The Apple App Store Problem

The App Store is a pretty decent part of the iOS/macOS ecosystem. Being able to get access to and manage thousands of third-party apps with something directly integrated into the operating system is actually really good and adds a fair amount to the user experience, compared to Linux, where the various package managers, their repositories, distro and architecture differences, and Flatpak’s annoying insistence on security that results in the apps you install you using it not being able to autosave, the App Store is somewhat better. Even Microsoft jumped in on it, with the Microsoft Store in Windows 8.1.

However, as we’ve seen in the past, nothing is perfect.

It can be really hard to develop for (if you’re not a Mac user)

Before apps can even reach the store, they must be developed. While writing the code is easy, with plenty of documentation, frameworks, languages, and tools to help, and you can do that with an ordinary Windows or Linux PC.

However, you can’t just release source code and expect it to work. You’ll need to build real executables for iOS before your app can be released on the App Store, so it can be run by any old user. To do that, you need Xcode. Xcode is Mac-exclusive, which means you can’t run it on Windows or Linux.

Macs are very expensive, and getting a used one risks getting a computer that can’t run the newest version of macOS and Xcode. Because of this, some app projects and developers may not even be able to even develop their application at all.

Getting on the App Store itself can be expensive

However, even after you’ve managed to build your app, there’s another issue: actually getting onto the App Store.

In order to upload an app to the App Store, you need to be a part of the Apple Developer Program. To join said program, you need to shell out $99 every year to publish your app and keep it there. (If you don’t renew your subscription, your app will remain on user’s devices if they already downloaded it, but it won’t let new users install it)

Although for some of you, $99 a year isn’t a large ask. Some people pay more than that a month for their phone service and internet plan. However, for some smaller developers or open-source projects relying on donations, it could be a pretty large wall. A large social network company with thousands of users could keep their subscription, but a small, obscure app with only a few users?

Probably not.

Now, let’s look at what iOS’s biggest competitor, Android, does differently.

Compared to Apple’s Xcode, which is again, exclusive to Macs, Android Studio is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Chrome OS.

And to publish to the Play Store, you only need to pay a one-time fee of $25, not per year, only once.

Those reasons make a very open marketplace, with lots of smaller developers. I’m not saying Google’s store is perfect, what with its tons of low quality, uncontrolled services, and even malware, but it’s something Apple could learn from.

Apple could port Xcode to Windows and Linux. They could also fix the monetary requirement, possibly lowering the fee from $99 per year or even take from Google’s playbook and just have a one-time fee, all while keeping their existing guidelines.

Who knows if Apple would take these ideas. Maybe they won’t. But…again who knows?