Tag Archives: appstore

App Store pricing

Like Spotify’s complaint before it, yesterday’s “App Store Principles and Practices” document from Apple got me thinking.

Apple talks a lot about free apps not paying anything (which isn’t entirely true of course), and it’s always pitched as a feature.

But the more I think about it, the more I think it might be a bug.

This effectively means that all paid apps have to subsidise all free apps. Is this what’s preventing Apple from reducing the 30% fee?

Why should free apps get a free ride? How much value is Facebook getting from Apple? My apps don’t take your personal data and use it for advertising purposes — something that Apple seems to be in favour of — yet I have to pay 30% and Facebook pay nothing.

Of course, we have to consider unintended consequences. It would be fair for Google and Facebook to pay, but what about a game I wrote in my spare time? Or that useful utility I wrote for myself that I’m altruistically sharing?

I don’t know is the short version. Should they charge for each download? Or each App Review? They’d probably need exceptions for certain categories, but also to be very careful that the system doesn’t get gamed.

The other thing Apple doesn’t directly address is Spotify’s most compelling argument: the fact that Apple charges 30% commission for apps that provide digital services, such as streaming music or books, means that no one other than Apple can actually allow in-app purchases in those categories. Apple only allow in-app purchases with the fee yet many of these services just don’t have 30% “spare” that they can give Apple. Apple Music and Apple Books don’t have to play by the App Store rules and they don’t have to pay the 30% fee.

If anything, this is harder than than the free freeloaders problem. It doesn’t seem right that Apple couldn’t compete in these categories, yet the platform owner clearly has a huge advantage here.

Anyway, at least two issues here and no firm conclusions. They always say “bring me solutions, not problems.” Sorry, I failed.

iOS Developer Program: from individual to company

I thought it was worth writing about my experience converting my iOS Developer Program account from an individual to a company since a lot of people on Twitter were taking an interest. I can’t claim objectivity or that my experience will mirror yours, but hopefully you can be better prepared than I was.

First things first. Can you even make the transfer? Despite claims to the contrary, it is possible. I think the process is often confused with the ability to move applications or whole accounts between companies (which isn’t currently possible).

It’s all covered in the FAQ which reads like this:

If I enroll as an Individual, can I change to a Company later?

To convert your iOS Developer Program Membership from an Individual to a Company please contact us. As part of the conversion process, you may be asked to submit business documents proving your company’s identity.

As the link in the FAQ requested, I send an email using the “Contact us” form. Just over two business days later they replied saying that I needed to give them a call. It’s not clear why they couldn’t have just said that in the FAQ!

The next morning I rang. They answered immediately but it was a poor line, though this could have been Skype. Despite that the call only took a couple of minutes.

He explained that the provisioning portal would not be available while the process was being completed and that I would not be able to upload new binaries, either updating existing applications or creating new ones. This could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Sure, fine, that’s what I was expecting. He said I would get an email in a few minutes; I should follow the instructions on that.

Knowing that I wouldn’t have access to the provisioning profile, I updated my certificates and was pretty confident that I wouldn’t need to make a new release for a few weeks.

The email came pretty much immediately. There’s some web form to fill in. Now I’m back full-circle. Why did I need to call if I need to go to a web page to start the process?!

The form requests the kind of information you’d expect: company name, address, names/addresses of the people with legal authority over the company. I was expecting to have to give the company number, but the didn’t ask for that at this stage. And I wasn’t expecting the company website URL to be a mandatory field, but it was. (I created a temporary Google Sites page for the purpose.)

Clicking submit, Apple now say that they will review the application.

They did not, however, tell me that I would effectively no longer be a paid member of the Developer Program. This meant that I could not access the iOS5 betas that had just started circulating. I had already installed beta two on my iPad and a matching version of the SDK on my MacBook, so it wasn’t too bad initially. I would revise this opinion later on.

A couple of days later, Apple requested information about my company. By fax. Here’s a company that thinks that DVD-writers are last years technology and it’s insisting that I use a fax machine to communicate with them!


I replied to their email, including their reference number, attaching an electronic copy of the documentation that they had requested. I offered to send a fax if that was not acceptable.

A couple of days later I received an acknowledgement from Apple, so I assumed that all was okay.

Weeks passed.

(Okay, that might be a little melodramatic.)

No access to iTunes Connect was a little inconvenient but things got worse at the beginning of August when iOS 5b2 expired meaning that my iPad was unusable.

I pinged an email to Apple asking about the progress of my application but received no reply.

