00:00:00 ◼ ► Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS app development. I'm Marco Arment.
00:00:05 ◼ ► And I'm David Smith. Under the Radar is never longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.
00:00:15 ◼ ► A very specific kind of change and a general feeling that I definitely have been feeling over the summer.
00:00:45 ◼ ► I knew it inside and out. And recently there have been a lot of things that are starting to happen in the app store that feel,
00:01:15 ◼ ► Whereas I feel like now we're getting to a place where the app store is starting to change from forces outside of the app store.
00:01:20 ◼ ► And in some ways that's a good thing. In some ways there are some positive changes that are coming from that.
00:01:30 ◼ ► outside people who may not understand the app store, may not have my interests certainly at heart,
00:01:45 ◼ ► But at least I think our interests are closer to each other than potentially lawmakers or
00:01:55 ◼ ► And specifically, I'm making reference vaguely to the settlement that was announced last week
00:02:20 ◼ ► tried to have a class action lawsuit, which for Apple's practices within the app store. And Apple has
00:02:30 ◼ ► small developer assistance fund, I think they called it, which is kind of a funny name for this.
00:02:35 ◼ ► But they're putting $100 million into a pot and they're going to give it to developers who made less than
00:02:45 ◼ ► policies within the app store. And they have a few other sort of things that they're going to
00:02:50 ◼ ► continue doing. So like the small business program is one of them. They're making a very minor change
00:02:55 ◼ ► slash clarification to the anti-steering rules. And they're going to say that app store
00:03:05 ◼ ► when I saw this news, I mean, there was a whole story that I think is not particularly interesting from our
00:03:15 ◼ ► and allowed Apple to sort of say that they were conceding things when they weren't actually really. But from
00:03:20 ◼ ► my perspective, I think it is more instructive as I don't really know what this is. It's interesting what this means
00:04:00 ◼ ► past may not have been the best. You know, we're not going to admit to anything, any sort of wrongdoing,
00:04:05 ◼ ► but instead we're just going to give you some money and hopefully we'll all be good going forward.
00:04:10 ◼ ► But at the same time, it's also kind of like they're just giving developers money and then
00:04:20 ◼ ► for, I imagine, a meaningful amount of time about things related to the App Store, which
00:05:00 ◼ ► we all have different thoughts and feelings on things. And so the whole idea of this being like a lawsuit that represents
00:05:05 ◼ ► developers, like I kind of take offense to that because no one asked me what I thought and no one speaks for me but
00:05:15 ◼ ► the larger picture of this, which again, we need to get too much into the specifics of this because honestly, I don't
00:05:20 ◼ ► think this suit matters at all. I don't think the settlement matters at all. I don't think the rule tweak
00:05:25 ◼ ► matters at all. Apple's making a big song and dance. It doesn't really matter at the end of the day.
00:05:50 ◼ ► there's other things going on too, like the news just came out that South Korea passed a law
00:06:55 ◼ ► doing certain types of things, most apps could work the same way everywhere, could offer the same
00:07:00 ◼ ► features and services to everyone, and whatever minor variation that existed with things
00:07:05 ◼ ► like even taxes and stuff. Apple took care of that for the most part. And so we were able
00:07:10 ◼ ► to not have to worry about all these different variations that actually exist in the real world
00:07:20 ◼ ► developers like us, you know, one person shops, two person shops, it made it easier for
00:07:25 ◼ ► small developers to operate without having to worry about a lot of the stuff that really big companies
00:07:40 ◼ ► certainly eroding. I don't know if it's coming to an end, but that's eroding. But that's also
00:08:35 ◼ ► data analysis or legal requirements or whatever, or just stuff that just requires money.
