An all too brief summary is that customers coming in through the App Store are not your customers - they're Apple's, and you lose the ability to support them. That falls on Apple, and Apple will inevitably fall short of expectations.
Most recently, I spent several years at a subscription-based company. The size of their customer support dwarfed technology, operations (the company ships physical goods), and even sales. And without the 1,000+ hours/week of work by customer support, the company would have seen so much churn to have long ago been out of business. Yes, it would be great to have a situation where everything works perfectly, no customer ever has a problem (even when those problems are well outside of your control), and are 110% happy... but that's just not a reality for many companies.
The problem is that Big Tech derives its enormous power from the network effects that are pervasive on the "network", the internet. Network effects put users in the position where they can in theory just go "start their own" (phone platform, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but network effects are so powerful that even the other giants are locked out of each other's occupied territory.
I want to see laws put in place that gradually remove from big companies the rights that individuals and small companies must have (ex: right to refuse service, right to charge what you want, etc.) as a company becomes very large by any one or more of several criteria that include monopoly of a network-effects-based niche or simply number of users (ex: beginning at, say, >10M users).
If you want more users, you'll have to relinquish some control over each. If you insist on complete control, just don't try to extend it beyond a limited number of users.
Apple could have all the control they wanted over a much smaller market and stop growing or continue to grow with less control. License iOS and do whatever you want with your slice of the iOS market, or allow users and software companies to bypass the store and offer the "safety" of the store as an option instead of a command, etc.
Twitter, Facebook, Youtube would never again have to argue for why they need to be free to promote some opinions and silence others if any system that big had to federate their protocols so anyone could post anything from their own provider, like email. Then the big companies could offer their "safety" as an opt-in service. As long as people could say, "thanks, but I'll decide for myself whose feed to subscribe to", they could be completely free to define "safety" any way they wanted.
Amazon likewise would have to open more and more of their infrastructure to competitors if they wanted to be giant. If you're giant, you have to serve small competitors, not put them out of business. The more customers you have, the less power you can maintain over each.
Then I got to this paragraph. IMO, it's the most important part of the whole article:
> Let’s say someone signs up for HEY on an iPhone, pays with Apple’s IAP system, and then decides to switch to an Android phone. Billing is entirely messed up now. They can’t update their credit card through the HEY app on Android because their billing info is stored with Apple. And we can’t help them. Who wins there? Apple wins. This creates immense lock-in when all your service subscriptions are tied to a single platform. If you change your phone, do you now also have to change your email address?
Apple concedes not taking a cut of your content subscription (Netflix, Kindle, magazine readers, etc.), but if someone is subscribing to your app as a tool (not to the content), Apple feels justified in charging for the tool’s ecosystem.
Once again: demand for a product increases when the price of its complements decreases. In general, a company’s strategic interest is going to be to get the price of their complements as low as possible. The lowest theoretically sustainable price would be the “commodity price” — the price that arises when you have a bunch of competitors offering indistinguishable goods.
Thus: $0.99 apps.
If you're feeling resentment, it's because you've been thoroughly commoditized to increase the perceived value of Apple's hardware.
(Of course it's somewhat false "value" - infinite shovelware is worth about what it costs.)
It seems to me that in the vein of 'commoditize your complements', developers that only publish zero cost apps shouldn't pay an annual fee for the privilege of making Apple's ecosystem more valuable.
Exactly on point.
It is time for change.
Everything from search results to upgrade pricing to functional restrictions have long been frustrations, but the long-term combination of inflexibility, lack of transparency, and perhaps a sense of condescension, seems to have stewed to toxic effect.
He has his own sense of priorities, which often aligns with Apple (which is why he runs a website about them), but when they don't, he complains. There are times when his front page is all negative articles about Apple, when they're doing a bunch of things he doesn't like.
I don't think independent developers have enough leverage with Apple to force a fundamental change. Particularly since the ones that would be most able to, the large corporations who want their apps on iPhones can get enough attention at Apple to get their apps approved, without having to change the whole developer ecosystem.
