Tag Archives: app store

Curating an app store: does Apple have it right?

No matter how much market share Android grabs: it is Apple’s App Store that started this app thing rolling. Never forget that OS vendors and phone operators tried to push app stores before Apple came in, but fragmentation, horrible user interaction design, billing issues and perplexing compatibility problems made them a dead loss for most users. Today, Apple’s mobile platform remains the most important one in many sectors.

The trade off with app stores is that you give up freedom of choice (install anything you want from anywhere) in return for a safer and better experience; software installation nasties like runtime dependencies, malware or fake download apps do not exist. At least, that is how it is meant to be, which is why some are so disappointed by Microsoft’s store.

Now Apple has offered us some limited insight into its own curation practice. It has published the top ten reasons for App rejections for the last week in August.

Aside from the generic “more information needed,” the top reason is bugs, and the next two are non-compliance with the developer terms (could mean anything) and user interfaces that are poor or too complex.

Close behind it is another key one:

Apps that contain false, fraudulent or misleading representations or use names or icons similar to other Apps will be rejected

which accounts for the main complaint about some apps that make it into Microsoft’s store.

What Apple does not tell us is the proportion of apps that are approved, either first time, or after one or two revisions.

There is little to argue about in Apple’s list of reasons to reject, except this one:

If your app doesn’t offer much functionality or content, or only applies to a small niche market, it may not be approved.

Apps without content are fair game, but why should small niche markets not be served? It does not bother me if a great app for jellyfish spotters makes it into the store.

The other factor here is that if an app store has enough high quality apps then the bad ones will be hardly visible, other than in search results. Store curation is about presentation as well as content.

Is Apple getting it right? I am not hearing much shouting from developers about the arbitrary or unknown reasons why their app was rejected, which suggests that it is, but it may be I am not listening intently enough.

Mozilla to take on the cross-platform app challenge

Mozilla is facing an uncertain future. Its problem: basing a business (even a non-profit one) on being the alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no longer sensible, given that Apple and Google are now doing this too, and even Microsoft is now investing in HTML 5. I discussed these issues in more detail here.

So what is Mozilla to do? Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker has posted about a possible new approach, based on being the alternative to Apple for apps. She lists some of the problems with the current “app experience”. Apps are device-specific, require permission at many levels, and a few App Store owners (mainly Apple but also Google) control the business model and customer relationships.

Mozilla is proposing what I presume is a new app platform, which will be cross-platform and cross-device. Instead of discovering apps in a single app store, she envisages multiple providers and the ability to find apps in the same way we find web content.

In other words, if the old Mozilla was about freedom from Microsoft and allowing web technology to progress, the new Mozilla might be about freedom from Apple and allowing app technology to progress.

It is a bold vision and one that in principle would be welcome. That said, Mozilla cannot change the control Apple has over its platform, and its insistence that apps are installed only through its own App Store. Maybe she has in mind a cross-platform toolkit, or browser-based apps, or some combination.

Another snag is that whereas there was widespread dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer back in 2004 when Firefox was launched, this is not the case with Apple and its app platform today. Apple’s App Store system undoubtedly has a dark side, but the user experience is good and developers are making money, some of them at least. Apple’s control over app installation and the constraints imposed on what apps can do are also good for security.

Nevertheless, having looked at a number of cross-platform mobile toolkits, from PhoneGap to Appcelerator Titanium to Adobe AIR, I can see both the significance of this kind of development and that there is plenty of scope for improvement.

Adobe closes AIR Marketplace, InMarket

Adobe is giving up its efforts to support developers deploying to multiple app stores. The idea of InMarket,  announced at the Adobe MAX Conference in October 2010, was to be a one-stop distribution point for developers seeking to target multiple platforms. Adobe handled distribution and billing. The reason given:

After reviewing our efforts and based on feedback from developers, we have decided that we will deliver the most value by helping developers author and publish their apps on multiple platforms. Given this focus, we have decided to discontinue development and support of Adobe InMarket. We are going to continue to provide support for publishing to different app stores through our tooling. The recent Flash Builder 4.5 and Flash Professional CS5.5 provide support for publishing to multiple mobile platforms including Android and Apple iOS devices.