00:08:40 ◼ ► You know, like the increase of things like paid search placement being more and more important,
00:08:50 ◼ ► There's more and more of that stuff coming to the app store, and this has been a multi-year
00:10:10 ◼ ► put in some numbers, and so you kind of get a little bit of some insights where I think they said there were 67,000
00:10:45 ◼ ► it's weird because on the one hand, it's like, "Oh wow, there's a lot of developers." As a proportion, it's like
00:10:55 ◼ ► program, essentially. Basically, that's what those numbers seem to indicate. But at the
00:11:00 ◼ ► same time, I imagine the 586 developers that do not meet the criteria for the small business
00:11:45 ◼ ► going on there. And we're just sort of there in the side. And in some ways, when I see this lawsuit,
00:11:55 ◼ ► these 586 developers who are probably going to continue suing us and are going to be working
00:12:00 ◼ ► with Congress to get laws passed and they have a lot more on the line. We're just wanting
00:12:05 ◼ ► to settle with the rest of you. We're just going to close off that front of this war. Here's
00:12:20 ◼ ► And I think Apple has been very shrewd in some ways in this settlement where they clearly, I think they, based on, as far
00:12:25 ◼ ► as I can tell, they would not have lost this lawsuit if it had gone to trial. It seems very
00:12:30 ◼ ► unlikely they would have lost. Instead, they're just using it as an opportunity to close
00:12:50 ◼ ► I think it's, in some ways, mostly there's a part of me that just emotionally feels weird about that.
00:13:15 ◼ ► development of the App Store. And it's like now we're kind of more being shifted, even more so into
00:13:20 ◼ ► the side and there's going to be these big shifts that are going to come through and like, who knows what they're going to do?
00:13:25 ◼ ► I just don't like the uncertainty of that. I really don't like the fact that there might be
00:13:30 ◼ ► this law in South Korea. As far as I can tell, it doesn't seem to directly affect me. But who knows
00:13:40 ◼ ► places where it would have a much more meaningful impact on my own business. And it's like, I kind
00:13:45 ◼ ► of like that generally speaking in the App Store, what I have found is it's like the rate that my business
00:13:55 ◼ ► rose. So if I have like a crazy spike in sales, it'll kind of come down around the same rate. And if I have
00:14:00 ◼ ► a slow, steady buildup of sales, then I can kind of expect to have a slow decline of scales.
00:14:05 ◼ ► And what I really don't like are when there's these abrupt sort of discontinuities in that because
00:14:20 ◼ ► coming into effect and it's like, who knows what the unintended consequences of those are and what they might mean for
00:14:25 ◼ ► the viability of being a small developer. But at some point it's like, do I need to have a lawyer
00:14:30 ◼ ► that I have on retainer to handle some kind of compliance thing that's going to come about
00:14:35 ◼ ► as part of these laws and that's going to cause a lot of trouble or raise the bar to entry for
00:14:50 ◼ ► That to me, that kind of thing is the biggest threat, I think. Because there's always been
00:15:00 ◼ ► oh, of course everyone out there is going to have a full-time designer. And of course everyone out there is going to have a full-time
00:15:15 ◼ ► and you don't have these other full-time supporting roles that everything about the App Store seems to assume
00:15:30 ◼ ► because I don't have this kind of skill or this kind of help or this kind of budget. And so anything that
00:15:40 ◼ ► what's the minimum that you need to really have an app in the store and compete at all,
00:15:55 ◼ ► has that in their mind of like, let's make sure we don't exclude people as things get more complicated.
00:16:05 ◼ ► so big and they involve such big companies and big budgets and big parts of commerce and big governments
00:16:10 ◼ ► even. And it's hard for the interests of the independent developer to be maintained there.
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00:17:40 ◼ ► all of these changes, all these things that people are talking about, or like laws that are being proposed,
00:17:45 ◼ ► or all these directions, almost all of them when I see them are things that I don't expect
00:17:55 ◼ ► processing that I might be theoretically allowed to do when my users are in South Korea
00:18:00 ◼ ► now, that I could have them subscribe through something else. And it's like, I probably wouldn't.
00:18:10 ◼ ► like, I don't know if that's a counter view to a lot of the prevailing feeling, but it's like
00:18:15 ◼ ► overall, I feel like Apple has given me a pretty good deal the last 13 years and they provided a lot of
00:18:25 ◼ ► to take advantage of and work towards. And so all these things that are changing and sometimes
00:18:30 ◼ ► the small developer is held up as the reason for this and it's like we're the reason why people
00:18:35 ◼ ► are going to have to come in and whip Apple into shape. And it's like, I look at these changes and I'm like
00:18:40 ◼ ► I don't know if those are actually good for me. And I am a small developer the last time I checked. So
00:19:10 ◼ ► change the rules for everyone. I think Apple would comply with these laws in the narrowest
00:19:15 ◼ ► possible way. And so, yeah, maybe your app would be allowed to use in-app purchase methods other
00:19:25 ◼ ► else. I wouldn't for a second assume that they would give any more than they have to on these fronts.