I think that I was remarkably patient under the circumstances. I waited another three weeks before I sent another message. And then, poking around the parts of the Developer Support website that I could still access, I found that there was a ‘Contact us’ form with a specific ‘Let me know about the progress of my enrolment’ option, so I sent a message from there as well.

That was on a Friday evening. I’m still not sure what hours they work — whether the have local teams or only operate on US hours — so I wasn’t expecting anything to happen immediately.

On Monday, just before nine in the morning as I was heading into my day-job, I got a call from an unknown US number. It turned out to be Apple.

The good news was that my transfer had been approved. I would need to accept the Developer agreement again — last time it was for me as an individual, this time for me as a director of my company — and then I would be all set. There was no acknowledgement or apology of the amount of time it had taken and I didn’t feel like pushing the point. I assume that one of my messages prompted the call and the approval, but whether my virtual prod was actually required or not is anyones guess.

I accepted the developer agreement and immediately got some of my access rights back. I could access the Member Centre for example but it took until later the following day before the App Store showed my company name. Shortly after that I got full access to iTunes Connect again.

So, in short, the process is both possible and works. If I had to offer any advice, I would suggest assuming that the process could take a couple of months and that during that time you would have no access to anything currently covered by an NDA, including beta releases and iTunes Connect. If it goes quicker for you, great. If not, at least you’ll be better prepared than I was.

Why you need a crash reporter

Most developers of iOS applications have a love-hate relationship with the main interface with Apple.

No, let me re-phrase that.

Most developers of iOS applications hate iTunes Connect, the main impediment to a good relationship with Apple.

To be fair it has improved since it opened in mid-2008. One of those improvements has been the inclusion of crash reports. A crash report, in case you’re not a developer, is something that iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads write out when an application crashes. It includes all kinds of useful information, including some, but not all, of the internal state of the application in question. It’s very, very useful for diagnosing problems.

However, what has become clear is that not all of the crash reports make it into iTunes Connect. There are two, maybe three, levels of screening going on. First, the user has to sync their phone with iTunes. I do this mainly to update my podcasts but otherwise I’d do it fairly infrequently. Second, the user also needs to allow the crash reports to be uploaded. I suspect most users do but, you never can tell. Third, Apple clearly does… something with the reports when it gets them. There’s clearly some degree of filtering going on but quite what is anyones guess.

The practical upshot of all this is that you’re quite likely to hear about crashes before you see them. I’ve seen reviews in iTunes complain about crashes. I’ve received tweets and support emails. And all before a single report appears in iTunes Connect.

It’s the reviews in iTunes that bug me the most, as I have no way to ask for further information.

Until now.

The most recent version of Yummy, Yummy Browser and www.cut all included crash reporting code. That is, should the app crash, the next time it’s launched it will say as much as offer to upload the report to a web server.

As I type this I see around a hundred crash reports on my web-server and zero in iTunes Connect. Luckily, I’ve seen no bad reviews in iTunes and, surprisingly, I’ve had no support emails or queries on Twitter.

Without the crash reporter I would have had no idea there were these serious bugs — I’d never seen them! I’m always surprised about crashing bugs as I consider myself to be the main user and so likely to come across these problems first.

Using the reports I can easily see that 90% of the crashes were coming from two bugs. Interesting but slightly less importantly, I can also see that jailbroken phones seem to have more problems than others. I see that the vast majority of my users are on 4.x, with 4.2.1, by far, being the most common. (None of the bugs are OS specific so these numbers should be pretty representative.)

The other thing about having the details on a web-server is that I was able to flag them. When a crash with a known fix is submitted, the apps will now tell the user that this is the case.

I never thought I’d say that the lack of support email is a bad thing, yet there was one bug that took me a long time to track down. I could see where exactly in the code it was crashing but I could see no way that it could actually happen. In the end I stumbled across it quite by chance, but being able to talk to a user who was experiencing the problem would, in this case, have been very useful.

No software is perfect. But at least now I can see problems almost as soon as they happen and provide direct and timely feedback. This is such a huge plus that it shouldn’t be underestimated.

My delicious.com bookmarks for February 15th through February 18th

  • Apple’s Three Laws of Developers – The hidden link from sci-fi books to the App Store. Only funny because it's true…
  • Biting the source that feeds you – "Keller, a journalist of unimpeachable accomplishment and stature, just had to trash a guy whose organization has struck the most powerful blow against official secrecy in a generation, somebody who may yet be jailed for what he did, an eccentric but unquestionably transformational media player."