Under the Radar

288: Feelings & Opportunities


00:00:00   Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS app development. I'm Mark Orment.

00:00:05   And I'm David Smith. Under the Radar is usually not longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:10   So today is going to be, I don't know, it's an episode slightly more in the feelings, slightly less in the codes,

00:00:18   and just sort of talking through a topic that I think is sort of very front of mind for any app developer right now.

00:00:26   And specifically, this is the all of the changes and the sort of turmoil upheaval drama that's happening around the European Union

00:00:35   and the Digital Markets Act and Epic and Spotify. And there's a lot of things going on there that has certainly occupied a meaningful amount of my mind.

00:00:47   I mentioned here in my Marco, there's just any developer has been thinking about this a lot because it's big and it's meaningful.

00:00:53   And I think while there is certainly a time and a place to have a discussion about kind of like what should be the outcome of those things,

00:01:01   we can have opinions about what the best form of this is, what, you know, which structure things should ideally take.

00:01:07   I think for the purpose of this discussion, though, the thing that I thought would be more helpful is not necessarily to get into so much of the should,

00:01:15   but kind of like what does this mean for the small developer and what are some strategies that ultimately we can take to navigate the situation

00:01:24   in the way that will be the best for our business, best for our sanity, best for all of the things.

00:01:30   And I'm coming at this from a place that is complicated because this is a platform that I care deeply about, like in so many ways.

00:01:39   This is the place where I make like 99% of my income. It supports my family. I have emotional connection to the platform, to App Store.

00:01:47   Like I've had my biggest professional successes in this place. I've made some of my best friends in and through the App Store.

00:01:54   Like it is tremendously sort of enmeshed in who I am as a person and in that at many different levels and in many different ways.

00:02:02   And so it's like it's going to be complicated. And so talking about like what is the best outcome of here, it's like that's tricky.

00:02:09   And just as a side note there, like something that I always think about is like I try to be very careful about the kinds of opinions that I share publicly,

00:02:21   that I want to be thoughtful and I want to be doing, you know, sort of the more public a venue is, the more thoughtful, the more deeply considered.

00:02:31   I feel like an opinion should be. Certainly one that has any weight. Certainly something that has any impact or potential consequence or just like the most meaningfulness of it.

00:02:41   That I want to have you thoughtful the more public it is and like the less public it is, the more private it is, the more you can have just like first reactions, hot takes,

00:02:49   things that are not necessarily fully formed and opinions, but the more public it becomes, the more thoughtful you want to be.

00:02:56   And that's largely coming from just my own experience of understanding that my first reaction, my first thought on any topic or some new piece of news,

00:03:06   whatever it is, is almost universally not the best final or most lasting opinion that I will have on that topic.

00:03:13   Like just necessarily that is just fundamental to the reaction. Like hopefully I have a reaction. I just think about it.

00:03:21   I discuss it with people I trust and whose opinions I value and I end up in a better place.

00:03:26   And so as so, it's like be thoughtful when you share opinions just generally so that you're doing it with the appropriate amount of thought and care,

00:03:34   especially obviously just to the more public and the more impactful those choices would be.

00:03:39   And so that's why it's just one of those things. I just mentioned that here in terms of there are some parts of this that I'm not in a place that I want to talk about publicly yet

00:03:46   because I don't have that final opinion. And the things I have many private conversations with people or small group conversations or things where it's appropriate.

00:03:56   And it's like that's the place to work through that and to improve and to develop my opinion.

00:04:01   But there are some parts of this where I do feel ready to talk about because they're not that, they're the things that are much more just generally true or things that I feel very sort of settled in.

00:04:11   And the first one is I think something that is just a feeling that I have and is something that I think is very, I want to mention because I imagine I'm not alone in having this feeling

00:04:20   is that something that has been in the back of my mind this whole time is a general kind of like pervasive feeling of being small.

00:04:29   And I feel, you know, often we talk about on the show that smallness is, you know, it's almost something we laud and praise in the show.