Adobe is not giving developers much time to adjust. The InMarket URL will terminate on August 31. This is causing some consternation:

I don’t understand how you expect publishers will be able to push an update to all the markets they publish to with enough time to get their user base to update before they’re totally screwed. One month? You do realize that even updates pushed to AppUp can take up to 2-weeks for vetting? This is crazy

That said, the low traffic on the InMarket forum is a clue to what Adobe is closing it down.

InMarket only supported Intel AppUp and AIR Marketplace, which rather misses the point of targeting multiple platforms. Had Adobe been able to offer instant deployment to all the key app stores, including Android Market and Apple’s iOS App Store, it would have been more attractive. Given the complexities of the approval process, it is not surprising that this was hard to achieve. A further complication is that Adobe’s AIR runtime is not allowed on iOS. Apps for iOS have to be packaged as native iOS apps.

What about AIR Marketplace?

When we established Adobe AIR Marketplace three years ago, there were few distribution opportunities for AIR developers. There are now several app stores on desktops, mobile devices and tablets that service AIR developers including Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World, Intel AppUp center, Samsung Apps, and Toshiba App Place. We encourage you to use these newer popular app stores to distribute your applications.

This of course describes describes exactly the problem that InMarket was meant to address: the challenge of maintaining support for multiple app stores.

AIR Marketplace is still up and running at the time of writing, and seems to have more life than InMarket:


That said, why would any potential customer look specifically for AIR applications? It is a runtime and ideally should be invisible to the user. I was interested to see reference to AIR packagers for Windows, Mac and Android in a recent announcement, suggesting to me that Adobe is de-emphasising AIR as a runtime and making it into something more like a cross-platform development tool.

Apple’s new Mac Mini ditches DVD drive, promotes App Store

Apple is now selling a new range of Mac Mini computers with Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and a Thunderbolt port.


There is also an HDMI port for connection to an entertainment system, FireWire 800, 4 old-style USB 2.0 ports – not USB 3.0, presumably to focus on Thunderbolt – and an SDXC card slot.


There is one thing missing, though, which is the DVD drive. Want to rip CDs, play a DVD, or install an application from optical media? Here’s what Apple says:

With the Mac App Store, getting the apps you want on your Mac has never been easier. No more boxes, no more discs, no more time-consuming installation. Click once to download and install any app on your Mac. But if an app you need isn’t available from the Mac App Store, you can use DVD or CD Sharing. This convenient feature of OS X lets you wirelessly “borrow” the optical drive of a nearby Mac or PC. So you can install applications from a DVD or CD and have full access to an optical drive without having to carry one around.

Of course you can also purchase an external optical drive, though hanging a device like that off the Mini so spoils the attraction of its small size.

By omitting the optical drive, Apple is also promoting its App Store over shrinkwrap software. This is good for usability, and means the user will get the latest version of the application rather than having to update immediately, as is often the case with shrinkwrap installs.

A side-effect though is that more transactions are subject to Apple’s cut of the sale price. Third-party resellers are hammered. Further, Apple gets to approve what software appears in the store.

The desktop Mac is unlikely ever to be locked down like the iOS devices; though it would not surprise me if some future Mac Mini actually does run iOS rather than OS X. Nevertheless, you can see how well this plays into the overall strategy.

Succeeding in an App Store world: lessons from the Angry Birds story

At Mobile World Congress earlier this year I heard Rovio CEO Mikael Hed address a small group of Apple platform developers on the subject of the changing world of app development. His starting point is that mobile apps and the app store model are transforming the business of software. Of course he has a games industry perspective, but my hunch is that what he says applies more widely. I note that the App Store concept has already come to the Mac, and that Microsoft will follow Apple with something similar in Windows vNext.

