App Store reality-check long overdue, say NZ developers

Christchurch-based Polar Bear Farm kills all but one new iPhone app projects

New Zealand iPhone application developers are joining a swelling chorus of international discontent over the way Apple runs its iPhone application store.

Polar Bear Farm's Layton Duncan is one. In a recent post to the company's blog, Duncan wrote if he had a choice between operating a business in a market like that before the App Store was opened and doing business on the App Store, he'd go with the former.

"Of course things have changed significantly since the App Store has been around, but the fact that a ‘hacking’ community had more business viability than the App Store, is a reflection of Apple’s failures here," he writes.

"The sad reality of the App Store is that there is just no market there capable of supporting full time dedicated iPhone development companies."

He goes on to quote several others, one of whom describes the App Store to a "digital dollar store".

"These problems can be directly attributed to the market conditions Apple have created through either a total and utter lack of planning and incompetence when building the App Store, or an intentional strategy set out to suppress application prices, with the sole intent of helping to drive device sales," Duncan says.

Duncan says there are to possible solutions. First, close the iTunes App Store storefont and simply give developers an API for payment processing and binary delivery using iTunes Accounts.

"That way Apple rankings, featuring, and organisation don’t influence the market at all, making for a truly free market," he writes.

Alternatively, fix the App Store "like a LOT of developers have been politely requesting since last year!"

Duncan says he is not buying the 'App Store is new' argument any longer.

"Apple have the resources to be able to make the most important changes needed in a matter of weeks, what they lack is the will and direction to do so," he writes.

"I’ve lost all hope that the App Store will actually see the real changes is needs. As it stands it’s poorly planned, poorly managed, poorly executed, and it’s an embarrassment to Apple. They should be ashamed to be associated with it."

Blogger Ben Gracewood concurs with Duncan, writing on his blog that the iPhone is "hands-down the most wonderfully designed and usable smart phone on the market."

"You guys saying your Nokia 3110 is 'better' can bugger off. People claiming the N97 or HTC Magic have a better user experience are on crack," he writes.

"The App Store is amazing because Apple treat their developers like lepers. I’ve experienced the process of submitting an app first-hand, and completely concur with Polar Bear Farm that the experience is appalling.

"I’ve also long since given up any benefit of the doubt regarding their banning of selected apps. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s banned because it's not an Apple duck. It’s not because Apple is trying to shield the world from the horrors of ducks. It’s flat out anti-competitive."

Duncan and Gracewood are among many developers frustrated at the way the App Store is run. Common complaints include Apple yanking applications without explanation and an inability to communicate with anyone about issues with the store.

However, others disagree. Auckland-based developer John Ballinger describes Duncan's comments as a "bit of a whinge".

"It's a storm in a teacup," he says.

Ballinger says many applications are easy to duplicate.

"Apple didn't create the 'digital dollar shop'. The developers did," he says.

He says several top 10 applications recently were selling for $10. It is also easier to make a profit developing from New Zealand than from the US, he says.

Ballinger says the store is evolving the way the internet evolved. Complaining that the store doesn't promote applications is like complaining PayPal doesn't market your goods, he says.

Marketing has to be done external to the store, on the web and social media, for applications to succeed.

Kevin Duerr, the chief executive of North Carolina-based Riverturn, took Apple out to the woodshed in his blog over its refusal to explain why his VoiceCentral application was pulled from the App Store earlier this week.

In a blog entry posted on Tuesday, Duerr outlined his conversation with an Apple representative, identified only as "Richard", who had called to inform Riverturn that VoiceCentral, an application that let iPhone users log in to the Google Voice service, had been removed from the App Store.

During that conversation, Richard told Duerr that VoiceCentral was being dropped because it "duplicates features of the iPhone", but repeatedly refused to answer Duerr's questions, including what his developers could change to meet Apple's requirements.

"Can you tell me what portions of the app were duplicate features?" Duerr asked.

"I can't go into granular detail," Richard replied.

Duerr persisted. "Is there something we can change or alter in order to regain compliance and get back in the Store?" he asked.

"I can't say," responded Richard.

Apple declined to comment on Duerr's claims.

Meanwhile Duncan has announced he is killing all but on iPhone application projects.

"As with many other serious iPhone developers recently, we’ve made the hard decision to kill all but one project in progress, and stop investing any resources in creating new applications. We’ll continue to sell and fully support our existing iPhone offerings, however we’re already moving to platforms which show signs of real viability," he writes.

"It’s a shame, the iPhone showed so much promise, it’s such a fun technical platform to develop for, but Apple have simply set up a market in a way which kills real businesses."

— US reporting by Gregg Keizer

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