I think the only way Apple will change is if enough users perceive that Apple's app store policies are preventing them from using apps they really want to use.
From my layman's perspective, the case looks a lot stronger than it ever did against Google where at-least alternatives to Play Store existed.
Such a ruling would, IMO, be wrong. If it's "anti-competitive" to decide the terms on which you will offer a service you produce and own yourself, then pretty much every service business anywhere is "anti-competitive".
Unfortunately (from my perspective), I think it is indeed quite possible that the EU courts could make such a ruling.
I think the 30% IAP tax meets this condition.
Enough people complaining is bad for the brand.
They will do something to get rid of the noise.
If enough devs got annoyed enough to move to something else, then people would start noticing that the "cool kids" were using something else now, and their Macs weren't hip any more.
It is easy to complain about the app store tax when you ride on the streets that were built with the tax.
Hey.com’s service doesn’t need in-app signup at all, but Apple’s policy obliges developers to not merely offer it, but to never offer, link, or even mention, any alternative.
This position is super hostile to both consumer choice (to such an extent that it’s practically a malicious use of market power to deceive consumers), and to any SaaS developer for which the mobile app is merely one of several convenient clients.
The sheer size of the cut demanded is merely the follow-up kick in the balls.
The common quip “don’t like it? develop your own smartphone and app distribution platform then” is merely reinforcing just how much market power, and consequent distortion, Apple possess.
This benefits other large or significant developers, further increasing the relative barriers to market entry for those that can’t twist Apple arms.
This all falls into the same category of distorting a marketplace, to consumer detriment.
First, why should Apple not ask that you can purchase a SaaS subscription also through the store? If they didn't take any money or just 2% credit card fees that would be awesome, right? It would be great not having to disclose creditcard details on the app developers homepage.
Why should SaaS be exempt? What is the difference between a mobile game with a multi-user server and Hey.com? Why should one pay 30% and the other not?
The reality is that all custom rules and minutiae that Apple put up do exactely match their relative market power: Business apps, Spotify, Netflix, Gmail are all areas where they would risk loosing a lot of customers.
Last, what is the alternative? Declaring the app store a public utility or restrict the fee that Apple can take? Is there any historic precedent for this?
But for anyone who doesn’t already have a pile of profits from prior ventures, having to pay for app review and hosting and downloads is going to simply make the process too risky for small independent developers.
The current system where you only pay if the store actually makes you money has a lot of benefits.
Seems this is completely self serving on DHH’s part.
I am always stuck saying "we can have the Android version out in $days, and the iOS app sometime between a week later and never."
It's an upsetting thing to say but there's just too much risk dealing with them for projects with tight timelines/budgets.
I am seeing lots of QR Code for Apps uptake. The QR Code contains the link address, and the link itself is a PWA of sort. The only problem is those PWA still lives inside Safari and sort of not work as well as an Apps should.
There are many things, like meals ordering system for restaurant that should never be an App and only reached inside App Store in the first place. I am thinking if Apple should open up a limited PWA ecosystem outside of App Store. This solution would likely work for Hey as well. 80% of App Store revenue are from gaming anyway. They are not giving in much.
May be PWA isn't the right word either. It is simply a functional webpage resembling closer to an App experience.
My perspective is, if I'm not doing anything evil, why do I have to clear a complexity bar to publish an app? There are also some advantages for simple apps, one is making it really easy to use offline with a nice shortcut on the home screen. The other thing is making it full screen and no address bar helping to decrease distraction.
These are not amazing reasons, but they matter for some people.
Is the Apple approval process also a problem for private apps?
Even this process is onerous compared to the Android world where you can email everyone an APK, submit it to one of several app stores/testing services, serve the APK over HTTPS, etc.
I'm really hoping for someone in the comments to say "you fool just use X" but I've been disappointed so far.
And I agree with your final sentence ... I know that disappointment so very well. :)
As a user, I shudder anytime I have to interact with the App Store. Even when it works flawlessly, there is nothing interesting or pleasing about it. And most of my interactions with it leave me with a mild feeling of having being bullied about.
