Playing The App Store Blues
Developers have many complaints about Apple's App Store, but success is possible despite these issues
The rapidly growing mobile game market, now the largest single sector of the game industry, has a bottleneck that's been pinching devs for a while: the App Store review process. Developer Kushal Dave wrote a heartfelt screed on Medium calling for reform of the App Store to speed up the process and make it more transparent. The response has poured in, and certainly it seems like many developers very much agree with Dave's points.
Ironically, this call for reform comes at a time when the Google Play store has revised its process to include more oversight (and thereby lengthen it), because of too many apps slipping through that violated copyright or had severe content issues (like overt racism or other hate speech).
The issues are a mix of practical ones (the slow speed of approvals, lack of precise guidelines, arbitrary and often capricious enforcement) and free-speech issues (the platform holder dictating what's acceptable speech and what is not).
While no one wants to see more copyright violations, generally objectionable apps, or endless arrays of poor quality apps, it's also clear that both Apple and app developers would benefit from faster approvals and clearer guidelines, consistently enforced. Apple should be striving to improve its performance here - and let's not even go into how much the App Store experience could stand improvement in general, from its interface to its ability to help customers find what they are looking for (or to find quality apps they don't even know exist).
"Apple owns the playing field and makes the rules, and we all have to figure out how to play our best marketing game under those conditions"
Yes, the free-speech issues are unlikely to see much change. Apple doesn't want to get anywhere near subjects like politics or sex, drugs or gun violence or religious debate. Certainly there's a set of things that any individual might not want to see in the App Store, but that list varies quite a bit from person to person. The App Store is just one place, even though it might still be the most lucrative place for apps. If you have a strong need to express yourself in an app, there's always Google Play.
On the practical level, wishing for someone else's business to be run differently is a waste of your time. Sure, sign a petition, express yourself in writing, carry a placard outside a building. But if you're trying to make money through the App Store, you have to figure out ways to most effectively deal with the realities of how the App Store works now.
That means building time in the schedule for a lengthy approval process. If your app may have content issues, try to figure out in advance when that may occur and edit yourself before you get to the App Store process. If there's a fundamental issue with the App Store you just can't get around, you shouldn't be wasting your time developing an iOS app. Instead, look to Google Play or doing an online app or some other outlet.
Apple has been quite successful with its App Store model as it is, with all of its restrictions, sometimes lengthy approval times, and the increasing difficulty of finding the things you're interested in with the relatively primitive tools available. (Apple would be well advised to study how Amazon surfaces product recommendations to look for ways to improve the App Store experience.) Could it be a lot better? Absolutely, and let's not even start talking about how the iTunes interface could use a complete and utter rethinking.
However, Apple's success with the App Store is no doubt a powerful argument, in their eyes, to keep going the way it is. Changing things might make it better... but it might make it worse, too. Apple is very protective of its brand, and generally conservative when it comes to changing policies and procedures. We can advocate change, but we shouldn't expect it.
Savvy marketers see opportunities where others see problems. Figure out ways to work around issues you have with Apple's App Store. For that matter, a carefully chosen dispute over content or an app rejection can be an occasion for good press and grabbing some attention. There's nothing like banning a book, for instance, to get more people curious about its contents. This isn't to say you should deliberately court controversy - there are plenty of drawbacks to that course of action. Still, a whiff of the forbidden can be an enticing scent, when applied judiciously.
So by all means keep putting pressure on Apple to improve the App Store, but never let that get in the way of getting your apps out to the customers. Apple owns the playing field and makes the rules, and we all have to figure out how to play our best marketing game under those conditions. That may include things you do off the field, too. But let's not lose sight of the victory conditions here as we complain about the refs and the rules and the condition of the field. Regardless of all those things, we're out on the field to win - and that's what we need to keep in focus.
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