What is the effect of an App Store? It combines opportunity and challenge for developers. Opportunity because apps can be found, purchased and installed in a few clicks. Challenge because app stores attract lots of apps, and the barriers to entry are low, much lower than traditional retail channels. This forces prices down and makes it hard to have your particular app stand out.

The App Store model seems to include the idea of single-purpose apps at low prices. Apple still sells iWork, its office suite, for £72.00 as boxed product (UK prices), but on the Mac App Store it is split into three products, Pages, Keynote and Numbers, at £11.99 each. Even if you buy all three it is half the price of the box.

Mac desktop apps are larger and more sophisticated than iPhone apps, so I guess they will always attract higher prices; but I also guess that the factors which have driven down prices on the iPhone App Store will exert the same influence on the desktop store.

So where are prices going? Here is what Hed told us:

On the pricing side, we know now that on the App Store the standard price is fast becoming free, zero. And the premium price is 99 cents. If you go higher than that, then there are higher risks, because you might never reach the top ten, or top 100, and if you do, it will drop off very fast, there’s huge price sensitivity. So this also is a big change for traditional publishers who are used to high prices up front, and that’s the classic business model in gaming. That is changing, so game developers must find additional revenue streams.

This low pricing is the foundation of his thesis. Hed’s view is that software companies, in the games industry at least, have to be ready for it. Further, he thinks that the shift toward mobile is profound and will not reverse:

We are seeing right now a big shift from retail focused, location based games where you have to have your console plugged into your TV. That is slowly slipping away and in its place is coming the digitally downloaded game that you can play anywhere.

How then do you survive and prosper in this new world? Hed’s answer is to build a brand, and find diverse ways to monetize it.

He told us the history of Angry Birds. This, he says, is the first mock screenshot which his game designer made in 2009:


The way he explained this game concept to me was that you have these different coloured birds and then you have blocks with similar colours, tap on one of the blocks and the birds will fly and destroy that block. I listened to that description and I felt like, maybe this game concept is not a winner as such, but everybody liked these characters very much and we felt like, hey, we have really here a good starting point.

Rovio at the time was doing what Hed called “work for hire”, such as casual games commissioned by operators or other publishers. “We didn’t have a lot of capital to put into our game,” he said. Rovio kept half its 12-strong team doing the work for hire, and put the other half on Angry Birds. This meant the game took 8 months to develop rather than the usual 3 or 4 months, but he said this slower development time worked out well because the result was more polished.

Hed told us that most app developers push out apps too quickly:

They are concerned about getting their apps quickly out there on the market in order to start generating revenue. Before Angry Birds we did release a couple of other iPhone titles and they didn’t do well at all. We learned a lot from that and one of the things we learned is that never release something that is not completely finished, because it’s so easy for reviewers to just rip your game apart because something about it was not perfect. And that is exactly what is happening. It’s tremendously demanding, the consumer on the app store is tremendously demanding even if they pay only 99 cents, they still expect it to be perfect.

Even more significant was that Rovio consciously planned for Angry Birds to be more than just a game:

Our primary goal with Angry Birds was not to make a lot of money in the app store. Our primary goal was to build a brand.

Angry Birds took off pretty fast. It became the top seller on the iPhone App Store, first in Finland, then in the UK in February 2010, then in the USA in April 2010. Rovio made some decisions. First, it would stick with Angry Birds and build it into a strong franchise, rather than simply investing its profits into new game titles. Second, it would continue to offer free updates for the original app.

Where then are the “additional revenue streams” which Hed says are essential in order to thrive in this new world? In-app purchasing is one, he said, but Rovio decided not to sell additional levels via this channel. Instead it came up with the Mighty Eagle, which he calls a product rather than a feature:

In the Mighty Eagle we offered a way for users to pass levels that they are stuck on, so it gives added value to the users. But we made it into a product, and that is one of the important things of how we act in the marketplace, we make products, we don’t make features. And in this our big role model is Apple. You can see that nobody is that much interested in one “feature”. People want products. That’s why you don’t see Apple coming out with a feature called video calling. You see them coming out with a product called Face Time.

