-or- How not to cruddy up our Markets…

Yeah… This is a rant guys… If you don’t agree, tell me – but take rude comments elsewhere. Comments will be open for as long as I can tolerate it (assuming anyone comments at all).

Get ready for a long read – and a lot of personal frustration; this won’t be pretty…

Who are you?

Honestly… I’m just a guy. I’m a guy that happens to be a USER and a DEVELOPER. That’s right, I play on both teams.
I’m anti-Apple, pro-Android, and heavily interested in the mobile platforms, both current and upcoming. Even with my angst against Apple, it’s important for me as a developer to understand it, and cope with it.

What’s MORE important is that I try to make products that are intuitive, clean in appearance, and generally enhance someone’s life. Having said that, there is a place for the “fart” apps and the sound boards. In a particular way, they enhance lives just as much as an advanced Augmented Reality camera app that will find the closest pub to get smashed at. As silly as it seems, stress relief is a very important factor to our markets.

Come at me, bro!

Ok, I’m just going to get right to it…

If you make any of the following arguments, you’re trash in my book:

  • “I’m just a developer, I don’t make things pretty”
  • “… I know more than my users do”
  • “… I don’t need to change that, my users will have to get used to it”

Yeah – I said it! You’re TRASH! You don’t deserve to even sit behind a keyboard. You’re a crappy user, and a crappier developer for saying these things! C’mon! Why would you want to spend time building something to turn around and frustrate your users?! It wastes everyone’s time.

If you’re coming to a platform, and “trying to learn to develop” then allow me to suggest to not even think about publishing your first, second, or even third attempt at an application.
There’s a 90% chance it sucks. Ah screw it, let’s just say 100%; I know for a fact it will suck. How do I know? I’ve been doing this a while; and there’s not only a pragmatic, arguably an algorithmic approach to development – but presenting your application interface to a user has some psychological aspects to it as well that you’re just not keen or privy to yet. It’s ok, you’re green… It’s actually NOT your fault. But it is important you recognize your naivety regarding these topics, and educate yourselves about these things. Worst case, you find out how to build better apps, and sell them better (or rather they sell themselves).

What IS your fault is cruddying up our markets with this garbage. It’s equivalent to just throwing trash out the window – it’s unhealthy to an ecosystem, and ultimately causes other people more work.

My current take on markets

There’s too much crap. WAAAYYYY too much.
One thing that’s irritated me the most about the Apple store is the boasting of the number of apps… To me it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. And honestly, given Apple’s (*cough* Jobs’ *cough*) superior attitude, I’d expect them to be more strict on the “single function” and redundant apps. But again, the marketing is centered around the shear quantity of apps. As a user, I don’t care for 20,000 flashlight apps and 14,000 fart apps (numbers pulled right out of my ass, btw). that’s 34,000 apps I just don’t care about.. and really, if i wanted either of those apps, I shouldn’t need to browse through that many, as I’m most likely going to pick ONE to THREE of the top few and move on.

Now before I go any further, let me explain why I think there’s more than one of any type of app.

  • Some if not at least 50% of it can be attributed to “noobs” coming to our markets, and trying to get used to the whole process. It’s super-hard to bash on them, because honestly their excitement and thirst for knowledge is rather inspirational – to a point.
  • I would be willing to attribute another 48% to competition. That is, “my app is better than yours.” Hell yeah! You mean I can COMPETE with another app? YES! Well, except the reality of the situation your app is NO different than the other guys. How many ways can you make a flashlight? One? Two? 14, 173? (the answer is no)
  • And lastly I’d chalk up the last 2% to ignorance and laziness. As a developer, I just didn’t check the market thoroughly enough to see if my idea has been done a couple hundred times already. To be fair (and I’ll get into this more a little later), it may have been difficult to figure out the right search term to pull up an app that satisfies their needs. Whether it’s a funky name of an app (“LightHouse” doesn’t exactly indicate it’s a flashlight), or it’s such an obscure/ambiguous idea that identifying a term is difficult (“message board” has so many meanings to me personally).

Now, having said that – I totally believe that competition is a must. After all, I’m an American (don’t hate me) and I believe in capitalism. A core fundamental part of that is competition.
However, competition is defined as the following:

Competition is a contest between individuals, groups, nations, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location of resources. It arises whenever two or more parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared.

Wait… Look at that last part… “which cannot be shared.” Yes folks, that means your competition is trying to out-do the other guy in a way that knocks him off his totem pole. You’re trying to be the winner here, not comfortably co-exist.