I had much rather install software via Homebrew than the App Store.
Interesting that so many people have bought into a very un-free market.
Do you remember when android/ios were new and there were all new and fun games coming out like angry birds and such? Everyone was into it for a couple years.
Now, if you look at those same games (or even apps from the same era), every single thing about them is made to suck money out of you. It just does something to you, and I've noticed this in most people I know too, it just makes you sick.
Rather than constantly worrying about how not to be a sucker when searching for a new app, I now frequently decide that whatever it was that I wanted to do, I could do some other way or not do at all rather than be subjected to the constant victimization by aggressive monetization everywhere you look.
The hard truth that we, the tech industry, are currently not accepting, is that the value of a lot of the software out there, is actually zero or close to it. The industry has matured. Commoditization is imminent.
Software will be like auto, energy, medicine. Just another industry. Software developers will be like plumbers, advertisers, electricians - It'll be just another trade, but the past gold rush and the remaining few nuggets still out there will blind us all to this fact for the next decade at least.
Every app I could find had some dark pattern or an overflow of ads or both. Some kind of streak system where you were encouraged / nagged to play every day or else lose your "coins" (aka preying on loss aversion to try and addict players), fullscreen interstitial ad pages that try to trick you into clicking them when you're moving cards? Animated banners that distract you from the game?
I ended up giving up and just using a web version. It's not perfect, it's made for desktop and the cards are really small on my iphone 6 and the UI is hard to use, but it's clearly someone's labor of love and a lot pf care has been put into it. I'd happily pay a few dollars for it, if it wasn't free.
There's not many apps like that on the App Store nowadays. And with Apple's predatory rent-seeking practices, requirements of owning a $2000 computer to develop for their platform, and high developer fees, they aren't helping the situation.
This is one of the reasons I strongly prefer using open source software whenever possible. The program was written because somebody wanted it to exist, not because someone was trying to trick you or hold your work hostage for a few bucks.
Here is the best looking one from the first thread Google returned for me:
Apple's ecosystem evolved towards a 'market for lemons'.
While Developer demand has thus far outstripped supply, that gravy train will eventually slow down.
It’s been one heck of a ride, and it’s gone on for decades, but how many more? Enough to recommend it to your kids?
a) Many interactions with the app store app were of the type where the app wants me to do something I had no thought or motivation or desire to do when I set out to do what I was doing. Does that make sense?
I think interactions can be split into two categories: user asks for something they want of the software, and, software asks something it wants of the user. There were many interactions of the second variety.
b) Unlike many other Apple apps which were about as responsive as one can imagine, and maybe a little more, most app store actions were of the "tap button and watch spinner for as long as it takes for an https round trip + data download from the server", which can be anything from a second to timed out.
c) The search and browse rarely provided any value to me. My typical path for finding an app was to search for "ios music calendar app reddit", last year, and read through those threads, and then follow the links directly to iTunes store.
I think their ARM Macbooks have the opportunity to be a real tipping point if they make macOS as restrictive as iOS. Who'd sign up for another decade of this? The only argument I've seen for them to not do that is a wide range of developer tooling won't work, but perhaps they're OK with developers exclusively using their own languages. They actually did ban apps made in Flash (the IDE), Unity3d and other cross-compiling technologies from iOS for a while even though they were producing native apps, and more recently they banned apps using Electron too.
There's a ton of random MacOS software that would need to be ported, upgraded, or virtualized which could take a full decade to really cover the full ~99%, with the last 1%+ mostly dying off.
Apple usually doesn't like running two product lines with arm/x86 options, so it would probably be some weird transition thing.
I'm not sure how true that is, there are a ton of workflows that can run solely on iPads. The problem is largely physical form factor and a little bit of UX smoothing for desktop computing on bigger screens.
I don't see it as a forgone conclusion that ARM Macs need to bring over the legacy software, why can't they just use what's present in iOS? If I want to design a form, I care less about the name on the app than I do about how well it works.
I think a lot of desktop MacOS developers are in for a very rude awakening about how irreplaceable their apps really are.
