Developing Perspective

#206: Can the App Store be Full?


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   the use of Node in iOS development, Apple, and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm an

00:00:08   independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia. This is show number 206. Today is

00:00:13   Friday, December 12th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:19   All right, so if you've been listening to Developing Perspective for some part of the last

00:00:25   about three years, I think that I've been doing it. You're probably listening to it now

00:00:29   in a podcast client.

00:00:31   If my stats are any indication, you're probably listening to it inside of Overcast, which

00:00:35   is the vast majority of my downloads.

00:00:37   But I'm trying something a bit new today.

00:00:39   I'm trying something, if you've been following my work more generally, I'm trying a couple

00:00:44   of different things, just creatively myself.

00:00:48   One of those is that I'm also recording this podcast as a video.

00:00:52   And I'm not really sure necessarily if having it as a video and being able to see my face

00:00:56   my expressions is really helpful or not,

00:01:00   but it's something that I'm trying.

00:01:01   It's something that I thought would be interesting to do

00:01:04   to see, as I'm exploring the media more generally,

00:01:07   it's something that I've started doing tutorial videos

00:01:09   for WatchKit.

00:01:10   I released my second one of those yesterday,

00:01:13   and now I'm also trying it on the podcast,

00:01:14   and just seeing if it does anything

00:01:16   to enhance the experience,

00:01:18   to see if it makes the video more accessible

00:01:21   to a different audience,

00:01:22   people who just would prefer to watch something

00:01:25   or listen to it inside of YouTube, and just as an experiment.

00:01:29   And it's kind of one of the fun things about being independent and being able to kind of

00:01:33   just try things and see what I think is interesting.

00:01:35   And so that's what I'm doing.

00:01:36   All right.

00:01:37   So I'm going to get on and I'll dive into the actual main topic for today's show.

00:01:42   And that is, it's kind of an odd thought.

00:01:46   And the title for today's episode is going to be, "Can the App Store Be Full?"

00:01:51   And by that I mean, obviously not full in so far as it's a digital marketplace.

00:01:55   not that it's actually going to run out of space.

00:01:57   I think Apple is perfectly capable of buying enough hard drives that they'll be able to

00:02:02   store the combined binaries of all apps that ever wanted to be submitted to it.

00:02:06   But if at a certain point we hit a different part in the curve, where rather than the App

00:02:12   Store continuing to grow and expand in ways that are genuinely benefiting users, are genuinely

00:02:20   enhancing the experience for the common customer,

00:02:26   if we hit a certain point where that really stops,

00:02:28   or at least slows to such a point

00:02:31   that it has these tiny little blips of innovation,

00:02:36   of newness, of freshness.

00:02:39   But it's largely overwhelmed by a sea of more of the same.

00:02:43   And in some ways, this has got me thinking about the recent App

00:02:46   store review shenanigans, Tempest, Fiasco, I don't know what you want to call it, where

00:02:53   a bunch of apps from notable developers have been rejected and there's a whole kind of

00:02:57   back, it feels like a, you know, it's another wave of this angst about app review, which

00:03:03   I've been doing this for long enough, I've been making apps for about, almost six years

00:03:07   now, I think, and so I'm fairly used to it, but it's, you know, and so I'm not going to

00:03:14   actually address the details about what's been going on the last couple of weeks directly

00:03:18   on the show.

00:03:19   I thought about it, but I don't think I really have much to add other than this is the way

00:03:22   the store works, and it has been for a while.

00:03:25   I like overall app review, so I'm glad that it's there.

00:03:29   And you just sort of keep calm and carry on and just keep coding and do the best you can,

00:03:34   and that's ultimately the best way to make a living, to enjoy building apps for the store.

00:03:39   What I want to focus on, though, is something somewhat similar to this.

00:03:44   I'm increasingly starting to wonder if the App Store is kind of full and that isn't a

00:03:50   result of Apple's policies, isn't a result of lack of new APIs or anything like that,

00:03:57   but at a certain point, the App Store is coming close to one and a half million applications.

00:04:04   If you take a step and think about that, obviously a lot of those are junk.

00:04:08   Obviously a lot of those are duplicates.

00:04:10   Obviously a lot of those are kind of things

00:04:13   that aren't actually useful necessarily.

00:04:16   But even if you assume that maybe half of them are useful,

00:04:19   a third of them are useful,

00:04:20   it's still an insane volume of applications.

00:04:23   And so it starts to make me think,

00:04:25   at a certain point it's unrealistic to expect

00:04:27   that we will continue to find,

00:04:29   developers will find ways to build new and useful

00:04:33   applications for customers.

00:04:35   And they're obviously, the more niche you go,

00:04:38   the more specialized capability that you want from your application.

00:04:43   The more possible it is that you can still make an application.

00:04:46   Yesterday, I think it was Workflow, which is an application for building these really crazy actions,

00:04:52   this crazy action composer for iOS was released.

00:04:56   And it does some pretty awesome things.

00:04:58   I mean, it's not an app that I think I would use, but it's kind of cool to look at.

