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My WWDC 2018 Wish List

WWDC 2018


Everyone seems to have their own list of things they want to see at WWDC, so I figured I should throw mine down on virtual paper too. I'll keep it short for you and mostly just include things that aren't on everyone else's lists.

AppStores:

  • they all get the 2017 update, adding curation etc.
  • (macOS only) allows more powerful (read non-sandboxed) apps back in the store.
  • commission rate change: 5% for apps sold via a deep link, 15% for apps sold via search/browse, 30% for apps sold via curation stories/app lists/features.
  • ability for devs to merge SKUs, i.e., combine X and X Lite into one app. Any user that had downloaded either now gets the merged version and the receipt lets the dev know which one(s) the user originally downloaded.
  • ability for users to browse all stores on any device, make a purchase, and have the app installed on a different device. I should be able to browse the tvOS AppStore on my Mac, buy a tvOS app and have it install on the family room Apple TV.
  • new badges on every app that indicate features/warnings, such as: age rating, whether or not the app is sandboxed, has passed an accessibility audit, if there's a complimentary macOS/iOS/watchOS/tvOS app, is on your wish list (which they need to bring back), etc. (Hat tip for the accessibility audit idea from Marco Arment on Under the Radar)
AppStore screenshot showing 1Password with new App Badges

iOS:

  • ability to set default apps for email, web, calendar etc.
  • add app shortcuts to Control Center.
  • better control of audio, routing and setting different volumes (ring vs media etc).
  • landscape support for Face ID.
  • multiple faces for Face ID.
  • bring the iPad keyboard to iPhone (the swipe down on a key for the alternate version feature).
  • more granular selection of contacts to allow calls from when in Do Not Disturb mode.
  • multi-user support (for iPhone and iPad).

macOS:

  • the ability to lock the dock to one screen. Having it randomly fly around all my other screens has driven me nuts for years, especially when I go to click an icon on the dock and then the dock runs to a different screen so I can't click it.
  • HomeKit support

tvOS:

  • a built-in web browser.
  • enable UIWebView/WKWebView in tvOS apps.
  • multi-user support.

watchOS:

  • complications that can update more frequently (1 minute intervals). Even if this requires user permission to update that often.
  • custom watch faces.
  • always on display.

Xcode:

  • plug-in system, at least restoring functionality that was lost in Xcode 8. I'd even be happy with just a way to restore colour to the console logs.

HomeKit:

  • when using automation to turn on a light, be able to turn it off after x number of hours without a second automation. Right now this feature exists, but is limited to 60 minutes. I have several lights that I turn on at sunset, and off at sunrise. They all require 2 automation tasks. Being able to say turn off in 8 hours, would simplify things.

Mac Mini:

  • updated Mac Mini's. Maybe even a Mac Mini Pro with Coffee Lake CPUs, Dual 10 GigE ports, USB-A and C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. Up to 128 GB RAM, 4 TB SSDs. Able to drive 3 5K displays.

MacBook Pro:

  • updated, with a fixed keyboard design. Coffee Lake CPUs, Up to 64 GB RAM, 4 TB SSDs.
  • option to include the Touch Bar and the standard function keys. I feel most of the hate with the Touch Bar was not with the bar itself, but the removal of the function keys (especially the escape key). I’d buy a MBP that included both.

iPad Pro:

  • Face ID.

I really wish I could be in San Jose for WWDC this year. It's been a while since I’ve been out with my fellow developers, so you’ll have to have a beer for me. Stay safe, have fun, and hopefully I'll see you next year!


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Proposed Affiliate/Developer Commission Changes

Big news from Apple today:

Starting on May 1st 2017, commissions for all app and in-app content will be reduced from 7% to 2.5% globally.
Screenshot via @drbarnard on Twitter

Apple is reducing commissions paid to sites who promote our apps by 64%! That's a huge cut and they're only giving everyone involved 7 days notice.

The app economy has been tanking for the last few years. Apple must know this by now, even though they tout how great it is (maybe it is for a few big companies such as Niantic Labs, Nintendo etc). Personally I think this change in commission rate must be part of something larger, aimed to help rejuvenate the ailing app economy.