00:04:37   Like we're the small indie developers. There's so many cool things that you can do if you are that small indie developer that you're able to be nimble, you're able to be creative, you're able to do these really awesome things.

00:04:47   And I love it. And that is absolutely true. But when I see the European Union, Epic, Spotify, Apple, all these big companies who are sort of going to battle with each other, it makes me feel smaller.

00:04:59   It makes me feel like there's this massive conflict happening. And I get worried and nervous that some small side effect that is an outcome of their conflict is going to just destroy what I've labored for 15 years to build.

00:05:13   That some small change that they're making because of at their level it makes sense has this knock-on effect that's going to come in there.

00:05:19   And it's like, it's weirdly I'm reminded of a scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo and the dwarves are trying to find their way through some high mountain pass.

00:05:29   And as they're trying to pass through this, they're confronted by forces that are so much bigger than they are that they feel terrible.

00:05:35   And I just have a little bridge segment of this. I know it's a bit silly to read in a tech podcast, but it just really captured my feelings in a way that I thought was helpful.

00:05:42   So all was well until one day they met a thunderstorm, more than a thunderstorm, a thunder battle. You know how terrific a really big thunderstorm can be down in the land and in the valley, especially at times when two great thunderstorms might meet and clash?

00:05:56   More terrible still, a thunderstorm and a lightning in the mountains at night, where storms can come up from the east and west and make war?

00:06:03   And there they were, sheltering under a rock for the night, and he laid beneath the blanket and shook from head to toe, and when he peeped out in the lightning flashes he saw that across the valley the stone giants were out, and they were hurling rocks at each other for a game and catching them and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees below or splintered into little bits with a bang.

00:06:23   This won't do it all, said Thorin. If we are not blown off or drowned or struck by lightning, we should be picked up by some giant and kicked sky high for a football.

00:06:32   And that is how I feel right now in some ways. I feel like at some point I'm going to be blown off, drowned, struck by lightning, or just picked up and thrown sky high as a football. It doesn't feel good, it feels precarious.

00:06:44   It's a tricky thing, and I think part of that is just fundamentally in this place where there are going to be changes that come out of where we are right now.

00:06:53   And I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows, if those changes will end up being better for small developers or if they won't.

00:07:02   And that uncertainty about which of those forks this path will take or some weird combination of those things doesn't give me comfort or confidence because for years gone by I felt fairly stable in what the future looked like.

00:07:17   I could predict and have a sense of what this might be, and I don't feel that now. And that makes me feel small, and that makes me feel a bit nervous.

00:07:25   And the rest of the episode will be talking about the strategies that I'm kind of in my mind thinking about and taking as a result of that.

00:07:31   But it's weird. It's weird when I hear the core technology fee being announced and I do the math and I'm like, "Huh, if that was applied as the new rules for all developers, I'd be bankrupt and out of business because that's very expensive."

00:07:45   You would not just be a little bit bankrupt. You would be massively bankrupt if that hit you.

00:07:51   It's like if somehow you could be more bankrupt, that is where I would be. Because that's just the nature of that. I've built my business around having lots of free users, and that's benefited me tremendously, and I think it's benefited my users tremendously, and hopefully it's benefited the platform and all kinds of things.

00:08:08   Oh, it absolutely has benefited the platform. Well more than that 50 cents would be.

00:08:12   Yeah, but if that became the rule because it's like, "Oh, it has to be applied universally. It can't just be applied in certain circumstances or whatever."

00:08:19   If that happened, I don't think that would happen, but if it happened, well, boom. Some stone giant just threw a rock and it came tumbling down and just smashed me to bits.

00:08:29   I don't like that feeling. I don't like that sense of the uncertainty. I think overall, I have some hope that the forces at work here are not trying to actively destroy developers like me, that I think in some ways they're actively trying to support developers like me, so that gives me some comfort.