00:19:30 ◼ ► And so you have fragmentation then. You have different things you can do in different countries. And again,
00:19:50 ◼ ► that would force them to take away other parts of the app store that I think are actually
00:20:10 ◼ ► user, sideloading scares the crap out of me. Because all you need to do to think about, you know, hey,
00:20:15 ◼ ► would this be a good idea? Just think about what would Facebook do? And you can see it.
00:20:20 ◼ ► You don't have to use your imagination too much because Facebook has done lots of terrible
00:20:35 ◼ ► to spy on people even more than the app store allows them to. Facebook does some really creepy stuff even
00:20:45 ◼ ► alternative app stores, guess what? We're all going to have to put our apps in the Facebook app store.
00:21:00 ◼ ► wait. If there's ever a Facebook, and as soon as alternative app stores are allowed on iOS,
00:21:10 ◼ ► iOS, we're going to have the Amazon app store with no space in it on iOS, and we're going to have the Facebook app store.
00:21:15 ◼ ► And then we're going to have to put our apps in three or four different app stores. Every single time
00:21:20 ◼ ► we have to keep up with all three or four different app stores, deal with their own rules
00:21:25 ◼ ► that will all be slightly different from each other, and pay them to show our apps to their users.
00:21:35 ◼ ► because that's what most users will have, right? Well, as soon as there's a way to get alternative
00:21:40 ◼ ► apps or app stores onto your device outside of Apple's app store, Facebook is going to say,
00:21:45 ◼ ► well, you know what, if you want to put Instagram on your phone, or the Facebook app on your phone, you're going to have to get it
00:21:50 ◼ ► from our store now. We're going to pull it out of the Apple store. And Facebook has enough clout in the world
00:21:55 ◼ ► that people will do that. So everybody will have the Facebook app store installed on their
00:22:00 ◼ ► phone. Everybody. And that will become, you know, Facebook will use its rules, and its lack of
00:22:18 ◼ ► where everyone went to get their apps. The Apple app store would become like the Mac app store. It would become
00:22:23 ◼ ► the place where some people go sometimes, but it's not going to be where most distribution happens.
00:22:28 ◼ ► So that's the world that will be created if we get sideloading in a way that enables alternative app stores.
00:22:48 ◼ ► And as a developer, I'm afraid that as Apple has, you know, they're keeping their grip so tight
00:22:53 ◼ ► on the in-app purchase rules because they make so much money from them, that I'm afraid that
00:23:23 ◼ ► in the early days of the app stores, when I was still trying to work out what kind of a business I wanted to be in,
00:23:28 ◼ ► I launched some apps on the Google Play Store and I launched some apps in the Amazon App Store.
00:23:38 ◼ ► way back in the day. And it's like, it very quickly dawned on me that it's like, I don't want to be in the
00:23:48 ◼ ► It's complicated, there's too much to keep track of, and it becomes, like we were saying,
00:23:53 ◼ ► it's like, now I need, I would need to have a person who was dedicated to that, who was going to
00:24:03 ◼ ► events are, and understanding what's happening, and being aware of the news, and what I should be doing, and it's like,
00:24:13 ◼ ► And so, like, I want to have one place that I can focus all my expertise and effort and try
00:24:18 ◼ ► and become, you know, it's like an expert in one thing, and that feels sustainable and manageable, but
00:24:23 ◼ ► becoming an expert in like five things isn't. And it's like all of those things, it very quickly,
00:24:38 ◼ ► and this is certainly one of those things that is not 100% true, but it's like 80% true,
00:24:48 ◼ ► within Apple that cares about good experiences, and cares about design, and cares about quality,
00:25:18 ◼ ► and it's all about analytics, and it's all about engagement, and it's all of those types of metrics are the things that you
00:25:23 ◼ ► start to optimize for. It's like the world becomes a thing that I don't, I just have no interest in.