00:05:01   But functionally, I think it will probably only be useful for a vanishingly small percentage

00:05:07   the users on the App Store.

00:05:08   I spent this last week.

00:05:10   Apple released their yearly top app lists.

00:05:15   So they have the best apps, and they have the most popular apps

00:05:19   downloaded for the top free, top paid, top grossing.

00:05:22   And they do this every year.

00:05:23   And one of the things I like to do

00:05:24   is I sit down and look at the free, paid, and grossing,

00:05:27   and just get a sense of what the store is like.

00:05:30   And especially if you spend time looking at the top free list,

00:05:34   you get a pretty, you know, a fairly particular view

00:05:37   of what the App Store is these days,

00:05:39   'cause that's probably the most representative view

00:05:41   on what a typical user's experience on the App Store is like

00:05:45   'cause the free apps are by far the most heavily downloaded.

00:05:48   And, you know, App Store is basically

00:05:50   it's fairly simple games, mostly free to play,

00:05:53   or, you know, free with advertising, that kind of thing,

00:05:56   or it's a social network or things like Facebook

00:05:58   or Snapchat or those types of messaging application,

00:06:02   Instagram, things that are about connecting with people.

00:06:05   That is, I think, by and large what most people use their phones for.

00:06:09   I'm not sure if that's the case.

00:06:12   At a certain point, does the continuing to expect the App Store to be able to grow and

00:06:18   expand in the way that it had for a while, is that realistic?

00:06:22   I know for myself, while I continue to make new applications, the rate at which I am making

00:06:30   things and the rate at which I'm making things fresh and new is certainly slowing down.

00:06:35   And some of that is just my interest and some of that is just it's hard to keep up with

00:06:39   never expanding universe of applications.

00:06:41   I've kind of learned my lesson, I suppose you could say.

00:06:44   But I still wonder about this.

00:06:46   And I wonder if it's a better explanation for some of the angst that I kind of in general

00:06:52   kind of been feeling in the app developer community recently.

00:06:56   But there's kind of a lot more of this kind of boo hooing about, oh no, it's so hard to

00:07:00   make a living in the app store.

00:07:02   Oh, maybe I should make Android.

00:07:03   They don't have app review.

00:07:05   Whatever it is, there's another round of latent anxiety about it.

00:07:09   And these have happened many times before.

00:07:11   It's not something that is particularly surprising to me.

00:07:15   I've gone through this many times with many different times.

00:07:19   But at the end, I keep coming back to, maybe it's just the app store is full.

00:07:24   Maybe it's just so hyper-competitive that if anything you could imagine could exist

00:07:29   already does exist at this point.

00:07:32   At its core, there are probably only a few dozen types of applications that exist in

00:07:37   the App Store.

00:07:39   Now we have most of them, now that we have most of them already built.

00:07:41   What does that mean?

00:07:43   What do we do with that?

00:07:46   I'm not really sure.

00:07:47   What I'm doing with myself is, A, it's helping me to feel better about focusing on just doubling

00:07:53   down on some of the existing applications I have.

00:07:56   So as I'm looking forward towards WatchKit,

00:07:58   I'm focusing more on making sure that the things that I have

00:08:01   that have had some traction are things that I will continue

00:08:04   to invest in, things that I will continue to improve and make

00:08:07   better and better.

00:08:09   Because that's by far the most likely path

00:08:11   that I have for continuing to be relevant in the store.

00:08:15   Because I already have some sort of leverage

00:08:17   there that if someone new came to the App Store

00:08:20   and worked with, they wouldn't have.

00:08:22   And so it makes sense to try and leverage that and take advantage of it as much as I

00:08:28   can.

00:08:29   And then also when I think about things that I want to do that are new, it changes a little

00:08:34   bit your perspective when you start to think about, it's like if you take as a given that

00:08:38   there aren't any new great ideas.

00:08:42   And obviously that's a patently incorrect statement.

00:08:47   Obviously there are things that haven't been invented yet that will be invented.

00:08:51   That's just necessarily true.

00:08:54   But the point is not necessarily that things haven't been invented, but that is the extreme

00:09:00   outlier that having success by being truly novel rather than just success by being somewhat

00:09:07   boring and by just building something that is just a good take on a well-defined problem.

00:09:17   And that is interesting.

00:09:18   I don't know exactly what that means.

00:09:20   I get a lot of people who reach out to me and talk to me about they want to make their

00:09:24   -- they'd love to be an indie in the app store.

00:09:26   That's kind of the dream they have.

00:09:27   Or they see what I do and they talk to me and they'll say, "Oh, man, what you're doing

00:09:31   is living the dream.

00:09:32   What you're doing is what I want to do."

00:09:36   It's hard to talk to those people sometimes because I have the understanding that it's

00:09:41   very unlikely that you're going to come up with something that is truly new or something

00:09:44   that will be adopted just on its own merits,

00:09:47   on it being novel and it being interesting.

00:09:50   And if you do, it'll likely be copied very quickly,

00:09:53   just the nature of the store.