I don't think Apple really cares that much if developers decide not to sign up. It can hire its own app developers if need be.
Now if enough users decided not to sign up, that would get their attention.
The will be forced to. The mac is the only exclusive developer platform for the money making iDevice lineup. Just as Microsoft found the hard way towards the end of the Ballmer era, if your only developer platform is a burning platform the developers hate with a passion, you are going to have a hard time.
The main android problem is the hal and the updates - and google for various reasons hadn't tackled this problem properly. For a decade.
App Stores have done a huge good for society in bringing capability to the general public. If a few startups have to suffer for it, oh well, that's their job. It's not an accident the degree to which smartphone sales outstrip feature phone and traditional computer sales.
This leaves out the discoverability argument, good luck getting people on the internet to find and install your random app. Then there's the security argument. Would you feel safer downloading a random script from the internet and piping it to bash, or a random ipa from the app store?
I can't imagine an open source app store on iOS like F-Droid being anything but beneficial to end-users. The only reason it doesn't exist is because Apple doesn't want to let it exist.
Perhaps at the minicomputer level did they start to enter the realm of more basic tools rather than being massively expensive infrastructure. You could call the massive caterpillar that moved the Saturn V to the launchpad a "tool" technically, but not really.
These magic boxes were always designed to solve specific problems. That's the generally used English meaning of tool. In my experience, people largely object to the word tool because they don't think it sounds important enough. Too bad for those people that it fits so well.
Developers aren't the point. Everyone else is. App stores have given everyone the ability to do things that very few could otherwise. See also the infamous HN Dropbox comment.
Also, as I say in another comment, other companies make phones. Switching cost is super low, ironically because the app stores on other OSes make it super easy to find all the apps you need.
Right, and then more than 1000 people discovered what computers were.
I like to use the Christensen/Ben Thompson framework of integrated and modularized systems: https://stratechery.com/2020/chips-and-geopolitics/. But how that appliess here? Phone is a 'good enough' product now - so it should be modularized. But how can you do security in modularized way, how security could be separated from the OS? Maybe we need more vm based sandboxes ala QubesOS?
Apple attract users who attract developers.
On stage years ago   Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were asked what they wish they had learned sooner that the other guy did first. Gates ventured that he would give a lot to have Steve’s taste. Jobs responded that he wish he were as good as Bill at partnering with others.
These were more than off-the-cuff compliments. They speak to Apple’s DNA as a design company focused on UX, and Microsoft’s DNA as a platforms company.
We get no value in return for that $99USD - absolutely zero.
Are there cases where Apple has retaliated against developers that do speak out publicly? Or is the reticence to go public because they know that any chance of special treatment is worth keeping silent?
edit: publicly not privately
Do you mean publicly?
How would you determine if a developer was retaliated because they spoke out? I don't think Apple would ever issue a press release saying "yeah, we banned developer X from our platform because we didn't like his New York Times interview."
The thing with Apple is, app store rules are vague and arbitrary, and Apple is the judge, jury, and executioner. They interpret and apply the rules inconsistently. They have utmost plausible deniability. How would you prove that you were removed, not for violating a vague rule that thousands of other apps violate in the same way, but for speaking out?
Even if someone thinks about raising a stink after getting banned, they probably won't go through with it. As we have seen on HN, Apple is so well loved that when a developer speaks out against Apple, most people side with Apple and attribute the developers complaints to not following rules, sour grapes, greed, hating users, etc.
I suppose developers are most likely to speak up when Apple has applied the rejection. And that is when you want a lifeline the most -- public shaming doesn't necessarily help your friendly HN-reading Apple employee to reach out and make a case.
The App store rules don't seem that vague -- just draconian. Sure, 30% of a paid app. IAP through a nice end-to-end Apple experience, where consumers don't have to enter any new information, are 30%? Make sense.
Can't offer IAP yourself? I can go either way, but to me this is the line where Apple is turning the screws. Boy do they turn them. Can't offer subscriptions outside the app. Can't link to other options for payment. Can't have a front end to a SaaS app that is primarily used on other platforms. Can't even mention the fact that Apple is taking a cut.
