Apple has a developer relations issue. Here’s Marco Arment diagnosing the problem in a single sentence:
Without our apps, the iPhone has little value to most of its customers today.
Apple doesn’t act like it. Nor do they acknowledge that developers work to find audiences for their apps.
Apples need more than a core
To state the obvious: both the iPhone and iOS are great by themselves and as a platform upon which you can do great things. But platforms need to be built upon.
To Apple, the iPhone/iOS combo is the draw and people only use the App Store to find apps, through a combination of the Store’s recommendations and people browsing. Apple controls all the ins, all the outs.
Arment begs to differ. I’d say he’s right. So let’s look at my phone.1
An orchard of others
Of the 57 apps on my phone, only two are App Store recommendations (one of which I’ll delete after writing this sentence). Then there’s Apple’s preinstalled apps, services like Music, four games from Apple Arcade, and Shortcuts (which is basically my Reddit client at this point).
All of the others came from websites like MacStories, podcasters like Merlin Mann, talkative developers like Arment. That’s how I found my favourite games and all the apps I use every day. They’re ingrained in my life and they define my experience of iOS.2
Sure, Apple make the iPhone. But a collection of small developers, all of whom I discovered though the Apple blog and pod community, helped make my iPhone.
I mightn’t have returned to and then stayed in the Apple ecosystem where it not for them.
I’ve bounced around Android phones for a while but never stuck with one as my main phone for long. I struggle to find apps I like using.3 Meanwhile, it’s apps that brought me to iPhones and apps that keep me there.
I got my first iPhone in large part because Flight Control looked cool. I left Android because I couldn’t find a Twitter client as good as Tweetbot or a calendar app as nice as Fantastical on Android and I won’t go back because there isn’t a RSS app like Reeder, a podcast app like Castro, or a to-do app like OmniFocus.
Take those apps away and, all of a sudden, my iPhone becomes a lot more disposable. It’s a good phone by itself, but developers add the spark that makes it’s hard to leave.4
This isn’t Apple’s party
Apple supplied a nice venue for a party and now they want credit for everyone having a great time – even though other people provided the food, drinks, music, dance floor, conversation, and decor.
Apple didn’t even hang the bunting. But they still act like its their party and theirs alone. And it’s not like they’re particularly gracious hosts, even if they do have great taste in venues.
n=1, yadda yadda yadda. ↩
To be fair, I’m probably in the minority of iPhone users here. But I’m guessing it’s also a minority of people who use the App Store as their main way to discover apps. My reckon: most people have a couple of apps they use all the time and they’re likely social media apps, utilities, or things they were recommended by friends. The App Store is just where they go to download them. ↩
I also try and limit my exposure to Google but that’s a newer objection compared to my persnickety taste in apps. ↩
Part of it isn’t their fault. No matter how many great new features they announce at WWDC, sooner or later, they all become normal. They’ll be the background hum of iOS and background hums are never cool. ↩
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