As Apple boasts of creating two million U.S. jobs, it has been accused of making life as a small developer unsustainable.
The claim was made by Matt Gemmell, a software engineer who used to work for Apple as a contractor and whose source code has been used in hundreds of iOS and macOS apps.
No company has done as much damage to the perceived value of software, and the sustainability of being an independent developer, as Apple …
Gemmell wrote this in a blog post in which he argues that Apple has ‘trained’ consumers to think that apps should be free or extremely cheap, and that they shouldn’t have to pay extra to run an app on multiple devices, or for updates.
[In the App Store, you’ll make] exactly one sale of an app per person, ever, regardless of the number of devices they own, how often the app has been updated since they last used it, and so on. This also teaches customers that they’re entitled to come back to a free app at any point in the future, no matter how long ago they paid for it.
He says that while Apple positions itself as the developers’ friend, bringing them a ready-made market for their work, the reality is quite different. The way that Apple promotes and sells apps is, he says, ‘deeply hostile to the sustainability of a small business as a software developer.’
Has Apple created a huge market, in terms of potential customers? Absolutely. It’s just done so at the expense of its platform-invested developer community. Judging by the company’s value and income, it was a very wise move, and you can justify it on that basis if you choose. But don’t ignore the reality of the situation. Apple is not a benevolent entity; your human-centric partner in aesthetics and ethos. If that was ever true at all.
His viewpoint is entirely understandable. We know independent developers who have either switched to working as an employee for a large software company, or got out of the business altogether. It’s a tough way to make a living.
But as someone who’s been in the personal computer field since the days of the Apple II, ’twas ever thus. In those early days, no consumer expected to pay for software at all: it was either free or ‘shareware,’ where people were encouraged to make a donation. Very few people ever did.
What Gemmell is really describing is the tail-end of a gold-rush. A lot of people moved into the field hoping to make their fortune, but only a tiny minority ever did. The companies that consistently made money during the gold-rush were the ones selling the shovels. In neither case does it make sense to me to blame the shovel-maker when most people fail to strike gold.
What are your thoughts? Is Apple the hero or the villain of the piece, or neither one? Please share your views in the comments.