The app store rules do seem somewhat arbitrarily enforced. Ok, your 1.0 goes in but a critical bugfix? Now we shake you down.
If I were affected by this, especially for a subscription app I'd be contacting other affected parties and trying to educate the public on exactly why their subscriptions cost $14.28 instead of $9.99
Through Google SEO, of course, instead of inside the app, because Apple restricts what you say in the app about app store pricing.
I’m almost sure they issued guidelines that included something just like that.
The language was: "If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."
This language was on the current "App Store Review Guidelines" page  from when it was first published around September 2014  until on or before June 18th 2016 when the bullet vanished. 
I think this is a very important line because this page featuring this language appeared literally a month or two after I published an appeal for our late app, Gliph, which was pulled from the app store over Bitcoin transfer capability. 
I don't think we were trashing Apple, but the press does like to make hay out of these moments.
I'm not sure how anyone could interpret this line except as having a purposeful chilling effect on trying to build public support for your private case with Apple.
This is particularly notable because I believe there are multiple occasions where Apple changed course solely because something got press coverage.
Perhaps Apple is okay with going to the press, but only if you do so with positivity? How is this really possible if you're making a case that is in opposition to the findings of Apple? Also as I mentioned, you can't control the editorial decisions of press in giving a story a negative spin--the press makes money from clickbait.
So this line had speech-limiting implications.
Having gone through a ton of updates of this page on Wayback Machine, I think there's a great study to be done on the evolution of content.
Two things that stick out to me are that the language used to be pretty heavy handed, even dark. It read like someone who was kind of mad.
Now it is very positive sounding and has a last updated date.
> Now it is very positive sounding and has a last updated date.
I wonder whether the change is just in tone or in attitude. I am not too optimistic that it is the latter.
If Apple is preventing competing app stores, isn't that anti-competitive?
I'm of the opinion that Android and iPhone are not interchangeable. They have different experiences, and there are things that are mutually exclusive by design (iMessage, Notes, etc.)
what happened to the firewall apps? One by one they were banned. (As a customer, I would LOVE to install a firewall like Little Snitch or better)
even better would be to run my own icloud. That would be better from a privacy standpoint (its a right!) Keep your kids safe, keep their data at home!
Then apple changed the rules and now it appears to be a crippled safari "content blocker".
Also, step out of your own shoes for a minute, do you really think that the average consumer could make a more privacy-preserving iCloud than Apple? I invite you to google "ransomware" and tell me how well you think this will go.
nextcloud does a fair bit of what icloud does as well. But apple locks out non-apple apis for most of that stuff.
But what about corporate taxes, what about things like the game engine getting a cut (often an additional 5%), etc?
Apple Developers end up getting a slice of a slice.
That 30% is large enough to make whole business models unviable. You need 30% more sales or raise prices commensurately. That's a lot.
You'll probably have to spend more on customer acquisition to achieve those numbers as well as you start to eat into the long tail of customers. This eats into profits.
The cut probably also impacts the quality of experience, particularly for things like freemium games, as you need to monetize more aggressively to make up for the Apple tax.
- square the circle of using Free Software with
- the gnarly aspects of running a business and
- deliver competent, secure products for the modern day.
Maybe there are some ethical vendors out there, but they haven't got the advertising budgets of the Fat Cats, so help my ignorance in the replies, please.
This story does a great job of fear mongering, but that's about all it's good for.
Not that I'm averse to paying for things;
rather, a real capitalist hates to see the seller capture the market.
A real capitalist seeks to be the seller that captures the market.
A captured market is cartels, not capitalism.
Which is what TFA is complaining about.
> A captured market is cartels, not capitalism.
No, capitalism is the economic system, dominant in the mid-19th century developed West, characterized by private ownership and unrestricted control of the means of production, and “capitalist” can refer either to a supporter of that system or member of the upper class in that system or similar systems which have priavte, though more restricted in use, ownership of the means of production, defined by deriving sustenance mainly from returns on their ownership of the means of production.