Do you think Apple and Google are content with providing the same features? Hell no! And if you’re a part of either camp, you know it’s black and white. It’s a rare thing to enjoy both platforms, because we as users definitely see, feel, hear, and interact with the competition directly. We vote with our feet and dollars, and we vocalize ourselves (I know I do :P) to state which territory we defend. Dag-nabbit!

So the only way competition can work in a true market is to actually be distinctly different than the next guy (or gal, sorry ladies, no disrespect). SO FREAKIN’ DO IT!
If everyone made Ferrari-like cars, no one would care about Ferrari’s, and that’s how I feel about a lot of different apps. If there’s a discernible difference between them, then by all means, submit your app! Let me have choices!

But with choice, comes great responsibility as a user. I must be willing to help establish a viable ecosystem, and be able to assist in seeding the lifespan of a particular application just as much as the developer himself.
“How,” you ask? Simple. VOTE: Mark that bad boy 5 stars, comment on what you like or don’t like, give feedback DIRECTLY to the developer. This is a two way street folks!
As a quick ancillary point, I really hate seeing comments like: “Great! 5 Stars”. You’re not contributing with that comment. By all means, mark it 5-stars! But if you have no critical feedback, keep it to yourself!

I’ve been mocked a few times, particularly on some forums about this whole idea of “there’s just too much crap in our markets,” and am often asked “So you think 150 apps is better than 5000 apps!?”
Well, to answer that truthfully we have to consider the then and now of things.

Sure, the idea of markets was new. We wanted to explore the entire realm and possibility of what developers could come up with – without stifling creativity. Granted, developers aren’t known for their creative, intuitive, or expressive applications; but some of the most successful applications have come from being (without getting into too much detail) “open” to types of applications that are allowed to be submitted. We had no clue to what a successful application would be, and what wouldn’t. We would continually be surprised to hear, as both users and developers that someone was making money off something so simple as a fart application, with equal if not more success as a dedicated team to develop some application such as ShopSavvy or Shazaam.

We’ve seen the success stories about a simple tele-banker creating a Bejeweled-type game and get rich over night. Same can be said with a fart app, and something as well executed as Angry Birds. But we’ve also seen a plethora of applications that have 0-1 star ratings, no comments, and less than 100 downloads (particularly on the Android Market).
The illustrious fart and flashlight applications ARE proof that simple-function applications have a place in the market – there’s no question there. But do we need tens of thousands of them?
What about simple converters that merely convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? Shouldn’t it do more? Give me more conversions, give me more options. I want to convert all types of units of measurement, not just one. And I think more importantly, I don’t want to download 20 different apps to convert different things. Maybe you’re not smart enough to develop this type of application, and that’s OK. But maybe you shouldn’t be developing at all.
So at this point we have the TWO largest markets, Apple and Google, making claims to the number of applications they have as if it warrants them some kind of merit badge. Maybe it should?
After all, it is rather impressive to hear that there’s a HUGE number of apps – until you actually see them all. It becomes cumbersome, and often a chore to find something that’s actually useful. I challenge you to count the number of apps you use in a day, versus a week, versus a month. Not all apps are created equal, and thus aren’t USED as equally. Granted, if you were to take inventory, you’d probably find over 60% of your installed apps are useless and just taking up space. Again, I’m pulling this out of my ass, but quick Google searches prove that people don’t use apps as much as they think they do. Games being the ultimate exception. Everyone plays Angry Birds while dropping a deuce – everyone.

So yes, I DO feel that 150 apps is better than 5000 apps… At least I know those 150 apps are most likely going to actually improve my productivity, utility, and entertainment.

Upcoming Market(s)

RIM/Blackberry PlayBook

This rant came about from my interaction with a new community and platform for the upcoming BlackBerry Playbook. Honestly, even with my issues with the whole ordeal (which if you keep reading, you’ll hear plenty about) I still feel like it’s a strong competitor with the current platforms.

If you’re a new product line, I think it’s more important than ever to learn from other products’ mistakes. Just as important, learn from their successes.

Jumping back to the Playbook, we see immediately (especially as Flash/Flex developers) how open RIM is about the Adobe AIR platform, and how they’re heavily supporting it. This excites me, and is an indirect jab at the big fruity Apple, which I’m always a proponent of. Except… Your workflow STINKS. It reeks of inexperience, unprovoked thought processes, and some of the most unintuitive interaction I’ve seen in a LOOOONG time!
As I said above, I’m still optimistic about this platform, but they seriously need to work out a LOT of kinks, and arguably start over.
Some developers have completely left the market as a choice of publishing their apps because of the high level of frustration. We even have posts disguised as a tutorial (as Joseph puts it) to prove the non-existant intuitiveness of the signing process, which has caused some of us (me included) an insane headache (which still hasn’t been alleviated). That could be it’s own entire rant, but I’ll save you the earache (you’re welcome!).