00:25:33 ◼ ► I always just very quickly say, "Nope, this isn't me." And if that's where the industry goes, and that's where my
00:25:38 ◼ ► business has to go, then it's like, well, I might need to be finding a new business, or I'll just like make do with,
00:25:48 ◼ ► App Store example, in some ways it would burn, and in some ways it's just like, well, if that's where I found myself,
00:25:53 ◼ ► then I guess that's where I'd be, and I would just hope that it would work out, you know, for long enough
00:25:58 ◼ ► for me to make it work. You know, the App Store has gone through lots of seasons, and I would hope I would be able
00:26:03 ◼ ► to sort of weather that one, but yeah, it's like, it just makes me nervous, and I just,
00:26:18 ◼ ► there are lots of things that I wish Apple had just done differently over the years. It's like overall, I think
00:26:23 ◼ ► they've been a reasonable steward of the App Store, especially when you understand that it's like Apple first,
00:26:28 ◼ ► customer second, developer third kind of thing. Like, you understand your place in that, you understand what they're
00:26:33 ◼ ► trying to accomplish, and you can align yourself with that, like, you can make that work, and
00:26:48 ◼ ► you know, the way that I make my living, and the way this business works than I have been
00:26:55 ◼ ► Yeah, but that's, I like the way you just put that, that I, you know, there, if the world moves
00:27:00 ◼ ► in these more complicated directions, you know, if it continues to move in these more complicated directions,
00:27:05 ◼ ► we aren't necessarily required to go along with it. You know, in many ways this happened in podcasting.
00:27:10 ◼ ► You know, there's, podcasting started out being, you know, shows like this, mostly, you know, and then there were a couple
00:27:15 ◼ ► like, you know, public radio produced shows that were like really nice, but, you know, for the most part it was a lot of stuff like this.
00:27:25 ◼ ► coming in, big productions, big budgets, big staffs doing big things with, with other big
00:27:30 ◼ ► companies and making deals, and the whole world of podcasting has kind of moved in, in massive way towards that,
00:27:37 ◼ ► but we are still able to do this. We are just no longer like the, the, the bulk of what podcasting is, if, if we ever were.
00:27:45 ◼ ► And that, you know, as long as we are able to do this, there might be this massive other world happening off, you know, in this other place,
00:27:53 ◼ ► but we aren't required to do what they do. We aren't required to be in it, and its existence doesn't make it impossible for us to also exist.
00:28:01 ◼ ► We just aren't as big as it. And, you know, that might happen to apps too, like if, you know, if, if the world goes to this, in this direction where, you know, in, in five years we have
00:28:11 ◼ ► five different app stores everyone has to be a part of and everyone is spending six dollars per installation, most of it just goes into Facebook, like that sucks,
00:28:19 ◼ ► but if we can, if we can just still do this and be, you know, only in the stores we want to be in, only in the platforms we want to be on,
00:28:27 ◼ ► and only spending the money or lack thereof to pay people to install our apps that we want to spend, I, I think as long as we can keep doing what we're doing,
00:28:36 ◼ ► what the giant rest of the world does, doesn't necessarily need to preclude us from doing that.
00:28:42 ◼ ► Yeah, I think that's a fair point. I mean, and I think that is honestly, that is the part of this that in the end I feel slightly like the best about, is that
00:28:49 ◼ ► if the app stores go in the directions I don't like, and at a certain point it's like, I have agency in this, I can just keep doing what I'm doing and hope that
00:28:57 ◼ ► there are enough, you know, app used, app consumers, app users out there who will enjoy what I do and there don't need to be that many of them for me to make a nice sustainable living,
00:29:08 ◼ ► and who knows what's going on in like the other part of the world and it's like, there might be money to be made there, there might be fame and fortune, like who knows,
00:29:16 ◼ ► but if I can make a living and that's what I want to do and that's the industry that I enjoy like being a part of, then it's like as long as that exists and hopefully in all this it would, you know, survive well enough to allow that, then like that's okay.
00:29:27 ◼ ► And I guess we'll just, you know, we might become less relevant, but it's like, oh well, you know, that there are worse things.