Apple Appstore Now and Then
What to expect from being present in the Apple AppStore today, that is what I am trying to find out after a longer abstinence by starting a test balloon 🎈
Standard disclaimer: These are just my impressions while trying out the app store after some time. Are yours different? Let me know in the comments!
I did not follow the app store business for some time now, I think I removed my last app around 2015. It was an app that let you find local fashion in stores, but I could not really convince enough stores to join, and without stores and products it was not really interesting for users (🐓🥚) so I gave up at some point.
Now, after creating a newsreader web app, most feedback was like - is there an app? And I was like - what do you need an app for reading text? On the other hand I am using the twitter app, even if their mobile website would be totally fine. So I think I am maybe just dishonest to myself to get around creating iOS and Android apps, because creating a good app is a lot of work.
So I checked all the different ways to create apps, from native apps, react native, flutter to turbolinks for iOS. And I thought why not create a small native app to get a toe in the water.
As a guitar player I was looking for a decent tuner for some time, after the one I was using the last years was somehow discontiuned and disappeared when I switched phones. And what can I say, I was somehow shocked how much, pardon my french, crap, is on the app store. I really checked out a lot of apps, all free of course, until you actually tried to use them. Can’t really blame the devs for that, as it can be seen as a workaround for a trial period. Speaking of devs - my gutt feeling is that there are less indie devs than companies, especially in the top search results. I ended up buying an app for I think 4€, that worked okayish and looked like developed for iOS 3.1.
But what I see as more problematic is the scam that is going on in the app store. The first hit when you search “guitar tuner” is an app that uses a dark pattern of showing you three skip buttons, and the fourth button styled the same as the skip buttons starts a subscription for, hold it - 8.50€ per week! As someone who works in the internet I would think I am not easily tricked, but I had tapped the button, and only the fingerprint check prevented me from subscribing. Like I said, that is the top app in the app store!
After a little digging I found out that this is a known problem in the store since some time now. Don’t know if these companies start these moves after the review process or how this happens. But it seems to also trick the algorithms, because of course these scam apps make the most money and are then recommended by Apple again. Without much searching I was recommended a document scanner app where the negative reviews all told how they were tricked in subscribing.
There are some positive things to mention though. Apple made privacy a selling point and that is now introduced to the app store. You can see for every app what data they are using. Big thumbs up!
Also there is a small business program that has just started for us 95% mortals that cuts the app store provision in half.
And your apps are simultanously desktop apps for M1 macs!
So I started to develop the guitar tuner that I was looking for - simple but functional. Of course it turned out harder than I thought it would, not the iOS stuff but the tuning algorithm. So after reading multiple research papers and much trial and error I was ok with the results and decided to publish it as an app.
Publishing the app is a lot of work actually
As a good citizen of the app store I wanted to fill everything out as good as possible. The problem is you have to make screen shots and recordings for at least four devices. If you own these four devices it is relatively simple - just start QuickTime, pick new recording from the menu and choose the phone as camera and audio. Then just record your devices four times and make screenshots for all of them.
Chances are that you do not own at least some of the devices, so what to do? There is a solution to this - you can record the simulator! But the catch is you cannot record the audio. Also I needed to switch to h264 codec to get a frame rate greater than one..
xcrun simctl io booted recordVideo --codec h264 appvideo.mp4
So what I ended up doing was record some guitar notes, played that through a speaker, put a mic in front of the speaker that I could use as audio input for the simulator, and recorded the device screen while doing so. Then in iMovie there is actually a menu entry to create an app preview! I imported the recorded screen and the audio and exported it as app preview. When I had all device resolutions two days had passed figuring everything out. It was like completing a puzzle when every device in the iTunes-Connect form was filled out.
The app review is pretty fast, maybe about 8 hours max. When releasing my first app around 2010 (👴💬) I think, an app that let you upload surf images together with your location so that others could see how the waves are, the reviewer actually signed in and posted a photo from the secret Apple lab somewhere in Cuppertino. Maybe I remember wrong but I think the whole process took about a week, at least multiple days. But maybe that is also why there is a scam problem in the app store now, because it was really easy to get rejected back in the days.
I am still writing with the App Store support since some days, even phoned with someone from Ireland, because the videos were not showing up. But I do not think it has to do with the mentioned process. In the meantime I can see the videos sometimes so I think it is a caching problem or something..
What to expect
I do not expect anything but I was also curious to know if the app store is a business opportunity for indie developers. The first signs where bad, because the tuning apps that actually worked fine were somewhere buried, while bigger companies were at the top like mentioned above - partly scam apps, others who use these utility apps as a marketing platform.
On the first day I had about 50 free downloads, which was more than I had expected. After two days the installs started to decline to about half, but the app was also not available for some time as there was a problem with my account, which I found out by chance. So I will keep an eye on it.
There is virtually no app that costs money in this category, so probably if I take 1€ to get at least the appstore fee back, no one will download it at all. But I will update the article accordingly if I know more.
I think there is a missing functionality in the appstore to provide a trial period. This would be an awesome feature and it would maybe also make the preview videos obsolete, because you could just check yourself. But that is just my opinion.
I would be interested in your experiences with the app store and also the PlayStore! Do you think they are suitable platforms for indie developers?
Is an app in both stores mandatory for a web app, or is a good responsive website the better solution? What is your preferred technology to keep the workload managable?
Please let me know in the comments!