Jesse Squires is one of the iOS developers, I keep very high regard towards. This is why reading his latest blog post hurt a little. I am about to quote a significant part of the post here, and I hope that Jesse will understand. I am doing this to spread his message and share my concerns about the future of development for the Apple ecosystem.
For many iOS developers, Apple’s latest event became a source of panic and anxiety. The release of iOS 14 and iPad OS 14 on the day after the event was something that perhaps, only a few had expected. Usually, the company would announce the public release and schedule it for a week, or two after the announcement, giving developers enough time to prepare. No this time though. Given all the controversy that has been happening around the App Store during the past few months, this looked like the cherry on the top. Many, Jesse included, felt affected enough to cry out their frustration (and perhaps, desperation) publicly:
“Nearly all of my career has been spent enriching Apple platforms by developing apps, filling in gaps in their documentation with blog posts and conference talks, and addressing shortcomings in their SDKs and APIs with open source libraries. In return, Apple is inconsiderate, neglectful, and simply rude. They act as if third-party developers do not bring any value to the platform when the truth is that we bring a majority of the value to the platform.”
He continues ...
“To make matters worse, Apple is the wealthiest company in the history of capitalism. It is not as if they lack the resources to do better. They can literally do anything they want, but prefer inaction when it comes to their eroding relationship with developers. Apple acts in Apple’s interest, not in ours. The power imbalance between developers and Apple has always been present, but it has never been quite so clear. There’s a critique of capitalism in here dying to get out, but I’m too tired right now and you probably already know.”
The end of the App Store Romance
Of course, this latest incident is just one of many drops in the bucket, and many have been seeing it coming for years.
Yes, the company has all the money and customers in the world, and that’s precisely the problem. When the iPhone launched, it was new, shiny, and with the potential to change the world - but without the software to do so. It needed a driver, and the app ecosystem proved to be that driver. Whether planned or by coincidence, the App Store created a more than just marketplace - it opened up a whole new segment of the software industry. It created jobs for millions of people and brought in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue both to developers and to Apple. Yet, all good things come sooner or later come to an end.
Fast forward to 2020, and some very different market reality, in which the iPhone sales have long since reached their possible peak and plateaued there. Don’t get me wrong, people are constantly buying new devices, but a large portion of those are ones who have been using the iOS ecosystem for one or more generations already. People, whose entire digital existence now lies stored in iCloud, or scattered across their iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch. People, many of whom, unlike me and you, prefer to stick to the basics (which have admittedly gotten quite good), and for whom, the App Store is becoming more and more like the iTunes - a thing well past its days of glory.
Apple could try to appease all of us developers, but why should it do so? Doing so would require time, effort, and money. Resources, which the company would gladly invest in other ways of strengthening its ecosystem. Apple is still predominantly a hardware company, but significantly less so. Once you have peaked at the possible market segment, the most logical paths to follow are:
- Retain the existing customer base, tying them deeper into the ecosystem with more and various services.
- Expand into new hardware categories
Apple is allegedly following both paths. The latter takes a little longer, but the evolution of the Apple Watch and the rumored research into other categories of wearable tech are an indication of the company thinking about a past-iPhone future. Until that happens, Apple is investing heavily in the former, bringing more and more services each year, some at very competitive prices.
Is this the end for iOS Developers?
No. Not at all. But I am also pretty sure that the rules of the game would change. Apps are no longer the center of the mobile experience. Device interaction is going to get much more situational, much more nuanced, much more off-screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple finally acknowledges that the Web exists, and starts adopting PWAs into the ecosystem, the way Google does. Admittedly, not everything needs a native app, and Apple executives are probably already aware of this. I am not going to put words in their mouths, but simply let the future tell.