and and that they'll be okay and

  that or that will be okay and they you

  know some of that just comes with

  experience of you know whether you trust

  that kind of stuff or not but also you

  know I feel like humor developers have

  I'm sorry this is insulting I don't mean

  it to be there they don't often

  distinguish well between what's a public

  good on the internet and what's a

  private service or or you make

  assumptions about about the private

  services that they are maybe more

  publicly available or more publicly open

  or that you have more rights than you

  actually have and like this is one of

  the things one of the reasons why all US

  olds talk about things like the open web

  and open protocols and open formats

  decentralization because so much of the

  internet now is privatized so much of

  usage of metrics of time spent is

  happening under the complete control of

  one of a handful of web giants that

  there's almost nothing public left that

  a lot of people think about and use all

  the time and think about every day like

  almost all usages in Facebook or you

  know Google does all the searches and

  YouTube does all the video and so if you

  actually want to you know try to build

  something lasting build it on open

  platforms and open standards and in open

  places where you can be the business you

  can be the service that's in control

  this is one of the reasons I like

  podcasting so much because Apple has

  some role in it but not actually a very

  major one anymore and so my main

  dependency an apple is literally just

  the App Store like if the iTunes API

  shut down tomorrow I'd be totally fine

  so when you're choosing what to do build

  in open spaces anyway speaking of spaces

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  their support of this show so related to