Back in June, 2016, Apple announced the first change in the percentage developers pay Apple, dropping the 30% rate to 15% but only for those using subscriptions, and only after a customer has been a subscriber for at least a year. For the most part, this would only have helped a few developers so far, since only a limited number of developers were even allowed to use subscriptions until the June changes. Those would be the Netflix/HBO type apps that are worth billions and don't need the extra help.

What I'd like to see at WWDC this year, is for Apple to announce they are finally reducing the 30% rate we pay to something more reasonable. Let's say 15%?

Assuming that's the plan, how about this as a proposed alternative? Instead of dropping the rate to 15% across the board, Apple could drop the rate to 15% for apps installed organically, and 20% for apps installed through an affiliate link. That extra 5% could then be paid to the affiliate who earned the sale. As a developer, I'm fine with that since it only helps those who help me.

I feel this would be a win-win for all involved. Developers get a much needed drop in their commission rate. Promotion sites such as iMore, touchArcade, etc will get a small bump instead of a drastic cut in their earnings, and Apple gets to keep the new 2.5% affiliate commission rate. I know dropping the developer rate isn't ideal for Apple, but it would make a big difference for the people who help keep their devices in demand.

What do you think about this proposal? Please @ me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts.

It’s Time to Transition from the App Store to the App Mall

With the recent announcement of some App Store changes, and WWDC just days away, I figured I’d better write about an idea I had before it’s too late. I’ll keep this much shorter than the version that’s been floating around in my head.

I would suggest that Apple release their grip on the App Store, and start allowing other stores on iOS/tvOS which would, essentially create an App Mall. Open it up so that anyone can create a store. These will be distinct apps developed like any other third party app, clearly branded to avoid user confusion with Apple’s App Store. I envision stores created by brands you already know: TouchArcade, 148Apps, AppShopper, Google, Microsoft, Panic, OmniFocus, RelayFM (for sponsored apps) etc; as well as new ones that will appear.

These stores would be akin to radio stations. If a person likes Rock and Roll, they tune in to a Rock and Roll station. If they prefer Jazz, they listen to a Jazz station. Every once in a while you listen to something different. We’ll have stores that focus on pro apps, stores for games, a store for writers, developers, parents etc. Users will come to know and trust the curators of their favourite stores. This plan delegates some of the curation of apps out to the community where it can be handled much better (just because of sheer numbers). It doesn’t take away from Apple’s App Store curation, rather it enables a method to better group apps and aid with app discovery. Instead of trying to fit 2+ million apps into 25 categories, there will be another layer on top to help sort.

One huge side effect to this plan is that Apple would have more control over it’s own App Store. They will be able to delist a tonne of bad apps, and stop adding new bad apps by raising the criteria that allows apps to be listed in the official App Store. If an app is ugly as sin, riddled with spelling errors, etc, they can refuse to include it in their store, just as Saks Fifth Avenue can refuse to stock substandard products. Right now, Apple has a set of rules, and if your app follows those rules it should be allowed in the store. Ugly apps should never be featured anyway, but they still come up and clutter the search results, they still show up in the “Customers Also Bought” section. With my new plan, those apps won’t show up at all. It’s my belief that Apple has to generally accept any app that follows their rules, or else they’ll start to run afoul of anti-competition laws. Since there is no other way to sell apps to users with iOS/tvOS devices than through the Apple App Store, if they reject apps based on religious beliefs, politics, bad UI, etc, they are preventing other companies from operating, and could get into trouble.

It would sort of be like Panasonic selling a radio, and then saying no Justin Bieber songs can be played on them. How long would it be before Panasonic was dragged into court by the Department of Justice? So my point here is that because Apple would be allowing developers to list their apps in other stores, they’ll be free to be more selective in their own store.

None of this affects app review, signing, pricing or privacy BTW. All apps would still go through review (though it would be more for weeding out malware or buggy software). Apps would still be signed by the developers and installed from Apple’s servers. Just as the TestFlight app can install apps that aren’t in the App Store, third party stores would also be able to use an API to trigger app installs (securely of course, apps wouldn’t be able to install other apps without the user’s explicit permission). The price of an app would be the same, and the payment would still be handled by Apple. So privacy is preserved as Apple would still be the only one to know who the customer is. Apple could still take their 30% (or now 15% in some cases, hopefully more cases soon). The third party store developer would be compensated via the already existing affiliate program. Or depending on the store, they may charge the developer for a listing, just as grocery stores charge food producers for the valuable space on the end of the aisle.