Is this ok? Hell no! And I’d have nothing short of high expectations for RIM to come back to us developers with not only a better process, but an APOLOGY. It doesn’t have to be a super long and deep felt apology where someone says “I’m sorry,” but at least acknowledge our frustrations and throw us a bone. After all, you too are developers and hardware manufacturers. Let us know you are human, make mistakes, but can also learn from them. Drone or gestapo companies don’t bode well in my book.

What’s more is that it doesn’t seem they’ve rejected a single app, and instead have actually opened up communication channels with developers to assist them in fixing bugs in their application. This certainly requires time, and time is money. It’s not just $200-500 per device as some were estimating in the forums; and it’s most definitely not “just half a million dollars.” I would venture to guess it’s a ton more than that. Lets see you go and try to tell your board members and stock holders you’re going to give away a potential of a couple million of dollars away on a gamble. It certainly wouldn’t be easy!

But the notion that cost is limited to ONLY the cost of hardware is not very practical! From a business perspective, they’ve had to hire WAY more QA/systems engineers/probably managers/etc, possibly purchase more servers to support the submission system, as well as AppWorld. The offer started Dec 7, and will end March 15th.. That’s just a week over 3 solid months of approvals, and if we’re looking at a minimum of 4000 apps, that’s 44 apps per DAY (INCLUDING WEEKENDS) that are to be approved and rejected. If we go above the 4000 mark (which I seem to recall they said we well exceeded that earlier this month) then that speculated number just goes up and up and up. Sure if you only consider the hardware it might be $200-500 out of pocket, but the company as a whole is probably seeing more like $1000-1500 per device. Once more, these are numbers that I’m making up, and have no evidence to back it up. But common sense tells us we shouldn’t limit this idea to just the hardware as anyone in business can tell you there’s overhead costs in EVERYTHING.

An interesting thing we’ve seen happen a few times over, particularly with gaming consoles, is that the manufacturers will often sell the hardware at a loss. I believe the numbers range from $50-200 loss per unit sold. This is done with the expectation that they will sell more, and make up the costs with royalties, licensing fees to developers/distributors/publishers, and advertising channels. Sometimes it works out… sometimes it doesn’t.

Amazon Marketplace

This one is SUPER strange to me. It’s by far the most interesting setup, for a multitude of reasons.

Right off the bat, on their blog, they’re open about sharing apps between Android and iOS. Even though it’s an Android store, they’re informing the developers about considerations for other markets, and potential bumps in the road. They’re not giving away secret info or anything, but the idea of looking out for the developer is awesome.

What’s strange though is their pricing schema. Basically- there is none… Or rather, they choose it for you! Basically the set a price point, and sometimes even promote it by putting it on sale. For some this is irritating, there’s no guarantee for you to make the income you expect from other markets.

Another point of contention is that this officially fractures the market. Android has had other smaller markets (e.g., AndroidTapp, Slideme, MiKandi, etc) that had wildly varying success – but none have the infrastructure of Amazon. I’m not normally one to concern myself with fragmentation and fracturing, but I feel the limitations of setting price-points causes some warrant for a double-take.

But then again, this is Amazon. They’re no dummies, they’ve thrived off the e-retail markets venturing from everything from groceries to sex toys, car parts, books (Kindle), electronics, music, and even letting individuals sell whatever they want. It just shows that their business modeling works, and it works well. The retail market is nothing new, and the advancement of the internet has only broadened the reach and potential discreteness of personal shopping. Why would selling applications be any different?

What I’m curious is if Amazon is going to decide to release their own line of products similar to how they push Kindle – but this time running Android (be wary, Nook!).

So… What now?

What… You think I have all the answers? Well I don’t – and I know I don’t. But I have some ideas. In one sense, I feel we’ve almost gone too far. Our current markets are saturated, and upcoming markets are more concerned with getting a torrent of applications to peddle. I don’t think this is right.

I think Apple and Google need to prune their markets quite a bit, and take a step backwards in how they promote them. Yes, as a developer, I’d be upset if I was told my application was now deemed unworthy (especially if I paid $99 for a license) and will be removed, but you know that’s nothing new. That has always been possible, and in a lot of cases has actually happened! You signed an agreement that said your app can be removed from the market at any time, based on the beliefs of the market runners. Apple’s yet to be afraid to put their foot down, and on a few occasions Android has had to step in as well.
It’s my belief that these markets need to be careful of becoming a Goliath. The next David is always around the corner, with slingshot and rocks in hand.

