So it’s happened this week — Apple pulls the plug on an app that was previously approved, has more than ten million downloads and may, depending on how you categorize it, either be gaming the system (who isn’t, really) or offering a valuable service to users who are looking for new apps and don’t want to hunt through the massive clutter that is the AppStore.
Apple’s claim that rankings should be based on merit doesn’t really hold water now that the store has nearly one million available apps; nor does it make sense given the skewed nature of big companies like Disney or Rovio being able to leverage their assets with other co-branding opportunities (fast food chains, licensed merchandising, movie tie-ins, etc) that the meritocracy would hold true under the weight of those big budget marketing campaigns.
Most developers have a love hate relationship with Apple. Meaning they love to hate Apple and its’ policies and its’ enforcement and the inherent ability to not only take the ball and go home, but lock devs out of the house and never let them in again. Is Apple being an overzealous policeman, taking action against developers without standardized processes and warnings, or are they within their rights to exercise the old maxim – “we refuse the right to serve anyone” – and just what bias within the review and enforcement process is personal with employees versus the policy as a whole?
Unfortunately, statistics almost force devs to work in iOS – AppAnnie reported today that iOS revenue is 2.6x that of the Google Play store, and everyone knows that Android users are cheapskates when it comes to purchases compared to AppStore users. Heck, even Amazon gets more per user than Google Play, but then again, both Amazon and Apple have valid credit cards on file for each of their members, and Google Play does not require that from users (or at least not on my account), which tends to translate into more purchasing per user.
Building a business that rides on the back of another business (not industry, but actual business) is a risky proposition in the best of circumstances. Zynga and Facebook, Twitter and all those that lost their direct feed… these are only two examples of how the world turns upside down quickly when one company has absolute dominance over the revenue and future of another. At least if you’re the 17 year old kid from the UK who gets a $30 million buyout from Marissa Mayer and Yahoo, you don’t have to care if they gut your product and turn the lights off, since you’re still walking away with the cash.
So what happens now – to the rest of the competitors in this space? Does Apple leave some alone, punish others like they’ve done to AppGratis, what exactly and how will it be determined? There have to be at least five companies sweating bullets right now; worried to the core about their business models and the fate of their businesses. Investors will balk, advertisers will pull back, and without cash flow it’s hard to run a business, since you don’t really make up the redline by doing more volume.
And Apple. Back to that. Draconian measures without merit? Or justified in their citing of the rules in question and the dissolution of the app entirely? Will this create a herd mentality charge off the cliff? Or will everyone hunker down, heads down, trying to stay beneath the radar and hoping they aren’t next?