The goal of this idea is to help with app discovery. By opening up the App Store in this way, it empowers the developers in our community to help solve this major problem that’s really hurting the platform, without compromising the security or privacy of the platform that users have come to expect.

Will iOS 4.3 Change the App Store Ecosystem?

All indications point to the imminent release of iOS 4.3, if not this week, then certainly by next week. As always with new releases, a host of new features will be included, not just for users, but also for developers.

The rumour is that 4.3 will introduce subscription pricing options to the app store. This is in response to newspaper and magazine publishers looking for better pricing options for daily, weekly and/or monthly editions. But, who says subscriptions need to be limited to publications. Apple's Terms of Services don't. More on that in a bit.

One of the challenges of iOS development is earning enough revenue to make a living. It's been said that there are two app stores, App Store A, where you sell apps with mass market appeal, hoping to generate a lot of revenue in a very short time, and App Store B where you sell apps that target a narrower audience, aiming to generate a steady revenue stream for years.

App Store A is often compared to buying a lottery ticket, and has just recently made an appearance in Dilbert.

Dilbert.com

App Store B is considered to be the more attainable, long term success strategy. Since you're aiming at a narrower target market, it helps to be able to generate recurring revenue from your users.

I've long wanted to try charging a monthly or yearly fee to use an app, something that will support the development process after the initial sale. Every other software platform allows you to charge for upgrades in order to generate some recurring revenue from your installed user base. A few apps on the App Store have phased out the original version and released a new version, with a new charge. There a few problems with this approach, a) users who buy the app just before the switch, kind of get screwed, b) there's no easy way for a user to transfer their data from version 1 to version 2 (it can be done, but you have to build in a solution, unlike normal app upgrades), c) not all users of version 1 will even know version 2 is available.

Another option is to add new features and charge for them though in-app purchases, then a user can decide if the new features are worth the extra money to them, if not, no harm, they keep using the app as they bought it.

Back to the new subscription option. With subscription pricing there will be a new opportunity to generate recurring revenue from your user base. And to the user, it will be a well defined, easily understood method. $x per time period. Just like paying your monthly phone bill, or a yearly magazine subscription. You can cancel at any time, or keep paying and take advantage of all new features as they're released. For developers, you now have recurring revenue. Earnings to enable you to continue to maintain and support the app, while still feeding your kids.

There's no indication yet what the options will be from Apple, but it's a good guess that the same pricing tiers we're using now will apply, and that you'll be able to select from a variety of time periods, likely: weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. As an example, you'll be able to charge $0.99 a quarter, instead of a one time fee of $2.99. If the user doesn't like your app, they save money. If they like the app, and continue to use it, you'll break even after 3 quarters, and earn more for the entire length of time the user uses your app.

The largest obstacle I foresee moving to this model will be the blow back from customers. The current app ecosystem has bred a sense of entitlement where users (not all, but a lot), feel they deserve an app, all future updates, full support etc, all for the low cost of $0.99. For most developers, and most apps, this isn't sustainable. Using a subscription will help solve this. As more of us developers begin to use this model, customers will begin to accept it and most likely actually prefer it, since they'll know exactly what they're getting and for how much, and their apps will constantly improve at no additional cost. And, all things considered, they'll still be getting their apps at a ridiculously low price.

Update: Apple officially released the information on subscriptions today. Subscription term lengths are: weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly. Thanks Apple for giving developers more opportunity to become profitable!


iOS 4.3 is currently available as a beta and thus is under an NDA. Nothing I discuss here is covered under the NDA to my knowledge as there's been no official word about subscriptions other than the now public iTunes Terms and Conditions. If you feel I have disclosed something in the NDA, please let me know and I'll edit the post accordingly.

Discussion - Reducing App Store Piracy

This week, I'd like to throw something out for discussion. These are ideas that have come up in the course of real life discussions with other app developers. I need to preface this by saying that I have not implemented any of these ideas, and that I'm only putting the ideas out there to encourage you to think about and discuss alternatives.

It surprises me that in an ecosystem of 99 cent apps, piracy rates are still incredibly high. For this article the assumption is that as an iOS developer, you are able to detect at runtime, if your app has been pirated. There are multiple ways to do this, but the technical details of which are not required for this article so I'm going to skip them.

