April 18, 2021•852 words
One of the ways through which Apple has posted new records in their services revenue is by having you buy a developer account and then forcing you to make other people buy developer accounts. How does that work? Well, let's turn this around and say that you're not a developer in any shape or form. Your job is, I don't know, geologist or something.
You're the president of the geology society in your country. And every year you have a couple of meet-ups that involve a few thousands associates, students and maybe some sponsors when you're lucky. Like in every other similar institution, you organise all of these as a side-project, a lot of it is done up to the last minute, but as long as you keep everyone posted on what's happening, all tends to go well. You already have a website and a newsletter, but your members would also appreciate having real-time information of all those last minute changes that happen in your events. Plus, your website kind of sucks on phones, so you're thinking of getting a mobile app for your next event. Let's say you can do that with the help of some sponsor. You contact an app developer and ask them what do you need to get some push notifications going out to your associates. They need to ask you a few questions before answering that.
You answer "of course" when they ask you if you need both an Android and an iOS app (most of your associates wouldn't even understand the question). And you answer "that's not an option" when they ask you if you'd like to feature your meet-up inside their own multi-event app. Your sponsor wouldn't accept not having an app with the brand of your geology society front and center. Plus, installing some random event app would make the whole process too confusing for your associates. It seems the app developer has had this conversation many times already with clients in the same situation. They explain that you need to buy a developer account from Apple. What? Yes, it all sounds much more complicated than what you expected. Apparently, your iOS app has to be published by the content owner, meaning the geology society itself. You tell the app developer you know nothing about having anything on the app store. They say it's OK, they were forced to go through this process many times already with other clients and they can take care of everything if you follow a few critical steps with Apple directly. They're not making any money with this process, it's just the only way that Apple eventually allows you to have a push-notification with your brand on it. Well then, guess you're a developer now...
People who have ever used App Store Connect probably remember there's a little drop-down menu in the corner for any possible accounts associated with your profile. Years ago, there was not much of a reason to click that, you had your one account and the big My Apps icon for all your stuff. Now, our friend Tim Cook has found a way to generate revenue by populating that drop-down menu for many iOS devs that publish apps for clients. The same apps are getting published, but now the devs have to do that little song and dance explained above to essentially move them from the big My Apps icon into dozens of new developer accounts they need to control now. Never underestimate the power of capitalism to make more money for shareholders in exchange for keeping things pretty much the same while generating useless busy work.
Still, this is not even last year's news. As always, any corporation will keep pushing for as long as they're allowed to and, since the drive towards alternative revenue sources is working, they won't stop going. Apple is not only continuing to require developer accounts from non-developers, but also taking strides to "uberize" iOS devs by finding every possible excuse for in-app purchases to be used or else your app gets rejected. Apple also lags behind with supporting web apps as an alternative to the App Store when a lot of what you find in the iOS store could work entirely from the web. And Apple has this dream that your geologist society is going to buy an enterprise account to be able to deploy private apps only for their members, that's yet another potential cause for rejection.
Overall, there's a lot of risk associated with publishing in the App Store that comes from Apple themselves. Unless you aim to build exactly the kind of app that they can easily categorize and monetize, you have to think carefully about investing in the platform. And, with the drive towards everything not getting payed for with money, that problem is exacerbated by the lack of viable competition from other ecosystems. It's like a choice between the gig economy or unemployment. We have to break outside this box.