Capitalism has a strong tendency toward cartels and capitalists (in the second sense) tend to seek to capture markets (to have, in the words of startup culture, a “moat”).
Efforts to limit the free employment of capital to limit the development of monopolies/oligopolies/cartels were, along with the imposition of various basic rights for labor which also limit the free employment of capital, among the reactions against capitalism that became prevalent during the peak of the capitalist period and which propelled the progression from capitalism proper to the modern mixed economy.
Capitalism is the worst thing going except pretty much everything else.
Focus on the feedback loops that keep the markets fair for your Pareto optimal operating point.
That's very much not the case of anti-capitalist efforts generally. It's the case for Leninism and it's descendants, which even other socialists describe as “state capitalism”. But it's not the case for things like leftist anarchism, market socialism, favoring of labor cooperatives as a firm model instead of capital-based ownership, etc., labor cooperatives, and other non-Leninist-descended challenges to the capitalist order.
Why wouldn't the same fear of retaliation prevent developers from being candid in that measurement?
Stunning? :) Right.
Daring Fireball conveniently neglects to mention one crucial bit: he is afraid to speak his mind, because he's made a career out of being 'impartial' when Apple is in the wrong, and the biggest fanboy when they get anything right.
> Without touching upon the question of who’s right and who’s wrong
Wrong according to Daring Fireball is anything that exposes Gruber as an Apple shill and hurts his ability to continue making a living this way. Right is everything that strengthens Gruber's position of being the #1 Apple shill in the world and his ability to make a living.
It's hard to justify begrudging someone who is amoral and just wants to make a living by doing the least amount of work possible. I am just so filled with contempt - a personal failure on my behalf to feel this way.
Somewhat related, to help people understand the 'stunning' resentment towards Apple, the aura of aimlessness and cynicism in America and Western culture:
We live in a corporatocracy  (a word that doesn't exist according to dictionary.com and Google's spell check). Almost all of us are wage slaves  and those who have a chance at freedom, enjoy their private dinner parties too much to ever speak up for the wage slaves. Why ruffle the feathers of your fellow Aristocrat friends when you're hoping to join or have already joined them?
Don't you know the many perks of being a wage slave master, even if you remain a wage slave yourself?
Oh and those who have become Aristocrat rich? Never have to worry about money rich? Your kids are now part of the Aristocrat family - they'll go to private school, live in gated communities and attend 'elite' universities. You don't need to worry about them wage slaves anymore, they're not as good as you, you were brave and talented in pursuing greed at all costs, you're one of us now, you're not one of them.
Resentment towards the ruling class is centuries old. For a thorough treatment on this topic, there's a masterpiece that spelled this out in a powerful way almost 150 years ago - On the Genealogy of Morality by Nietzsche 
I'm always surprised to see people who think he's a biased shill - see you reading the same site that I am?
Seems to me the US has a lot of deep things they can't pronounce lest there's retaliation.
Reminds me of communist Romania honestly.
Of course, we've all read http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html
Of course, when living inside the bubble, it’s not that obvious to people, hence your downvotes.
I am going to offer an alternative here.
The reason why the resentment runs deep and is widespread is that we are beyond "peak App Store". While Apple's revenue on services and the App Store is probably still growing it is because there are still more and more developers piling on.
For the average developer, the golden days of the App Store are long gone. The revenue has been declining for a long time and competition is still getting stiffer. That creates resentment.
Being able to receive a micro-payment of just one dollar and being listing in a potentially powerful marketing channel - the App Store - is a huge bon and something the web cannot offer. Paying 30% for that is reasonable, even cheap.
Should Apple offer discounts for big businesses such as Facebook, Google, Basecamp? Let them have a fee of less than 30%? Maybe. But that will not make Apple more popular amongst average developers.
Mr. dhh is a smart guy and a master nerd manipulator. He knows that the app offering of his new product is not that important and things are ripe for a smackdown of Apple. Also a little conflict helps getting attention on his new product. So he brings this up now even though Basecamp has had stuff in the App Store for years.