Build Your Own App Store

While many have written about the negative implications of Apple’s new policy regarding apps that look like the App Store, no one is talking about the potential upside — Apple seems to be inviting developers to create App Store competitors. Or, more accurately, Apple is enabling developers to build better App Store competitors, which is why they are now trying to prevent confusion.

In iOS 6, Apple introduced a new class in the StoreKit API — SKStoreProductViewController— to enable the purchasing of apps and other iTunes content from within other apps. Users no longer have to be sent to the App Store to purchase and download apps, they can do it within other apps. The first place we saw this implemented was in Apple’s own Mail app:

By not forcing users out of context to buy apps and other content, Apple is greasing the wheels of commerce in some very cool ways. If/when apps like Tweetbot implement the new feature, you will be able to download that new app your friend tweets about without ever leaving Tweetbot. Developers can now cross-promote their other apps without sending users into the abyss of the App Store, not knowing if they’ll come back. And more importantly, amazing app discovery focused apps like TouchArcade can now sell apps directly. It’s as if Apple is saying “Here, build your own App Store, just don’t copy ours.”

And the copying bit is rather important. SKStoreProductViewController presents a view that looks and functions exactly like the App Store. Apple want users to very clearly see where 3rd party apps end, and the App Store experience begins. Here are a couple screenshots from within Heyzap:

The two screenshots look like they came from two completely different apps, but when you tap the green ‘Install’ button in Heyzap, it loads the second App Store view that is completely controlled by Apple. This allows Apple to maintain control of the purchasing experience while enabling developers to sell apps directly.

There are, unfortunately, a couple caveats. First, because of the ambiguity of 2.25 and threat of rejection, developers may not be willing to risk a rejection with innovative new features. Second, David Smith pointed out on Twitter that Apple doesn’t seem to have enabled affiliate links yet, so apps like TouchArcade that depend heavily on affiliate revenue may be hesitant to adopt the new feature.

I have to say though, as an iOS developer I’m thrilled to see Apple enabling new ways for users to buy my apps. And I’m optimistic that this will turn out well for everyone involved.