Shaping the App Store

From time to time I email Apple executives a “boots on the ground” view of the App Store and do my best to provide insight and contructive criticism rather than shallow complaints. Here’s my most recent email, starting with a quote from Andrew Webster at The Verge:

Angry Birds Go… features all of the right ingredients, including a cast of familiar and adorable characters, a charming and colorful presentation, and gameplay that’s both easy to pick up and incredibly fun. But that potential is squandered — in the shift to free-to-play, Rovio has turned a great game into an annoying experience filled with incessant calls to spend more money.

While the current wave of free-to-play games are doing incredibly well financially, I worry that they are undermining the long-term strength of the iOS platform. Instead of building meaningful productivity and entertainment experiences, more and more developers are focusing their efforts on manipulating users into spending more and more money via consumable in-app purchases. I think John Gruber put it well: “…in-app purchases are driving game design more towards addiction and less towards fun.”

And another quote from independent developer Justin Williams: “The post-PC revolution won’t happen without the software that the current App Store economy makes it nearly impossible to build and sustain.”

I absolutely love the “Your Verse” iPad ad that was released this week, and on the surface it appears that the current state of the App Store isn’t preventing amazing “post-PC” apps from being developed. But things are not always as they appear on the surface. It would be interesting for Apple to study various “post-PC” apps in the App Store (including ones featured in the “Your Verse” ad and featured on the App Store in recent months) to better understand the financial viability of creating and maintaing those apps. If the apps Apple brags about and features aren’t financially viable, we will inevitably see less of those apps being built over time.

As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, Apple can and does dramatically shape the App Store economy. Similar to how governments shape economies through tax law and other policies, Apple shapes the App Store economy through app review policies, App Store implementation details, editorial decisions, the App Store search algorithm, and in so many other subtle (and not so subtle) ways. I’d love to see Apple wield that power to shape the App Store in ways that will sustain and encourage meaningful development over the long-term and not let the current success of the App Store blind it to issues that are impacting the trajectory of the App Store.


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