Quick, Write Something!

Ok, so John Gruber just linked to this embryonic little blog, so I better say something interesting.

Let me adapt a little rant that I sent to my beta testers this afternoon…

The recent change to the iPhone App Store so that the listed release date of software is the date of initial submission – and not the date of the last update – seems to have had a very profound effect on our sales, and not in a good way. PCalc is now currently sitting on the 29th and last page of the Utilities section, since it was one of the very first apps submitted to the store, and that means it’s now effectively dead in the water.

PCalc 1.1 went up on the store yesterday without any PR fanfare, and there was no increase in sales whatsoever, whereas previously that would have generated a very significant spike as it made it to the first page. So, what’s the rationale now for developing big updates to your software, rather than just banging out a bunch of cheap and cheerful apps that you never intend to look at twice?

Ok, so the argument is probably that people were abusing the update mechanism by releasing numerous small updates to keep their apps near the top of the pile. But instead of addressing those people, now everybody has to suffer, and there’s now a big incentive to work on something new rather than further develop existing software.

The conspiracy theorist would point out that Apple doesn’t make any money from the updates so that’s in their interest. But perhaps I should just spend more time and money on my marketing rather than my coding…

Author: James Thomson

Indie iOS / Mac developer, maker of PCalc and DragThing. Occasional writer, conference speaker, and podcast pundit.

7 thoughts on “Quick, Write Something!”

  1. “Rather than just banging out a bunch of cheap and cheerful apps that you never intend to look at twice”

    This is exactly the problem with the store — the economics are set up badly, so there’s more incentive to churn out 17 different applications that each do something small rather than one high-quality super-app. The explosion of separate books (rather than one eReader app) was the first example, but the problem’s only getting worse.

    Now, in the news category there are a lot of crappy little 59p-each “xxx news” apps, each of which is a glorified feed reader for local news. If this had been on the Mac, it would have been one app that could pull every country. Instead, you can either buy “Australia news” or “Indian news” or “Scottish news”. The store is a dreadful mess because of it.

  2. Long term, Apple is going to make the most money off of the App Store if the quality of the products is consistently high (which, currently, it is not) and if users can find the apps they want (which, currently and increasingly, they can’t).

    Sadly it’s getting to the point where the best way to find out about new and interesting apps is via third-party blogs rather than within the store itself. If you know what you’re looking for, you can search of course. But the browsing options are woefully inadequate (especially in the iPhone version of the store, but the desktop iTunes version isn’t as good as it could be either).

  3. I agree with you completely — I used to count on the bump in visibility when I released (significant) updates. It was the only way to cut through the high level of “noise” on the app store and get noticed. At this point, I have lost confidence in the app store as a means of promoting my apps, especially when I see the haphazard way in which other apps get listed in the “new” and “staff pick” sections. How are good apps supposed to compete when they are listing junk on the main page? The signal to noise ratio gets lower every day.

    I think there is a tremendous opportunity for someone to develop a good advertising scheme for iPhone apps. Traditional advertising is still out of reach for most indie developers like me. We need a way to reach customers that is independent of the app store, yet more practical and more affordable than traditional focused ads.

  4. This is a really unfortunate change and I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more noise about it. The huge appeal of the App Store, and one of the main reasons it’s worth 30% of your sales is the exposure your products receive. Millions of people poking that button on their phones or browsing in iTunes. Once your app gets pushed to page 75 of 300 (or even page 2) a lot of that exposure disappears and you are on your own.

    I’d be very interested to hear success stories of external advertising that is cost-effective when the software is being sold at App Store price ranges – anyone know of any?

  5. If you update your app’s Availability Date on iTunes Connect, you can move it as early as the date of the most recent update. In other words, if your update was approved on October 1, and you go there now and change the Availability Date to today, PCalc will move up to October 1.

    So, basically, you can get the old behavior with an additional manual step.

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