Monday, December 17, 2012

Apple updates iTunes to 11.0.1, locks in design changes that are making many small developers howl in protest

The development community that made the Apple App Store a huge success is voicing its disapproval of moves made by Apple that are designed to benefit larger developers and increase sales overall at the expense of small, independent developers – and developers are letting Apple know about it by complaining in the Apple developer forums.

Over the weekend Apple released a small update to its iTunes software, that some developers hoped would reverse a change that they believe is resulting in a sharp fall in their app sales.

As part of the app description, Apple mentioned its new store design:
• A New Store. The iTunes Store has been complete redesigned and now features a clean look that makes it simpler than ever to see what's hot and discover new favorite.
The change in question eliminates the "All" area, where new apps showed up and were seen first by shoppers. A new app would enter this area upon release and every app could be found here, sorted by release date.

Now, with the redesign, the "All" area was eliminated from every category and now Apple uses the entire App Store to promote apps its thinks buyers will want. Unless the buyer knows the name of the app, it is now impossible to find a new app unless Apple chooses to promote it.

And while the App Store may be "cleaner", it now wastes most of the space, so justifying the change based on aesthetics seems a bit dishonest.

"I don't mind Apple giving some special treat to the big guys," wrote one developer on the Apple developer forum. "If I spent a million on marketing my app and it didn't get some special attention by Apple, I'd be peed."

"But - I don't think that this approach necessarily has to exclude giving some attention to small indie devs. Why not have a category for New Releases in addition to those pushing big guys; or, heck, even a Random list of apps that picks 100 apps randomly or something like that."

Others pointed out that the move does not help buyers either, as it now makes it harder for buyers to find new apps, those that have been recently been released and would be of interest.

"The appstore is going die a natural death because the average customer is going to get tired seeing the same "Big Apps" in their faces all the time vs having the option to see new innovative item releases like good ole days!" wrote a developer.

Not everyone is upset with the changes, explaining that the only way a developer could make an app a success was to market the app outside the store. But all seem to agree that the move by Apple may force shoppers to go elsewhere to find apps. If the Apple App Store redesign makes it nearly impossible to actually find what you are looking for – unless Apple itself promotes the app – then buyers will be forced to look at third party sites in order to understand what is actually in the App Store.

"If the innovative new apps start regularly marketing themselves outside the App store somewhere, that's where the users who need a novelty fix will start looking for them," wrote a developer. "There's still too much money in the long tail to completely kill the App Store, unless some other platform steps up significantly."

But ultimately the problem here for Apple is that in one big move they have destroyed the loyalty and trust of many small and independent developers. Possibly worse is the fact that while a simple change in the store would satisfy the complaints of developers, the idea that Apple would intentional inflict a harmful change to the developers that made the store a success, all in the name of promoting the big developers, has many small developers questioning their loyalty to the platform.

Note: Many developers and vendors even today remain unaware of the changes to the App Store that will effect new apps. One person at a major digital publishing platform company said he did not know of the changes, and in fact did not see them on his machine because he had not updated his software. Upon seeing the changes he became concerned because he felt the changes would discourage some clients from launching new apps.