If you've even worked in the food business you know the problems manufacturers face with retailers. The battle over shelf space and discoverability is never ending. A few years ago I walked down the aisle of a grocery store with the marketing manager of an organic food brand and watched as the marketer pointed out the obvious problems with the business: "how am I supposed to sell my product when the retailer hides it away like this?" he complained.
App developers now know that man's pain.
Since the redesign of the App Store by Apple, developers have complained of slowing app sales and a search function that seems to only favor the big guys at the expense of the very developers that made the App Store a success. Worse, there seems to be no one to complain to, as Apple has either decided to shut itself off from its developer community, or has decided that the future is about less apps, less developers, but bigger sales.
It's hard to argue with success: just this morning Apple announced that it had hit the 40 billion download mark. That is, 40 billion app downloads had occurred since the App Store's launch in 2008, and half of those came in 2012.
"It has been an incredible year for the iOS developer community," Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said in the company's announcement. "Developers have made over seven billion dollars on the App Store, and we continue to invest in providing them with the best ecosystem so they can create the most innovative apps in the world."
It has, indeed, been a good year for developers of apps for the iOS platform – assuming you have a marketing budget and gain the favor of Apple so that your apps are promoted prominently in the App Store.
"Our success on iOS has been incredible," said Samir Hanna, vice president of Consumer Products for Autodesk, one of the developers highlighted in the Apple announcement. "We set off with the modest goal of bringing SketchBook to iPhone users as a way of introducing them to Autodesk. Fast forward three years, we now offer 20 apps to iOS users that have achieved more than 50 million downloads, and we continue to roll out new creativity and design tools that appeal to both professionals and consumers."
But the opinion of this successful developer is not universally shared. Said one French developer in the Apple developer forums: "This whole search thing really start to get frustrating..........really starting to think it's not worth anymore to make iOS Apps..."
The problems of search and discoverability have been discussed here before. Now, in 2013, it appears that the situation is not about to change soon. One dev developer I spoke to last week was unaware of the changes to the store as they reside outside the U.S. and their own App Store appeared unchanged. "That explains a lot," he told me. "We expected better sales in the U.S., but most of them came from Europe. If you can't see the app you can't buy the app," he told me.
For some, the changes are being accepted but a new realization that iOS may not be able to support developers all by itself any longer. "I've never owned an Android device, but I went out and bought LG’s Nexus 4," said a media app developer. It is harder now to maintain my earlier recommendation of Apple first, Android second now," he told me.
A couple of years ago one option would have been to go with independent digital newsstands such as Zinio, LeKiosk, etc. But one wonders whether they will survive. Next Issue Media, set up by the big magazine publishing houses of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time Inc., have accepted its first titles from outside the ranks of the original founders – ESPN the Magazine and Fast Company among them – but it is doubtful that the digital newsstand set up by media giants would ever be open to new titles from small, independent publishers intent on launching tablet-only titles that would compete head-on with the legacy titles of big media companies.
"The Newsstand is still the place you want to be," said a sales person with digital publishing software company. "It's not as if Amazon and Google are totally open, either."
That leaves the option of HTML5 apps that mimic the features of native apps, while staying outside the platforms of Apple, Google and other tech giants. That solution avoids the fee splits and limitations of working with third party platform owners, but does nothing about the issue of discoverability and search.