The Zimbabwean Perspective

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Apps Business Developers/ICT Workers

Apple’s WWDC impressed fans and customers, but last week’s App store incidents have developers hesitant to commit to its ecosystem. And For good reason.

While the company opens up a bit for customers, it tightens the knot for developers..

We recently posted a recap article of the keynote for Apple’s 2020 World Wide Developer Conference, which for an event meant for software developer and tech community insiders, it was quite an exciting keynote. Apple seems poised to be making significant changes in all its major products. Making iOS and iPad OS a little more user friendly and tolerant, making the Apple Watch and iPhone reliable tracking devices for family and friends and making them function as digital car keys, and Revamping MacOS while also moving the desktop OS to Apple’s own ARM based processors called Apple Silicon(Sometimes the simplest names are the best). Apple’s definitely painting an exciting future for its customers, yet due to last week’s disputes with app developer Basecamp over its app Hey, the developers Apple holds WWDC for every year are beginning to think twice about the tech giant.
The incident with Basecamp essentially goes like this:
  • Basecamp released a new premium email app named Hey which users would pay a $90 subscription to use. The app got positive reviews and a substantially successful launch, being released in its initial version on mobile platforms the Apple App store and Google’s Play Store.
  • When trying to push an update to the app on Apple’s App store, Basecamp had that update rejected and Apple told them their app breached App Store policies as it doesn’t allow users to sign up for it within the app, which is essentially a business strategy that Apple uses to gain a 30% non-negotiable cut of the subscriptions.
  • Said policies always have essentially been murky and have had apps like Amazon Prime Video exempt from them, hence why Basecamp spent most of last week complaining about the matter and starting a pretty substantial outcry among developers who feel Apple’s app store rules are becoming borderline tyrannical and the worst example of monopolistic capitalism.
  • US Senators and Congress even joined in, especially since western governments are beginning to hound tech monopolies often especially Apple, Google and Facebook.
  • Apple eventually gave in to this outcry on Monday, but that’s after it had initially hit back at Basecamp, saying Hey shouldn’t have been submitted into the app store anyway, which definitely didn’t go well with Basecamp or other complaining developers.
The “giving in” Apple has made is interesting too. Essentially when you install Hey in your phone Apple will create a temporary sign up account that Basecamp doesn’t have to pay Apple for, but this is while Basecamp is working on creating a workaround that suits both their preferences and Apple’s App Store policies. It essentially becomes a compromise for both parties, one that’s definitely out of necessity more than anything else, and it’s apparently a sign of Apple trying to show some version of leniency towards the policies in it’s app store, but this whole situation has definitely highlighted the company’s more capitalistic side, and Apple developers are definitely becoming wary of that.
Multiple app developers have been bullied by Apple’s policies. Basecamp and Hey are just unique for truly speaking out and gaining people’s attention.
Apple themselves have always been quite a rigid company when you think of it, especially when it comes to iOS and the iPhone. It’s no surprise either, the iPhone is the halo product that turned them into the most valuable tech company in the world, and they’ve been determined to control every single bit of it’s ecosystem ever since it’s inception. This is why until recently, even customizing your home screen is limited on the iPhone, because Apple wants to control even how customers use the device as much as possible and give them the intended experience. However it’s one thing for the company to be so controlling when it comes to user experience and product design, and another when it comes to controlling their third party app ecosystem. The differences between both those approaches are all based on the reasons behind them as well. The iPhone is less customizable and so on because Apple wants to control the user experience, but the App stores’ policies, while also meant to ensure quality, security and reliability, are really meant to make Apple more money. A lot more in fact. The company keeps pointing to services as the future of their profits and well the App Store is a service. The policy Hey supposedly broke is proof of this, as it basically dictates that apps in the App store should have a sign up function, but if they require payment for said Sign up, Apple wants 30 percent of that, which is essentially forcing developers to give Apple their sign up money anyway. And again, bigger, more powerful companies like Amazon can get away with this, but smaller companies like Basecamp can’t and it’s definitely the same for small-time independent developers too. It makes starting a service on the App Store an extremely expensive task, and steps on them before they can even make any sort of profit or growth. And obviously Apple doesn’t want anyone seeing it as a money-hungry techno-capitalist tyrant, but it’s hard to see it any other way in such a situation. This is why the developer pushback here is necessary, pivotal even, as it puts Apple on notice. But considering Apple is currently only making deals to help out certain devs, and western ones for that matter, it can leave an African developer trying to make money on the app store also wonder what they’re chances are as well. After all in countries where the tech sector is burgeoning and growing, who can handle Apple’s app store taxes when they can barely make ends meet on app sales.
What’s even scarier is that Apple is likely going to extend this control to all it’s products, including the Mac, where the policies and environment have been much more flexible, with apps being downloaded even off of websites like on competing platforms Windows and Linux. However with the move to ARM and promotion of initiatives like project Catalyst, might mean in the end all Apps are iOS apps, even those on the Mac, and they have to be purchased through the app store or play by it’s rules. This bleak picture is what’s putting a damper mood on the Apple developer community, and only time will tell if the company proves these predictions wrong. But for now, despite apple seemingly becoming more open to consumers, it’s showing its true colors to its own developers, and that’s making a lot of them think twice about investing in it’s ecosystem. And if you’re a dev, maybe you should too.

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