Moving beyond the App Store

I got a nice e-mail from Rogue Amoeba this morning about their release of Airfoil 5, and it indirectly highlighted nearly every single thing that is wrong with the App Store. Here they are, in the order that they appeared in the e-mail:

  • A lack of direct customer interaction
    Rogue Amoeba was able to reach out to me directly as a customer to let me know about their release
  • Poor discoverability and weak cross-promotion
    The e-mail’s header included the icons and titles (each as a link) for all six of Rogue Amoeba’s major products.
  • A lack of free trial versions
    The e-mail included a prominent link to download a trial version of Airfoil
  • A lack of paid upgrades
    As an existing customer of Airfoil, I was offered a discount of $14 (nearly 50% off the full price)

Most of these things are key to an indie software development business (and frankly, pretty important in non-indie shops as well). The inability to implement sustainable business models is, I think preventing many otherwise reputable side-projects from pivoting into real businesses. Some have argued (can’t find the link at the moment), that we developers need to get with the times, and that in-app purchases are the future, etc.

I don’t agree. Sure, you can prompt users for their e-mail address at startup, you can cross promote apps or “upgrades” with in-app notifications (and many of the more successful developers are doing just that), but I think that these kinds of tactics are simply hacks to work around a broken system.

Dan Counsell of Realmac Software wrote last year about how the Mac App Store still needs paid upgrades, and we are now three months into Phil Schiller’s promotion that put him in charge of the App Store. Unfortunately, it looks like things aren’t going to change anytime soon.

I don’t know the internal’s of Rogue Amoeba’s business, but they seem to be doing pretty well, and they’ve been around for a long time. The nature of their software forced their hand in staying out of the App Store, but in retrospect in might have been a blessing in disguise.

It’s time to move beyond the App Store…

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