One of the requirements to install a pirated version of an iOS app on a device, is that the device needs to be jailbroken. If the device has been jailbroken, then certain security features will have been disabled. This makes it possible for apps to do things on the device, that Apple doesn't allow under normal circumstances.

This means, that a normally well behaved app, could be made to 'go rogue' when it detects that it has been stolen by the user. For instance, a stolen version of your app, could make a phone call to a charge per call phone number that charges the cost of the app to the users phone bill, therefore recovering the cost of the app for the developer. Similarly, the app could send a premium text message out, also charging the cost to the user's phone bill.

Now, I'm not proposing that you actually build this into your apps, as it's almost definitely the wrong way to go about building up your business1. As iOS developers, is it not part of our job to educate users on the dangers of using pirated apps? The above ideas can be used in the same way we've warned against pirating desktop apps due to the dangers of viruses and other malware. Common users should be encouraged to live in Apple's walled garden as is indeed a great place for users and developers to be.

1 A user that has pirated your app is still a potential customer and needs to be treated as such.

Discussion - Apple's App Store Policy Against Name Squatting

Today I'd like to discuss Apple's recent policy change with regard to app name squatting. If you're unaware of the policy, Apple says you must now submit your binary for an app within 120 days of reserving the name. If you don't submit a binary, you'll receive warning emails with 30 and 7 days remaining in your 120 day grace period. At the end of 120 days, if you still haven't submitted a binary, the app is automatically deleted by iTunes Connect and you're forbidden from using that app name again in the future.

The idea behind this policy is likely to prevent the ridiculous name squatting environment the exists with domain names. Personally, I don't believe that Apple has come up with a great solution to the problem though. 120 days isn't long enough for an independent developer working in his/her spare time to create a good quality app. And there's a known work around anyway1, that just forces you to do an extra 5-10 minutes work per name to reset the 120 day count. So what has been accomplished? It makes it awkward for someone to register a tonne of app names and just sit on them, since the 5-10 minutes add up fast.

I propose that there is a better solution. Instead of an arbitrary time period to submit an app, why doesn't Apple limit each developer account (that is, per $99 fee), to an arbitrary number of incomplete apps. Lets say 10 for example. In my hypothetical world, you can squat on up to 10 names for each $99/year. Making app names cost about $10/year, similar to domains. But the domain ecosystem is a disaster you say. Well the difference is that with domains, there's a whois database. Everyone can find out who has registered a domain, and contact them in order to generate a sale. There is no current way to find out who has reserved an app name, and thus no way to buy the rights to a name. Which means, there is no market for buying and selling app names; crazy domain name ecosystem averted. The only people reserving app names will be those who plan to use them.

I'm sure there are problems with my proposal also, or that you have an even better solution. Please add to this discussion here.

1 Rename the app that's about to expire to some gibberish, and recreate a new app with a new SKU and the original name you're reserving. Credit: Daniel Jalkut

Some Thoughts on Tweetie

Everybody else seems to have a blog, so I suppose Cerebral Gardens ought to have one too. This will be written by me, Dave Wood, the founder and developer.

The issue that has compelled me to finally write something is the whole Tweetie upgrade pricing issue. First, I want to say that I always try to look at an issue from every side, though I'm not always successful at that. In this case it's pretty easy, since I'm both a developer and a user. Next, I'll admit that while I did buy Tweetie v1 for iPhone, I barely use it. I use Tweetdeck most of the time because of it's quick account changes. And Twitterific the rest of the time. Bought Tweetie just because it worked during the twitpocalypse. I do use Tweetie on my Mac exclusively (with the ads 'cause I like the ads, very relevant to me).

So, the issue with Tweetie v2 being a fully new version with no upgrade path is a tough one. Largely because developer’s choices are limited due to some of the restrictions imposed by the App Store. Enough people are writing about how to fix the store, so I'm going to present options that may work with the current setup of the store.

There are two main problems to deal with here (again, not counting the App Store issues). 1. Users expectations for free updates. 2. Developers needs for a sustainable business.