00:08:47   But one way or the other, it makes me feel small and it makes me nervous.

00:08:52   But one thing we can be sure of in this era of uncertainty, we can be sure that this podcast will include a sponsor break, so let's do that now.

00:09:00   Transition of the year. We are brought to you this episode by Sentry. It can be very frustrating and damaging to your business if your app breaks or performs poorly or has some weird bugs in the field that you don't really, it's hard for you to know about or to see locally.

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00:09:39   It can be very difficult to get this kind of insight without Sentry. You can get partial coverage with Apple's tools and stuff like that, but it's really not this full suite of metrics.

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00:11:09   Our thanks to Sentry for their support of this show and Relay FM. When we look around the world and we see all the stuff going on with Apple and the EU and these big companies, I think it's important to separate what we think is a good idea for Apple or for companies to be able to do,

00:11:29   like how we think things should be ideally, versus what we think is a good idea for us to do and for us to take advantage of in our business.

00:11:37   There's a lot of new options that developers now have with some of these changes. I would recommend, honestly, for most developers, not taking any of them.

00:11:46   And I know that sounds a little extreme, but you might think in this era of all these new opportunities opening up, now you can distribute apps without the App Store with a lot of asterisks on that and only in one area of the world.

00:11:59   But you can do it. Most of what's going on with EU regulations and the new App Store possibilities and everything, for most of our listeners out there and for most developers, period, this is not something you should even consider doing.

00:12:13   There's a lot of reasons why I would consider this a bad idea for most developers. Number one is it's obviously only going to work for phones in the EU.

00:12:24   Obviously for some apps, if your audience is large in the EU or is only in the EU, it becomes more of an option for you than for other developers.

00:12:33   But that's going to be a pretty large restriction. If you sell an app worldwide and has a fairly mixed-up distribution of where in the world people tend to use or buy it, I would suggest that this is not worth any of the hassle to even try this in the EU.

00:12:47   Just keep paying Apple the 30% and just keep giving them the App Store distribution and following those rules and everything because it's not going to be worth the trouble for you to even go there.

00:12:56   I would also suggest, like, we know that Apple is, let's say, a little, I would say they seem a little annoyed that they have to do this.

00:13:09   Apple does not like this ability. They do not like that they have to open up these APIs and open up distribution. They do not like that they are being forced by regulators to do these things.

00:13:21   Apple does not tend to put a lot of development effort or support behind areas of their business that they don't care that much about and especially an area that they actively dislike.

00:13:34   I would guess that the way we're going to see this play out is this whole system of alternative app stores with the DMA or sideloading direct from web distribution like we just heard about this week.

00:13:45   I'm going to guess the system, even if you get over the hassles and the costs like the core technology fee and everything, I'm going to guess it's going to be very buggy and very limited over time.

00:13:56   And you are just signing yourself up for so many headaches if you go this direction. And Apple is going to have very little incentive to fix it and actually have active incentives not to fix it when things go wrong.

00:14:08   So it's going to be, you know, it's like, would you base your entire business on like a keyboard extension written entirely in like Swift UI somehow on the Mac?

00:14:17   Like probably not. Like those are all kind of areas that Apple is known to have like not enough focus to make them really great most of the time and there's a lot of bugs in those areas.

00:14:26   This is going to be like that even worse because, you know, at least those areas Apple engineers might theoretically want to fix this area.

00:14:34   I guarantee you no one at Apple is going to be massively pushing for prioritization of fixing any limitations or bugs in this area.

00:14:41   So you're just signing yourself up for so many headaches if you go in this direction. There would have to be a massive upside for your business to make any of this worth taking advantage of.

00:14:51   And for most of you out there, there is no such massive upside.

00:14:55   And I think there too, it's like it's the sense of I generally would counsel just being patient with all of this.

00:15:01   Like I think it's fundamentally like just a good advice in this that there is this opportunity that exists that doesn't exist before.