00:09:55   And so if you want to make it in the App Store,

00:09:59   it's much more a question of patience,

00:10:01   a question of savvy, maybe, too,

00:10:06   of being really thoughtful about how you're doing things

00:10:08   from a business perspective,

00:10:09   on keeping your expenses and your costs really, really low.

00:10:12   That's one way that I know I've been

00:10:14   able to make a living out of this,

00:10:16   is that I keep my expenses very low on the development side.

00:10:20   I'm a one man shop.

00:10:20   It's just me in a-- the most expensive thing

00:10:23   for the most part that goes into developing an application

00:10:26   is that every two or three years I buy a new computer.

00:10:29   Beyond that, it's just my time.

00:10:31   And obviously my time is valuable,

00:10:32   but my time is not an out of pocket expense.

00:10:35   And so that helps me keep my expenses really low,

00:10:37   which means that even if I don't have huge amounts of income,

00:10:40   which I certainly don't, but I have

00:10:42   a nice comfortable living that I can make from the App Store.

00:10:45   So that's kind of where I am, and that's what I've been thinking about a lot.

00:10:50   And I think, I'm not really sure what the conclusion of this is, it was like I said,

00:10:53   it's kind of more of a random musing.

00:10:55   But it's made me think that in some ways the App Store might just be full, that the App

00:10:58   Store might just be something that is ever more, it's going to be increasingly harder

00:11:08   and harder and harder to make it just on something being fresh.

00:11:12   You have to take as an assumption that anything you build will immediately be copied or already

00:11:16   exists in the app store.

00:11:18   And so your success can't be predicated on those things.

00:11:20   Your success can't be predicated on something like that.

00:11:24   And bringing this back into the app review thing and some of the ways that, you know,

00:11:28   like the drama we've had with today view widgets or with document pickers or all these kinds

00:11:33   of applications is increasingly, Apple in their API design

00:11:39   and in their SDK design are necessarily-- especially

00:11:42   on iOS.

00:11:44   The watch kit is a separate discussion that if I have time,

00:11:47   I'll squeeze in at the end.

00:11:48   But on iOS, they're increasingly making

00:11:50   operations whose value is less and less mainstream.

00:11:55   And maybe that's a bit controversial to say,

00:11:58   but a lot of these things, a lot of extensions, today extensions,

00:12:01   sharing extensions, document pickers especially,

00:12:03   are things designed for, you could call them power users

00:12:08   or whatever, like they're much more niche and specialized.

00:12:12   If you look at the top free list

00:12:14   and what the average user's experience on iOS is,

00:12:16   they're probably not dealing with a lot of extensions.

00:12:19   They're using their phone to text people and take pictures.

00:12:22   And so as they push those things more and more niche,

00:12:26   it is in some ways also, it shouldn't surprise us

00:12:31   that it becomes harder and harder on an app review side

00:12:34   for Apple to determine what the right lines are, to determine

00:12:36   what the right things that developers should be doing are.

00:12:40   And so we just need to calm down and keep moving, I suppose.

00:12:45   I don't know-- this is one of those developing perspectives

00:12:47   that doesn't have a great point necessarily,

00:12:49   but it's more just some thoughts that I've been having.

00:12:51   That this is the store that we live in now.

00:12:53   This is the store that we have.

00:12:55   That it's 1 and 1/2 million applications on our end

00:13:00   with hundreds of millions of customers on the other end,

00:13:04   and we're just trying to find a way

00:13:05   to grab our tiny little niche.

00:13:09   I think it means that we need to be realistic about business

00:13:11   models, that things like paid apps and those types of things

00:13:14   in a hyper-competitive market aren't necessarily

00:13:16   going to be realistic, understanding that the App

00:13:19   Store is full of free apps.

00:13:20   And so you having a paid app is unlikely to be

00:13:24   able to stand out in that context,

00:13:25   that whatever it is that you've built,

00:13:27   someone else has probably built it

00:13:28   and is able to, for whatever reason, to make it free.

00:13:31   Whether that's because they have a different monetization

00:13:34   strategy with ads or an in-app purchase or whatever.

00:13:38   But either way, if they have an app that's free

00:13:40   and I've got my customer looking at it,

00:13:42   I'm going to be thinking about that.

00:13:43   And so if you're working in a full store,

00:13:45   you have to respond to that and be thoughtful.

00:13:47   Making sure that you're thinking about it in those terms.

00:13:50   And it's a little depressing.

00:13:51   It's not quite as fun as when the app store was empty.

00:13:55   But this is the world we live in.

00:13:56   and we just need to be realistic about it.

00:13:59   All right, that's it for today's show.

00:14:00   As always, if you have questions, comments,

00:14:01   concerns, complaints, you can find me on Twitter,

00:14:03   I'm @_javidsmith there.

00:14:05   I hope you're enjoying the new formats.

00:14:06   If you have any comments on the new formats

00:14:08   and the experiments that I'm doing,

00:14:09   I'd always appreciate it.

00:14:10   Otherwise, thanks, have a great weekend,

00:14:12   happy coding, bye.