Ben Thompson of Stratechery wrote thought provoking three-part series on why Apple is hesitant to enable sustainable businesses on the app store. In first two parts of the series Ben describes examples each from productivity apps and casual games to prove how Apple is not supporting a sustainable business. In the third part, “Apple has been burned by productivity apps before” is an interesting section. Yes, Apple do want to ensure that no app becomes stronger than Apple hardware. I do think though that Apple will turn around and enable sustainable business on app store sooner than later. Rather it will be interesting to see how long Apple decides to defer this topic.
Most will agree that after initial success of Macintosh, high price and limited range of software titles was a big factor for slowing Macintosh sales. Not just that but Guy Kawasaki’s comment about PageMaker in the book The Macintosh Way (p.23) “PageMaker is the Aldus product that launched desktop publishing. The creation of PageMaker was an act of God specifically intended to save Apple” explains very well importance of third party software back then for Apple.
Things did change with huge success of iPod. As much as iPod success was about design, availability of iTunes on Windows helped enormously. John Gruber’s classic “Why 2004 Won’t Be Like 1984” explains how Apple’s music platform with huge market share placed Apple in very different position than in 1984. This time around though in-house development to help users who are not on Apple hardware deemed necessary by Apple to grow the market share and mind share. Software’s availability did played a big role in success of Apple’s hardware just like old times with PageMaker .
Of course by the time iPhone was launched, Apple understood benefit of dominating market with their hardware. Even with that there is no denying that availability of third party apps changed iPhone sales trajectory big time. No matter how much Steve Job’s resisted the idea of enabling third party apps, third party apps not just helped iPhone sales but became booming business on it’s own for Apple, probably beyond even Apple’s imagination. Today there are lot many developers willing to create free or low price app but I hope Apple is not taking this privilege for granted. As much as developers want to be part of growing Apple ecosystem, Apple also needs this flock on their side. Marketshare and mindshare without availability of apps for your hardware is difficult if not impossible.
If availability of software is must have then well designed quality apps can take popularity of your platform to another height. No doubt Apple helps with better design experience for developers from very beginning though Apple’s consumers as well developers appreciated good design which continues till date. Point I am trying to make is design and quality of apps does come in to play once availability issue is dealt with. Well designed quality app takes time to build and efforts need to be monetized to stay in business not just at the time of launch but subsequently also. Can Apple afford not to have design minded developers / content creators on their side? Or the new game is more favorable for big gaming companies churning hits (free or low price paid apps) now and then on multiple platforms? I would like to believe that design minded indie developers / content creators are important to Apple. Hopefully Apple will take steps to ensure that these design minded developers / content creators stays in business within Apple’s ecosystem.