Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

You can’t fix the App Store, so here’s how you fix it

Some thoughts on how to make iOS better for pro apps.

You may not know this but back in a former life I used to work in the software industry. Specifically, I managed, maintained, edited, and was the developer for an ecommerce site for an Icelandic software company that sold both subscriptions and licenses directly to consumers, professionals, and businesses.

If I had to boil my experience there down to just one lesson it’d be this:

  • Consumers are a horrible, horrible market to sell to and if your business depends on them, you are in for a miserable time.

(If I had to boil the experience down to two lessons, the second one would be: don’t sell out to the Israeli military-industrial complex. But that’s another, much longer, story.)

Why does selling to consumers suck so much and so hard?

Oh, so many reasons:

  • They are irrational buyers, largely because they are primarily shopping to fulfil emotional, not professional, needs.
  • Their sense of value is massively skewed (they don’t value their time, overvalue money), largely because they aren’t shopping with a concrete utility in mind.
  • They are disproportionally likely to pirate your stuff and will go through extreme lengths to avoid paying.
  • They flock together: sales cluster around a small number of popular products, leaving everybody else screwed.

That’s just scratching the surface.

Unless you have a huge marketing budget or are already massively popular, building a consumer product is a reliable way to lose money and waste time.

Which brings me to Google’s and Apple’s app stores. They are consumer markets through and through. Adding software retail features that primarily benefits expensive pro software will never ‘fix’ the fact that the app store is (and has to be) a consumer market. No matter how professionally-minded you are, when you walk into a bar, most of your work mindset goes out of the window. Selling pro and business products in a consumer context is a bad idea. Adding trials or subscriptions to the existing app stores would do very little to change buyer behaviour.

So, there’s nothing that Apple and Google can do?

There’s nothing they can do to make the existing app stores a good venue for selling professional apps. Moreover, it would be inappropriate for them to upset and potentially degrade the store experience—making it less consistent—for the 99% who are consumers just there looking for social and messaging apps and toys to play with.

What everybody needs here, both the consumers and the pros, is a separate, bespoke Pro App Store, one that offers trials, subscriptions, built-in direct customer service features (including developer-initiated refunds), newsletter integration, looser app store restrictions, and a store-wide minimum price.

Segregating pro apps into a separate, optional, app store has several benefits:

  • Being optional qualifies the leads: everybody who browses it does so because they have a concrete need that isn’t addressed by a consumer app.

  • Being separate filters out the cheaper, more casual apps which makes the buyer’s price anchor much, much higher and much more appropriate to the actual costs of making pro software.

  • Deliberately making the pro appstore less desirable for consumer apps (i.e. minimum price, optional download, no in-app payments, mandatory enablement of direct contact support features, etc.) keeps the signal to noise ratio high and keeps inappropriate apps out. (Crucially, it would prevent a flood of consumer apps that are there just to abuse the Pro App Store’s added features).

  • It lets Apple and other platform vendors offer new business model features like trials, subscriptions, and the like without upending the consumer app store experience.

Most of the money made in software is in the professional and business market. Building a single market that caters equally well to both pros and consumers is impossible. If Apple is serious about turning iOS into a professional computing platform with the iPad Pro, then they need a separate Pro App Store.

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