00:15:08   That's great. Like that is interesting. And often like in many areas we have counseled these sort of like one of the things you can do as a native developer is to jump in on like the hot new thing right away.

00:15:19   This doesn't have that same feel to me. It feels like an area where it's like don't act right away even in anything.

00:15:27   Like so they announce some new thing that you have to do. It's like wait a week. See if it's going to change.

00:15:32   See if there's going to be more information that comes out about it. Like there is the challenge here is that it is so new and uncertain that I feel like that creates the sense of wanting to wait.

00:15:45   Like I'm less nervous about jumping on whatever. If in June there's a new iOS feature in iOS 18 and I want to use it.

00:15:54   I have some confidence as to what that process is going to look like because we've done it 17 times before where we know that it's going to be announced at WDC.

00:16:05   There'll be some bugs. There'll be some things that work out in the first few betas. Once you get to about beta 3 that's about the state it's going to be when it ships most likely.

00:16:13   At that point you can decide if this is stable enough and good enough in order for you to ship. If it is then you'll ship it in September, October and that's that.

00:16:20   That is a pattern that we know. We have no idea what the pattern for this is. Like what's going to happen? What legislation is going to change?

00:16:27   What rules are going to change or interpretations or court cases or things? There is so much uncertainty that I have this feeling of it's just like yep, just wait it out.

00:16:36   If some other developer finds some cool way to take advantage of the uncertainty here and makes this cool app that takes advantage of it and does very well, more power to them.

00:16:46   That's awesome. I love it when small developers find novel ways to hit onto something. But broadly it doesn't feel like a great strategy right now.

00:16:58   That seems like an incredibly high risk, high reward kind of scenario. And if that's where you are in your life, great.

00:17:04   But if you are not in that place where you can tolerate that kind of risk and uncertainty, maybe just wait.

00:17:09   And if maybe that initial, if some initial opportunity is there, if there is something in a year from now or two years from now that has become stable and reliable and you think you could depend upon, great.

00:17:24   But I'd wait until that stage before you jump into it and be patient instead.

00:17:29   Yeah. And I would make no assumptions about your business model or possibilities in that area yet because it's in so much flux. It's changing every week or more.

00:17:40   So I would say this is not something that most indie developers or even most developers period should really be jumping into so quickly.

00:17:49   Give it some time, let it settle out and really evaluate are you going to try to take on all of this additional work and all of these additional risks and all of these additional downsides to save yourself 10 or 12 percent on your costs?

00:18:01   That's going to be a tough sell in my opinion. I like that Apple is kind of being forced to loosen their grip in certain areas.

00:18:09   I like that for the ecosystem. I like it for the general commerce of the world and the economy. I like it for the industry.

00:18:17   Also, I can hold that opinion but also I have no desire to take advantage of any of this stuff from my app.

00:18:22   I am fine with Apple's in-app purchase system for my purposes. It serves my purposes well enough that I'm not going to look for alternatives or I'm not going to take on all this burden because for my purposes it's fine.

00:18:32   And you can hold those two views at the same time. You can say, "I don't want to do this but I believe that it's good for the world to have options."

00:18:40   That kind of opinion, I think that's totally consistent and fine.

00:18:43   But when you're focusing on your business, you have to make decisions that are best for your business and for you.

00:18:48   And for most people, none of this is going to open up new possibilities for you and it's actually only going to be a distraction that you probably should not do.

00:18:55   But ultimately, the Apple system is in place and works pretty decently for most developers most of the time.

00:19:02   And we are better off usually not messing with that level of thing and instead of focusing on building what people want.

00:19:09   Just build apps people want, continue to do what we've always done and all these new possibilities mostly are not going to be useful to us and that's okay.

00:19:17   Yeah, and I think there is something in there too of the advice I've had to give myself recently was to stop paying attention to the day-to-day drama and turmoil of this.

00:19:30   Because I was noticing that this is getting in the way of my ability to actually make meaningful work on the tangible business goals that I have in front of me.

