December 2, 2015 Last Updated 3:46 pm

Some high profile developers make the tough decision to pull out of the Mac App Store

Can Apple turn around dissatisfaction with its various apps stores, or are we starting to see the Apple app ecosystem spring leaks, as Sketch is the latest to say it’s pulling its app

I am very much of two minds when it comes to the App Store. It is/was one of the great leaps forward in distribution of not only software but of publications. It is also such a messy infrastructure that many developers are finally deciding that enough is enough.

AppStore-300First, it should be said that simply saying “the App Store” is all that is necessary to let the reader know what is at the center of the conversation. Google Play has as many apps or more apps as Apple’s store, yet when we speak of “the App Store” pretty much everyone knows what you are talking about. This alone is an amazing marketing achievement.

The App Store began, for Apple, in 2008 when the company decided to open up the iPhone to third party developers. In April 2010, the iPad App Store opened as Apple launched the first generation of the iPad. Later that fall, Apple held an event titled “Back to the Mac” and the Mac App Store was born.

While some developers, and many publishers, bristled at the idea of giving Apple 30 percent of the price of an app, most found that this was a fair deal. Production and distribution costs for a print magazine, for example, take up far more than 30 percent of the subscription price of any magazine. In fact, a consumer publisher would be lucky if what they generate in subscriptions were to cover all their costs in producing their title. (Many B2B publishers don’t even charge the reader for the magazine, so this is even more the case.)

For a very short period of time, the various app stores seemed to be very popular with developers and publishers, but things have slowly changed. If you were to graph a satisfaction chart of this you would see a quick, sharp rise, followed by a slow decline.

The idea that developers are now more likely to consider leaving Apple’s ecosystem of distribution is going mainstream, though I am sure many would still see this as a crazy idea.

But check out Daring Fireball today, and you will see that something is brewing. John Gruber is hardly an Apple critic, so his recent posts could be seen as a cry for someone at Apple to begin paying attention to what developers are saying:

Deeply troubling indictment of the Mac App Store. Sketch isn’t the first big name professional app to be pulled from the Mac App Store (Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, Panic’s Coda, Quicken, just to name a few). But Sketch is the poster child for Mac App Store era professional Mac software.

“We’ve been considering our options for some time. Over the last year, as we’ve made great progress with Sketch, the customer experience on the Mac App Store hasn’t evolved like its iOS counterpart,” the team at Sketch said in a blog post earlier this week. “We want to continue to be a responsive, approachable, and easily-reached company, and selling Sketch directly allows us to give you a better experience.”

The biggest complaint many have, and is mentioned by Sketch, is the App Store review process. It often takes weeks to clear an app for distribution – a minor problem for a new app, but potentially a major one when trying to release a bug fix update.

And maybe it is not accurate to say that this delay is only a minor problem with new apps. After all, Apple has more and more said that an app’s promotion is up to the developer, that they cannot count on Apple to promote their new apps (understandable, considering the volume). But then how can one conduct an effective marketing campaign when they cannot know when an app will appear inside the store?

Many Mac developers appear to see the Mac App Store issues as somehow different than the iOS stores (and now the tvOS store). The reason is that Mac developers have a long history of selling outside of an app store, via retailers and online. This has never been the case with iOS or tvOS apps.

“While iOS developers don’t have a choice in how they distribute their apps, Mac developers do, and it’s not surprising to see more and more of them taking the route that allows them to skip paying Cupertino’s 30 percent cut while simultaneously gaining the ability to charge for upgrades, offer app trials, and operate outside the sandbox while pushing updates as often as they want with no week-long review process. Don’t expect Sketch to be the last app to do so,” Mike Beasley wrote on

Yet, and yet, the app stores holds so much promise.

Rich Siegel, in this Vimeo video, clearly points out the many advantages of being inside Apple’s Mac App Store, and I completely agree with all of his points. But at the half way point of the video he starts in on why BBEdit left the Mac App Store in 2014.

My own take on this is that the problem is managerial. I don’t believe the stores are well-run. Being outside of Apple I do not know why this is, and where the hangups may be. It does not help that the App Store team, unlike the developer support team, is behind a wall and inaccessible.

My only direct contact with them was so unsatisfactory that it led me to believe – at least for a while – that the troubles with the store were intentional: Apple was literally trying to discourage developers. This may not be true, but when I was told that they were aware of the problems with the Newsstand, that they knew the subcategories were being unmaintained, and that if they ever decide to do something about it they would let me know. The change from the Newsstand to the new Magazines & Newspapers category has now taken place and the subcategories are still a mess. Is this intentional or incompetence?

At this point, I think one has to conclude that it is a management problem, one that will only get worse as Apple tries to create an Apple TV app ecosystem. The new Apple TV app store launched without categories, for instance, though they appeared soon after. Now, word is that more than a few tvOS developers are voicing complaints, pointing to issues many iOS and Mac developers would be very familiar with.

My only recommendation at this point is the same one I had three years ago: Apple needs to hire category liaisons, people who have experience in the areas where developers are creating apps. There should have been, for instance, a Newsstand Apple liaison contact. Now there needs to be one that helps publishers who want to use the Magazines & Newspapers category (or any other, for that matter).

Apple should know, better than anyone else, that a human voice on the other end of the phone solves much. I still rate Apple customer and developer support as A+ – at least compared to its competition. Why not take this approach with the App Store team?

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