I am not entirely convinced by the distinction between products and features, but I understand the value of this way of marketing software. Hed says Rovio has been rewarded with a 40% conversion rate, much higher than for most in-app upgrades.

Rovio is also doing merchandising. 


This helps to sustain the franchise and to make sure that the franchise stays relevant for years to come, and it supports our game sales, and our game sales support our merchandising sales.

he says. It is another example of finding additional revenue streams.

Hed also talked about TV and film projects. Rovio partnered with 20th Century Fox to make a game that ties in with Rio the Movie, hence the game Angry Birds Rio.

He adds that mobile advertising is a key area:

We can see from the amount of time that people spend playing our games and playing everybody else’s games and using those apps, that mobile app advertising will be huge. We will see shifting of advertising towards mobile, because there users will be engaging for long periods of time, they will be exposed to brands repeatedly, they will be closer to the point of purchase.

This has worked for Rovio so far, though personally I am not sure for how long it can prosper if the Angry Birds franchise is all it has. It is a fashion thing and people will get bored of it – or does Rovio now have its own enduring franchise like Disney’s Mickey Mouse?

My main interest though is Hed’s insistence that software world is changing, prices are tumbling, and software developers will have to look for ways to monetize apps that go beyond the purchase price. “It’s the same for everybody. Now the industry is in the midst of transformation so everybody must adapt,” he says.

Another Windows app store – but this time it is virtual. Embarcadero’s AppWave promises instant installs

Embarcadero has announced the AppWave Store, a forthcoming app store for Windows which uses application virtualization to avoid the hassles and risks of the usual Windows install process.


The idea is that purchasing apps for Windows will be as simple as installing an app on a mobile using the Apple app store or Android Market.

The underlying technology was developed to simplify deployment of Embarcadero’s tools. The All-Access subscription includes a tool box application that lets you run tools using “InstantOn”, which means no installation, just click and run. I have used this for a while now and it works well.


When you run an InstantOn tool for the first time, you are prompted to download:


There is of course a pause while the app downloads. This is not thin client technology where the app actually runs remotely. It is installed on your local machine, but isolated so there are no dependencies or conflicts.


Once downloaded, you just launch the application. No other setup, other than software agreement and registration prompt.


The download is cached, so you can launch next time without delay, and it works offline too. AppWave is a rebranded version of InstantOn, and is also available for internal deployment of Embarcadero tools.

The AppWave store takes this technology and applies to a store for the general public. Developers will pay $99 per year (though the fee is waived if you sign up now) and get AppWave Studio, which lets you convert software to run under AppWave. The conversion process is called “mastering” and only takes a few hours, according to the FAQ [pdf].

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported clients, availability will be worldwide at launch, and Embarcadero takes 30% of your sale price. No launch date has been announced.

I guess the first big issue is whether developers will feel that the 30% fee is good value bearing in mind that there are many other ways to sell and deploy software.

Second, there are other app stores out there or coming, not least Microsoft’s own which is likely to be part of Windows 8. Will AppWave compete effectively?

Third, does Embarcadero have what it takes to market AppWave and make a destination for Windows users looking for apps?

App virtualization is a neat trick though, and could save significant support costs as well as being appealing for customers. Deploying apps using runtimes like Silverlight or Adobe AIR can be equally seamless, but apps have to be written specifically for those runtimes, whereas AppWave works with apps written for the full Windows API.

It is surprising that Embarcadero is not also marketing the AppWave technology for developers for general purpose use. Possibly this is coming; or maybe the company will try to keep it as an exclusive benefit for the AppWave store. There are alternatives, including Microsoft App-V and VMWare ThinApp.

See also Marco Cantu’s post Understanding Embarcadero AppWave, which is what alerted me to the AppWave store.

No Java or Adobe AIR apps in Apple’s Mac App Store

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines appear to forbid Java or Adobe AIR applications from being published in the store:

Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, [PowerPC code requiring] Rosetta) will be rejected.