00:19:40   That this is not productive, this is not useful for me to be involved at this at a day-to-day, hour-by-hour level that something's happening, "Oh, but then it's undone. Oh, now there's a new rule."

00:19:53   This is not productive. It is much more productive. There are things in my business, there are things that I can do, I can open up Xcode and I can write code that I know with tremendous confidence will improve my apps, my experience with my users, will improve the business that I have for me.

00:20:09   Those are tasks in my to-do list that I can work on.

00:20:13   And I think it's important, I think it's just generally, is to make sure that you don't get so caught up in the turmoil that you're not continuing to make progress on this. Because ultimately, if there are big, fundamental, strategic shifts that will happen down the road, it's like, "Great, let them be settled and then you can deal with it."

00:20:31   Rather than dealing with it in the day-to-day and then feeling stuck where you'd be like, "Oh man." Rather than spending four hours in Xcode working on a feature, I spent four hours on Mastodon talking about or reading about people's opinions about the thing that happened,

00:20:48   and opening it up the next day and discovering that all of that discussion was overruled by a subsequent thing that happened. That is not productive. And that was something that I was catching myself getting stuck into and was like, "This is not what I should do."

00:21:02   I need to get an Xcode, Dave. Close down Ivory, open up Xcode, and get to work. Do the work that you know will be helpful, you know will be productive. In a world of so much uncertainty, that is something I know for sure. The work I do there is useful and is helpful and will move things forward in a way that I can actually have some agency in.

00:21:25   Take advantage of that. Just general advice. Don't let this overwhelm your ability to actually continue to make progress.

00:21:32   Yeah, I like that because it can be so easy. I'm guilty of this as just as anybody else. It can be so easy to get caught up in whatever awful statements Apple executives are giving or testifying in court or things they're writing that basically tell us that they don't value our work. That they think we owe everything to Apple. Apple gets no value from us. We are just merely stealing value from them and we owe them our lives as a result of that.

00:21:58   They keep saying that in so many different ways. But I think it's important to remember that, think about Apple like a pyramid. There's the guy at the top who not only doesn't value us but seems to actively treat us like a resource to be extracted and really seems to not appreciate at all anything we do.

00:22:17   But then below that person at the top who I'm not a super fan of at this moment, there are thousands of people who have different opinions. As you go down the pyramid, you get way more people involved at all those different levels. Engineering, developer relations, everything.

00:22:34   And most of them have a better view of the value that developers provide to their platform. Most of them are good people who want to see us succeed and actively work to enable us to succeed because they know it helps their platform and they just like good software because they're nerds like us.

00:22:52   While the people at the top decide a lot of what happens and what is said and the amazingly harsh reasons they give for things, that's not the whole company and we don't really need to worry that much about what those people say and do.

00:23:07   What matters to us is, first of all, can we make our apps? The guy at the top doesn't have anything to do with that and honestly doesn't seem to understand it very well.

00:23:16   Who enables us to make these apps? It's all these engineers and managers and testers and artists, all these different people in Apple who seem to like us and value our work and want to enable us.

00:23:26   Okay, we go to the App Store. Well, yeah, the App Store is run by some people at the top, but it's also run by probably hundreds of people in the middle who want us to succeed and who have a better idea of what we need and where our value is.

00:23:40   We can also promote our apps in the App Store and they can promote us and we have editorial in the App Store. All of these things are run by people closer to the middle levels of the company.

00:23:49   They understand us, they value us and then our apps get out there to our customers and our customers mostly understand us and value us.

00:23:58   So, largely, the attitude of the people at the top of the company doesn't necessarily need to impact us that much. We can get mad about it. You can tell I'm mad about it. I don't really hide that very well or make any effort to.

00:24:12   But the reality is we can continue operating our business and the vast majority of the people inside Apple who might affect us our ability to do our business and the vast majority of the people outside of Apple who just want to use apps on their phones aren't affected by those negative attitudes at all.