  this type of this discussion of pro to

  bene relying on external services I

  think interesting place to wrap up might

  be to also talk a little bit about

  exploiting developer opportunities in

  this kind of seeing seeing an

  opportunity seeing a niche that exists

  and then sort of trying to build an app

  inside of that because often I feel like

  that is the especially as a smaller

  developer one minute one one two three

  paper person team whatever your

  we are best able to thrive and flourish

  in these kind of small spaces that may

  be too small for a larger company to

  want to go after or maybe you have the

  ability to get in there right away like

  I've taken advantage of this many times

  myself where a new API you know is

  introduced in iOS or watch OS and I

  immediately jump on it and kind of dive

  in there to take advantage of it and

  it's interesting because I feel like in

  some ways this is what this app was

  doing but in others it's not and I think

  maybe it's interesting to you to kind of

  differentiate between the types of

  opportunities that are likely going to

  be sustainable down the road and those

  these types of opportunities that are

  tenuous and exist sort of if somewhat

  more transiently and it isn't

  necessarily that one you should only

  ever pursue the first and ignore the

  second because there are certainly

  opportunities I'm sure where it's like

  making an app that is useful or exists

  you know solely for a few weeks or a few

  months for you could potentially be

  worth doing I mean there's been numerous

  of these I think they like that they

  come up in the App Store like when the

  ipods first came out there's a whole

  there's a couple of apps that day where

  ipod found finders before Apple

  introduced to find my iPod into the find

  my friends app err pause yeah sorry

  sorry the air pause and that those like

  find my earpods apps like exists in this

  kind of tenuous space that I don't I

  mean ultimately I think a lot of them

  were pulled from the App Store so like

  maybe they didn't actually end up being

  financially viable in that sense but

  like that kind of an opportunity where

  it's like here's this thing that exists

  it may have a very short-lived lifespan

  but then like you can go in you can take

  advantage of it you potentially don't

  put in a massive amount of development

  resources into it and then you move on

  like that's interesting and that's

  potentially use useful in a lot of cases

  versus I think it's it's keeping in mind

  that there are other opportunities that

  are just these you know building an app

  that

  is filling filling a filling a space

  that is too small for someone s a penis

  it's too small for a big competitor to

  come in and try and compete with you

  with and just so you know surviving in

  there and taking advantage of that space

  like I mean I think of this some of

  these like that and for some reason I

  think I'm on the Mac a lot more about

  these but there's so many of these like

  little tools these little utilities that

  exist to solve a little annoyance or fix

  something that's just you know doing

  window management I mean is a common

  example of something on the Mac maybe

  where like you're solving this little

  problem that isn't you know that

  theoretically Apple could one day come

  along and Sherlock you and usually that

  is the like the big risk for these kinds

  of apps worse you know you have some

  some bigger person will eventually come

  along and then slurp up the that space

  but you can often this you know we have

  a sustainable business for a long time

  or you can be in these kind of in this

  kind of a situation where maybe other

  people aren't going after it the

  opportunity because it's kind of dubious

  or kind of tenuous as to whether it's

  something that's allowed but I don't

  know other things is worth just

  considering and probably the overall

  lesson is before you it's so easy as a

  developer I think choose to start down

  the road of development when you see an

  opportunity to like that to just go in

  and do it and worry about like you see

  this technical opportunity and you go

  and try and solve it but it's probably

  the important thing is or that I've

  learned from my experience is to take

  just like two or three steps back and be

  like what is this likely going to look

  like down the road is this an app that

  I'm going to want to maintain is this an

  app that I'm that I think would make a

  sustainable business do I think what is

  the likelihood of this being sure locked

  down the road I mean actually this very

  summer like I had a couple of ideas for

  apps related to iPad multitasking and

  some of the new changes there and I

  think ultimately I've decided I'm not

  going to ultimately ship them because

  the more I looked at it and the more I

  decided like I'm solving this very niche

  narrow like problem that I think will

  exist for at most a year probably less

  you know that I think these there's

  these little

  Edge's that Apple will likely sand down

  over the next couple of point releases

  and do I really want to go through the

  effort of building out a fully featured

  app and then putting it out and

  supporting it and maintaining it and

  having this sort of this expectation of

  death then that if Apple solves it that

  half solves it or makes it worse then

  like it's becomes this thing that I need

  to manage and I just decided you know

  it's probably not worth it and I think

  doing that exercise is something I

  didn't used to do and so I just wanted

  to mention it as something to encourage

  everyone else to whenever you see these

  little opportunities make sure we're

  being thoughtful about if it's a if it's

  a good if it's a good thing that is

  going to come back to benefit us in the

  future and if it's not go into it with

  eyes open saying like I'm making making

  this app that I expect to sell for a few

  weeks or a few months and that's okay

  and if it you know had if it was a big

  big flash and a big fall that's fine I

  mean I have failed to learn this less

  than so many times I mean I made a

  magazine then relighted it in like

  running a magazine I made an ad blocker

  then realized it's a terrible business I

  didn't want to be in that made that

  mistake so in terms of like being on you

  and especially like in the case of the

  ad blocker and even to some degree

  Instapaper when you are kind of like

  living on the edge of what might be

  considered legal with copyright or

  things like copyright there is a huge

  market of people who want that kind of

  thing and you can build a business there

  but it's like building a business on the

  edge of volcano like it is a very very

  high risk and you never know like what

  could blow up in your face and really

  cause problems for you I mean people who

  made a blockers we're getting sued like

  not that long after I stopped making in

  and I just narrowly dodged that risk so

  again it's like there are there's a

  business to be had here but do you want

  that business are you willing to accept

  the risks of that and how long is that

  going to be a business and and how much

  that is in your control yeah and I think

  - it's the maturity of being okay with

  missing out is ultimately what I think

  it came down for that like I had to grow

  as a person to the point that I could

  say

  if I don't do this and someone else does

  I need to be okay with the fact that

  they may have a good run or it could it

  be successful and not play they like

  what if I had done it if only I had done

  it kind of a game because ultimately

  that's just going to drive you crazy

  like you have to be like make an

  informed decision give it some thought

  and then just be able to be like you

  know like that was the choice I made and

  live with that rather than just sort of

  making these choices out of just the

  fear of potentially missing out down the

  road like that's no way to to build a

  business or support or made do to make

  choices in ways that it's going to be

  you know sustainable for your look your

  your mental health thanks for listening

  everybody and we'll talk to you next

  week bye