Regarding users expectations for free upgrades: I believe there should be an expectation for free upgrades for some length of time whenever someone buys software. That time is up for discussion. With a $1500+ Adobe Suite purchase or even Apples $69 iWork product, I believe that time period should be at least a year. With a $3 app, perhaps it should only be 30 days. Although I believe current users are expecting longer. Anyone expecting, or offering, lifetime updates is insane. That's obviously not sustainable.

But the expectations do exist; whether or not they should. Developers (myself included) need to start setting customer expectations to match our plans. Stating what the upgrade path will be in our app description for instance. Just stating something like 'free upgrades for 30 days' etc. As I type that I have to laugh. With a 14-20 day review process 30 days doesn’t seem like enough. 3 months perhaps.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame (whom I read religiously) compared buying a $3 app to a $3 cup of coffee. I don’t believe this is a fair comparison. The only thing they have in common is their price. A cup of coffee is a physical item, actual water, coffee beans, cream and sugar maybe, as well as a paper cup, and a plastic top. A person has to physically take your order, prepare the coffee to your taste, and hand it to you. The whole process takes a minute or so of someone’s day. If 1000 coffee’s are ordered at the same time, it takes a lot of people to serve them up in the time expected by the customer. Compare this to apps. There’s nothing physical with an app, not even a disc with iPhone apps. Once the app is made (and of course there is a cost there), it doesn’t cost much more per app ordered. It costs the developer (almost) the same to develop the app whether it ends up selling 10 copies, or 10 million copies. A closer comparison would be comparing apps to songs. We pay about $1.29 per song now. Imagine the uproar if songs were $3 each. Heck, I think $1.29 is expensive, but I pay it.

Continuing to compare to music, consumer’s expectations have been set; people buy a song or CD and they’re done. They don’t expect to get the same song again in a new format if it comes out; people joke about how many times they’ve bought the White album. They don’t expect to get an extended, or remixed version of the song for free if one comes out. The point here is that expectations of users can be set to be very low.

Perhaps this is what Atebits is starting to do. They’re reducing the expectations of their users, drastically. Possibly too fast, hence the uproar.

I've read that Atebits has said they would like to offer an upgrade path that gives current users a discount, but that it's not an option with the App Store. Here's one way it can be done. (This isn't pretty and I wouldn't recommend anyone else do this; further below is an option that could work for the rest of us, with time to plan).

Set Tweetie v1 to $999. No sane person would buy it at that price. If they do, Apple will refund it, (and hopefully not ding you the full refund price as indicated in the dev contracts). Then submit v2 as two apps, an update for v1 users, and a new app for $3 with text in the description to set the users expectations correctly. V1 users get the update they expected and also have their expectations for future updates set to nil. When v3 is ready, v1 and v2 are removed from sa le, v3 is submitted as a new app.

Regarding problem 2, the sustainable business: obviously developers have to be paid for their work, and continue to be paid for building upon that work. I’m going to assume that the incredibly low app prices aren’t going away; even if most developers raise their prices, there will always be bottom feeding app spammers (such as Brighthouse Labs) selling crap for $0.99.  So Atebit’s plan to release Tweetie v2 as a separate app actually makes sense (after setting expectations correctly).  But lets take it a step further.

I believe that we should be selling our software based on the time the user will use the app. Pick a value you want to charge per month of use, in this case, we’ll go with $1/month. Adjust these rates when/if prices in the App Store in general change. If you estimate your app has a 1 month life for the user, perhaps a game that will become boring/be completed in that time period, charge $1. If it's good for 3 months, charge $3. If the app is like Tweetie and useful for a year, charge $12. From here, we get my other possible solution (for the rest of us).

This option requires planning, so it's too late for Tweetie. If you expect a 6 month life of the app from v1 release to v2 release, price the app at $6. Each month drop the price of the app by $1. When v2 comes out, price it at $6 again. V1 goes to free, but is unsupported, or could even seize to function if that’s made clear to the user before they buy it. This is giving your users a set cost per month of usage. It’s not perfect, but much closer to what people expect, and it's a sustainable business model for us developers. I believe this will work extremely well if lots of us start using the model. This could likely be implemented via in app purchasing, by charging for each month of usage.

I’m going to stop here, without a final conclusion since I consider this just part of an ongoing discussion. I look forward to continuing to discuss these issues further and working with others in the community to solve these problems (among others) while creating successful businesses.