Since Adobe AIR is not shipped by default with OS X, any applications requiring that runtime will not qualify. Java is forbidden because Apple has deprecated its own build of Java; and while it seems supportive of Oracle’s official OpenJDK project for Mac OS X, apparently that support does not extend to allowing Java apps into the store.

Of course it is not only Java and Adobe AIR that are affected, but any apps that need a runtime.

There are many other provisions, most of which seem sensible in order to protect the user’s experience with the App Store. Some of them have potential for causing controversy:

Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them. Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected.

What defines duplication in this context? How will Apple test whether an app has “lasting entertainment value” – I presume this refers to games.

The situation on Mac OS X is different than on the iPhone or iPad, since users can easily install apps via other routes. That said, if the App Store catches on then not being included may become a significant disadvantage. Further, it will not surprise me if Apple starts hinting that non-approved apps carry more risk to the user, so that some users might decide to avoid anything without this official stamp of approval.

I wonder if Adobe will do a Flash packager for the Mac similar to that which it offers for iOS, to get round these restrictions?

Apple’s Mac App Store – and the forgotten Windows Marketplace

Apple launched the Mac App Store yesterday and I had a look this morning. It is only available to users of Mac OS X Snow Leopard, where it comes with the latest system update.


It is interesting that Apple has not used iTunes for the App Store, but has developed new client software. Maybe it is coming round to opinion that iTunes has become bloated; it is only for historic reasons that a music player has become an all-purpose app installer.

The store itself worked well for me. I picked a free app, TextWrangler, and signed in with my Apple ID. The UI showed Installing, then Installed, and I was done.


The TextWrangler icon appeared in the Dock so I could start the app easily.

What counts is what I did not have to do – reboot, select from setup options, or deal with perplexing error messages.

Users will also like the common-sense licensing, which lets you download and install a purchased app on any Mac you use, controlled by your App Store log-in. I am not sure what happens if you install your app on your friend’s Mac, then sign out of the App Store. There is some link between the app and your Apple ID, because if you copy the application to another Mac it will ask for your sign-in details when you first run it, but I am not clear whether this is checked on every run to deter piracy.

Most important, there is an attractive range of apps at good prices. In the UK, Angry Birds is £2.99, Pinball HD £1.79, and Apple Pages or Keynote £11.99 each. That is less than typical Apple Store shrink-wrap prices. The prices for Pages and Keynote makes the price Microsoft charges for Office look impossibly expensive. Good for customers; but worrying for independent software vendors who want to make a living.

Developers pay $99.00 per year to join the Mac Developer Program and then 30% commission to Apple on every sale. Of course, like the iPhone App Store, apps are subject to Apple’s approval.

Lest you think it is clever of Apple to invent an app store for the desktop, it is worth noting that the concept is an old one. Linux has delivered free software like this for years, and some distributions have also featured paid app installers integrated into the OS.

So has Microsoft, which has run various varieties of Windows Marketplace over the years, for mobile and desktop applications. Windows Vista shipped with an app store for both Microsoft and third-party apps built-in. It was on the Start menu:


as well as in Control Panel:


On November 1st 2008 Microsoft shut down Windows Marketplace and “transitioned” it to a referral site. There was some angst at the time about the closing of the digital locker, which proved insecure against the threat of corporate mind-changing. It still runs the online Microsoft Store, but this is for Microsoft-only products. For example, you can download Microsoft Songsmith for £25.00:


Why did Windows Marketplace fail? Well, the user experience was poor, it was insufficiently prominent in the Vista user interface, setup could be troublesome. Major Windows app vendors figured out that they would be better off drawing potential customers to their own web sites, where they have full control. As is often the case, Microsoft was conflicted over whether it wanted to drive customers to the online store, or to partner retailers, or to app vendor sites; and the OEMs would have their say as well, when customising Windows for their own PCs.

Another factor is that Windows apps are often not well isolated. Silverlight actually solves this problem – out-of-browser apps are well isolated and secure – but Microsoft does not even ship Silverlight by default with Windows.