00:24:29   They don't care that the guy at the top says some nasty things about developers and our apps. They don't care. They don't even know. It is relevant to what happens at the top in the sense that the giants throwing stones could do things that will impact us in big ways.

00:24:44   But they probably won't and we should probably just focus on continuing to do our work as you were saying, Dave, like continuing to do our work for the vast majority of people both in and out of Apple that actually appreciate and recognize and enable it.

00:24:59   Yeah, and I think reminded of how I just in life that when we are at times of difficulty and conflict or struggle, like it is ultimately the relationships that we have and have invested in that in my own life have always been the thing that kind of hope draw you through difficult times.

00:25:20   And that applies in this case, I think, in some ways to like where I think of how it's like I have relationships with many people who work at Apple who I've worked with over the years on many projects and who I know genuinely and deeply care about my work and want to allow and enable and support me to do my best work.

00:25:38   And if things get tricky and there are problems that come, you know, trickle down from the top into things that interact with that, like those relationships will be tremendously valuable for me to be able to push back on to understand to provide feedback, those kinds of things.

00:25:53   And I think, or similarly, like relationships with other developers or with our customers or wherever we've developed a relationship like that work that we do to develop that relationship is inevitably going to come back and sort of pay dividends because it is the thing that will likely help you to navigate through this and come out of it in the best way.

00:26:13   And I think it's like it's a good reminder to me that one of the things in the back of my head is it's like what you're saying there of it's like, this is a time that there sometimes I have complicated feelings about what Apple is saying.

00:26:24   But it is in some ways even more important to make sure that I'm continuing to develop and enhance my relationships with people within Apple.

00:26:33   This is a time to sort of lean into that and work on continuing those relationships, because that will be helpful, both in reminding me of the people there who really want me to do well and who really care, and who in many ways have a lot of influence and power on my ability to do my best work.

00:26:51   It's like that is a good thing for me to be reminded of and to continue to invest in and to not let some drama happening way up above get in the way of that.

00:27:04   I think that is absolutely like it is a trap I could see falling into, but it's a good reminder to just not do that and that these things are not, you know, it is not as straightforward as, you know, Apple is a single entity.

00:27:20   It is a complicated thing with lots of people who have various opinions and for whom I, you know, it's like there are so many people who time and time again have shown, you know, I've been doing this for 15 years and there are countless people who have helped me along that journey who are part of that organization.

00:27:36   And it's like, I don't, it's not like somehow because things are happening higher above, though that those people suddenly, you know, don't care and don't want me to succeed. That's great advice.

00:27:47   Yeah, and because ultimately like whatever the drama of the year is, even like whoever the executives are, that's temporary.

00:27:55   And these relationships that you build over time with people like at different levels of the company, those are probably going to outlast the annual drama.

00:28:02   And they might even outlast the current executives in their roles. Like, so these are longer term relationships that you're building for your long term career.

00:28:11   It's never a bad time to start doing that. And it's always a pretty good idea to nurture and encourage those relationships. And whatever drama is going on will pass or will be worked out.

00:28:21   But those relationships will, if you do them right, they'll last.

00:28:25   Yeah, exactly. And I think it's something that I think hopefully that some of the reasons some people listen to Under the Radar is that you and I have been doing this for 15 years. And I think we get there by taking that long view by not getting stuck in the minutia of the current drama, and instead just focusing on, it's like our goal is to make good software that enhances our users' lives.

00:28:45   And if we keep doing that, I think we'll be okay in the long run. Whatever turmoil and upheaval or stone giants are throwing things at the top of the hill. Like whatever that, as long as we keep doing that, I have great confidence that we'll be alright.

00:28:58   Yeah, and our users don't care about any Apple drama, they just want good software. And so we can just keep serving them and do pretty well.

00:29:04   Exactly.

00:29:05   Thank you for listening everybody, and we'll talk to you in two weeks.

00:29:08   Bye.

00:29:09   [silence]