Now with the instance of the Playbook, I’m actually rather surprised and disappointed. A quick recap: If you submit an app before a deadline, you are eligible for a free Playbook. Eligible? Might as well say “guaranteed!” Being heavily active in the community I’ve come to see MANY apps that just don’t warrant a free Playbook, and even in some cases don’t warrant being on the market at all.
One could continue to argue that fart apps can still be successful, and deserve a place in the market – but others can argue that they don’t, and the novelty has fully worn off. I’m apparently one of the few who never installed a single fart app; getting a Playbook won’t change that for me.

The simplicity of some of the apps I’ve seen, and also seen how they’ve advertised their acceptance of getting a free Playbook is a point of disgust for me. I’ve been told a few times on the forums I’m in a place of misunderstanding, and that this ploy of RIM is to gain attraction, and that it’s working. And maybe it is? But as a user, if I get a Playbook in hand, and all I see are really crappy/ugly conversion apps, or equation solvers then I really want nothing to do with the product. What am I going to do with these apps?! NOTHING!

That brings me to a quick side-rant… If my job is centered around solving inverse sign calculations, then why the hell would I need an app with 3 text fields for this!? I’m an expert in this field, I shouldn’t need that! A simple PEMDAS calculator should suffice considering my need for expertise centers around this calculation. Just like I don’t go into a surgeon’s office, and feel comfortable with him looking up techniques of removing livers from a reference book or application. That would scare the @#&$ out of me!

I once was a big proponent of the Android Market being fully open as it is. I thought “Great! I can create a new browser, and not worry about Google rejecting me because it competes with them!” Heh, apparently I’m the only one who took it that way. There are plenty of people that saw it as “Great! I can create some heaping pile of junk, and throw it out there, without anyone to tell me I’m doing things wrong, and am implementing bad design/UX/and development practices.”
I don’t think the Apple market or the Android market are doing things right – but rather a mix of the two seem to be what’s needed.

That’s where I was hoping the Playbook was stepping in – their clearly open acceptance of Adobe AIR/Java/C++ SDKs, along with HTML5, Flash, and CSS3 compliant browser was an awesome first step in the right direction. It went quickly downhill when they declared their expectation was to have 4,000 apps at launch. Yes… 4,000. Why even put a number to it? Why 4,000? I’d rather take 40 super solid apps over 3,960 really crappy apps.
I like the openness, but for the sake of preservation, and more importantly forward moving markets, there needs to be a bit more precision.

I’m not even going to touch the licensing fees, trials and tribulations of developing for any particular platform, or the market share arguments in this rant… WAY too much to talk about there. And this is getting long enough.

I also think that markets need to grow faster… No silly, not in size! Have you not read a single thing I’ve said? No, instead they need to grow in functionality. It’s taken a while, but we’re finally seeing particular markets (Microsoft, AppWorld, etc) allow trial applications, micro payments, subscriptions, etc. But it’s taking FOREVER – and these processes and transactions are not fully solidified and often talked about like a bastard child. The point is, markets need to be able to grow instantly, and with confidence. Users are seemingly more than apt and willing to whip out their monies to buy things, you’re only guaranteeing another channel of revenue by doing so.

As more and more publications start moving digital, this also will be important for markets to support. Kindle and Nook are current pioneers in that industry. But the surprising, yet refreshing introduction of Martha Stewart Living app shows that other publishers are wanting a more rich experience. The only problem is, right now everyone has to roll that out themselves as an application. It would seem to behoove the markets to allow some “framework” to support this media-type just like we distribute music.

Once more, as both market leaders are approaching, the “cloud” is becoming much more important. It’s still taking too long in my opinion – the idea of waiting on future releases of Android and iOS are killing me! Right now with Android, I have a few options to stream media from my personal library; and I’m sure some exist for iOS as well. But there’s still some dependency there that I have to be on a private network, with software fully configured. The cloud will eventually diminish the need for all of this.
Google has a bit of a leg up with gmail pushes, calendar syncs, settings and app installs pushed to the cloud, and even Chrome to Phone. It’s surprising that other markets haven’t taken this approach YET, and it’s been a few years now!

My father-in-law has a silly saying, that I love to quote: “The problem with instant gratification – is that it takes too damn long!”