The indications are that Microsoft will have another go in Windows 8. Documents leaked last year show an app store. From my post at the time:

There’s a pattern here. Microsoft gets bright idea – Tablet, Windows Marketplace, Passport. Does half-baked implementation which flops. Apple or Google works out how to do it right. Microsoft copies them.

As Microsoft releases new tools for Windows Phone, developers ask: how is it selling?

Microsoft has released Visual Basic for Windows Phone Developer Tools – not a lot to report, I guess, except that what you could already do in C# you can now also do in Visual Basic.

Still, when someone at Microsoft asked me what I thought of the Windows Phone 7 developer platform I replied that the tools look good for the most part – though I would like to see a native code option and it seems unfortunate that mobile operators can install native code apps but the rest of us officially cannot – but the bigger question is around the size of the market.

We all know that a strong and large community of developers is critical to the success of a platform – but as I’ve argued before, developers will go where their customers are, rather than selecting a platform based on the available tools and libraries. It is a bit of both of course: the platform has to be capable of running the application, and ease of development is also a factor, but in the end nothing attracts developers more than a healthy market.

Therefore the critical question for developers is how well Windows Phone 7 is selling.

Nobody quite knows, though Tom Warren makes the case for not much more than 126,000, that being the number of users of the Windows Phone Facebook application.

I’m not quite convinced when Warren says:

It’s likely that most users will connect their Facebook account so the statistics could indicate nearly accurate sales figures.

Not everyone loves Facebook; and when I was trying out Windows Phone 7 I found myself reluctant to have it permanently logged in. Even so, I’d agree that well over 50% of users will enable Facebook integration so it is a useful statistic.

Although that suggests a relatively small number in the context of overall Smartphone sales, my perception is that lack of availability is part of the reason, so it is too early to judge the platform’s success. I do not see many Windows Phone 7 in the mobile phone shops that I pass in the UK; in fact it is unusual to see it at all. I am not sure if this is mainly because of supply shortages, or because Microsoft and its partners found it difficult to build expectations in the trade that this would be a sought-after device, or both.

Some bits of anecdotal evidence are encouraging for Microsoft. Early adopters seem to like it well enough. Nevertheless, it is a minority player at the moment and that will not change soon.

Developers are therefore faced with a small niche market. Microsoft has done a fair job with the tools; now it needs to get more devices out there, to convince developers that once they have built their applications, there are enough customers to make it worth while.

Apple deprecates Java

Apple has deprecated the version of Java that it ports and maintains for OS X:

As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the version of Java that is ported by Apple, and that ships with Mac OS X, is deprecated.

This means that the Apple-produced runtime will not be maintained at the same level, and may be removed from future versions of Mac OS X. The Java runtime shipping in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products.

This is not altogether a bad thing for Java. Waiting for Apple to update its official version has been a frustration for Java developers on the Mac. If Oracle now takes responsibility for delivering the JVM for OS X, it may keep in step.

Unfortunately there is not currently an Oracle JVM for OS X. Nor does the open source Apache Harmony support it. In the light of Apple’s announcement I imagine both may address this lack; though a further complication is that IBM has recently abandoned Harmony in favour of the Open JDK.

Further, in making this statement Apple is further discouraging use of Java application on OS X. This announcement should be put together with this one, in the new developer agreement for apps submitted to the forthcoming Mac App Store, a desktop version of the iOS App Store:

3.3.1    Applications may only use public APIs and frameworks included in the default installation of Mac OS X or as bundled with Xcode as provided by Apple, deprecated technologies (such as Java) may not be used.

I doubt Apple will ever attempt to lock down desktop OS X, iPad-style. But I think we will see strong encouragement from Apple steering users towards App Store installs. There will be hints that it is safer and better, the true Mac way to get apps onto your machine.

Remember the early days of Java? One of the reasons it won support was that it reduced the industry’s dependence on a single vendor and its operating system.

Plenty to think about as Apple increases its market share.

[Updated to clarify non-availability of alternative JVMs for OS X]