Maccast Members 194 - Is MAS a Mess?
V Intro
V Why are more "A" tier indie devs leaving the MAS?
V This week another developer, Bohemian Coding (Sketch), announced they are leaving the Mac App Store (MAS)
* If you don't know the app it's a popular UI/UX design and prototyping app
* Bohemian Coding is just another in what seems like a growing list of top level Mac Developers who have tried the MAS and ultimately decided it's not working.
* Smile, Panic, Real Software, and others have all pulled apps from the Mac App store for various reasons.
* I said long ago that I wasn't very keen on an App Store coming to that Mac, but when it arrived it did bring some nice conveniences.
* Still now more than 4 years later it seems like many of the same issues and concerns are still with us. So what's going on?
* I want to look at some of the concerns that are causing this exodus and see if we can determine what, if anything, Apple should do about it.
V The Issues
V Trials
* Screenshots, videos, and reviews are not enough.
V This feeds into the pricing and marking issues too
* Too many low cost or free choices
* When a customer has to "pay" to try they will tend to look at lower cost options.
* But high quality software is not cheap to make.
* How can you sell a $30-$100 app when the customer can't try it first.
V The trial workarounds stink
V Offer crippled free or lite versions
* That defeats the purpose of a trial as you can't get a full sense of the app.
* Confusion in the App Store as there are multiple versions. Is the "lite" version all I need? What am I missing?
V Free with in-app purchases for "pro" features
* Again just another crippled app until you pay.
* Light and IAP apps tend to generate 1-star reviews (more on this in Marketing and Promotion)
V Trials on the developers website
* A good option, but how do you get customers there?
* Also, you fragment the customer experience.
* Why send them back to the MAS to buy when now they already know your site. Have them buy there and make more money.
V Upgrades
V Developers need a continuing revenue model.
* I can think of almost no other business where you'd be expected to sell a product and then offer new versions for free forever.
* Yet if often seems with the MAS that's what Apple wants and what customers have come to expect.
* Developer's aren't unreasonable though. They want to, and do, reward existing customers with discounts or at least they did until the MAS.
* Without upgrades you have to have customers re-buy apps at full price or offer limited time "discounts" that benefit existing customer, but lower revenue from new purchases.
V Again the tricks and "work arounds" have fallen short
V Selling a new version alongside the old one
* How do you let your customers know you have a new version, separate from the one the have?
* Again, leads to 1-star ratings. "Why do I constantly have to buy this app?"
* Confusion for new customers. Why are there two versions?
V In-app purchases
* Just charge for new features that are downloaded into the existing app
* Feels like you constantly being asked to pay more. And while that is an "upgrade" it feels different.
* New customers are immediately hit with several "in-app" upgrades.
* On iOS the "bundle" trick has become common, but that's not an option on the MAS, And honestly it's a confusing and not great option on the App Store either.
V Pricing
* Both of these issues lead to the pricing conundrum.
V I see the two core issues as:
* Being able to set a sustainable price point
* Some kind of continuing revenue model
* The Mac App Store has a tendency to push developers into unsustainable pricing.
* You've got all apps created equal in the App Store and without trials how can the customer choose. Price because a bigger factor in the purchase decision than it should.
* So developers lower prices in hopes of getting you to try their apps (see the Trials problem), but that pricing is unsustainable.
* How many times have you told someone about a great and valuable app only to have them look and say, "OMG! It's $10 bucks! What a rip-off".
V This isn't just an Apple problem, but they have contributed to it. Apple's own high quality iWork and iLife apps are "free"
* But those are subsidized by Apple's other efforts.
* Most indie developers only have one revenue stream.
* All apps in MAS are "family" apps.
V Let's also not forget to factor Apple's 30% cut
* Most developers will agree there is value in the MAS that justifies some if not all of that cut
* Apple take on storage, distribution, payment processing, taxes, building install bundles, no license keys, etc.
* Still it is something devs could do themselves and it's getting easier all the time with tools like Amazon servers and cloud storage and payment processing from companies like PayPal and Stripe.
V Continuing revenue streams
V Ads
* Proven not very profitable, unless VERY aggressive
* "Cheapen" the app even further. You're not EVER going to see an ad in iWork or Adobe Photoshop
* Often annoy the customer
V In-app Purchases
* Consumables. Work in games, but probably not for productivity apps.
* Pay for each new feature. Starts to feel like you're being nickeled and dimed.
V Subscriptions
* This one is interesting and working for big name Apps outside the MAS (Adobe, Microsoft, etc.)
* Can work for service attached to indie Apps. Dropbox storage for example.
* Will you really pay $5 to $10 a year for your text editing app? Maybe?
* The 30 percent cut is still a problem.
V Sandboxing
* This is really a good thing in most cases
* It ensure that apps cannot causes crashes or have access to part of the system where they could do malicious things.
V But it can also cripple the functionality of some apps or cause developers to have to do significant re-writes and workarounds
* These can drive up production and support costs and couple with the pricing and other issues bring us right back to the sustainability problem.
V Some of the utility Apps are "foundation" app. Ones that are popular among among longtime Mac users.
* App they consider critical like TextExpander
V Some apps work around this by requesting users visit the developers website to download additional installers after the fact
* Again this detracts from the whole point of having an app in the MAS
* Also can confuse users who don't understand why a feature is missing after they purchase on the MAS
V Marketing and promotion
* Ratings can help, but of course in the MAS those have issue too.
* Developer have no recourse for reaching out to dissatisfied customers or to respond to bad App Store reviews.
* Many times bad reviews are reactions to features that are missing because of the MAS sandboxing rules.
V Often to offset bad reviews, because people are more likely to leave negative comments, developer prompt or "beg" for customers to leave positive ones
* Adds another annoying pop-up that takes away from the customer experience.
V Customers and Support
V "The MAS might be worse for developers but that means it's better for consumers".
* From a Helftone blog post
V "A false dichotomy that somehow developers and consumers are at odds but this couldn't be further from the truth".
* Developers and customers are required to have a symbiotic relationship
* The issue is often the MAS doesn't allow for this
V The app review process still can take weeks
* This disables a developers ability to ship critical bug fixes and patches to customers.
* On the App Store I think there is now a process to request expedited reviews, but I'm not sure the same exists for the MAS
V The thing is, by the nature of the rules of the MAS developers have NO relationship with their customers.
* They don't know who you are.
* They are Apple's customers, well kind of.
* The developer is still on the hook for support. Their support link is right there with the app in the MAS
* Really not an easy way to verify a MAS customer even bought your app (take their word for it)
V Refunds have to go through Apple and that process is not easy
* Developers would be happy to refund dissatisfied customers. They want them to be happy.
* Irony being that if they had "trials" most refunds would be unnecessary.
V Then there's when the MAS fails
* Like the recent Certificate issue. Yes Apple responded quickly to fix the issues, but many developers were left doing the damage control for an issue they didn't create.
* Remember too they can't be pro-active and send out emails to their impacted customers. They don't know who they are.
V It's not all bad
V The idea of the Mac App Store is a good one
* A single trusted place to get all your apps.
* A consistent buying experience.
* Upgrades all in one place.
* Personal information kept private and secure.
* I love and prefer to get apps from the MAS, but it's not always the best choice.
V Many developers love the MAS
V This includes many that have had to make the decision to leave it.
* They are speaking out about their frustrations because they WANT it to work for them.
* If the challenges are fixed many say they'll be back.
V And it does work for a lot of apps
* Games are a great example because they don't generally do "upgrades"
* Games also can have "consumables" and "level" upgrades for continuing revenue.
* Games also often have server subscriptions.
* Entertainment apps too.
* Photography Apps also seem to be a popular category.
* Productivity and utility apps, the daily workhorses, seems to suffer most
V Why are we still having this conversation?
V I think this is what's most frustrating.
* Why now, almost 5 years after the fact.
* I think some developers are just tired of asking for things to get better. They are saying "enough".
V Apple has largely ignored the issues and it seems now like many of these basic complaints will never be addressed
* Trials and upgrades would not be that hard a feature to add. Apple could do this if they wanted, feels like they don't want to.
* Developer have requested these features since day one, why have they gone unaddressed.
V Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software point out that it's a "quality of life" issue.
* Developers should have to work so hard on so many levels to get it to work
* Developing and selling software the "old" way is easier and it's still hard to do that.
* The vision of the MAS is to reduce friction points, it's shouldn't be creating them.
* It needs to be a better way to sell software not just for Apple and us, but for developers too.
V Do they really need to change anything?
V Signed apps can still be offered outside the MAS. Apple doesn't require it be in the MAS and developers are also free to do both
* Most likely should do both if they can
* iCloud apps are an exception
* Still doing both or one or the other can lead to customer confusion. Especially where MAS apps are restricted from the downloadable versions due to Sandboxing restrictions.
V We'll likely never have everything, but…
* Apple has the power, and the responsibility, to make things better.
* By ignoring developer top concerns they are creating a rift between Apple and developers and that can ultimately hurt us all.
V The buzz at the moment is that Apple seems to be giving more effort to improving the App Store and ignoring the MAS
* The MAS needs more attention because the App Store rules were created from scratch.
* Apple treats how apps work on each platform differently because the platforms demand it. The same goes for how they should be selling software.
V And like the OS some features should cross over. Right now they're not.
* A big example for developers is TestFlight. Apple's beta testing platform.
* Developers have no way currently to test Mac apps that on Apple's iCloud servers.
* They also don't get access to Analytics. Even more critical when you don't get customer specific data.
* Or blocking reviews while the apps are in beta testing.
V Closing
V Feedback
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