Phil Schiller’s hardline and tone-deaf response is a really bad look just before WWDC
I just wrote about this a couple of days ago, but here we are again. It’s just a few days until we get lots of new goodies at WWDC and this is what we are talking about instead. Come on, Apple. Taking such a hard line on their App Store fee structure and current rules and enforcement is just piling one mistake on top of another one.
Apple has some points, but…
To be clear, I absolutely believe that Apple is entitled to a cut of sales on the App Store. I also believe that Apple should be able to keep their walled garden store structure if they choose. I am very much opposed to the government forcing them to open up iOS to alternative App Stores. If I wanted access to that, I would be an Android user. I want and much prefer the market alternative of a gatekeeper approach, rather than the more open approach. I think it’s a good thing that users can choose between those things when they select a platform.
The problem is that none of the above excuses what Apple is doing at this point. I understand that they are worried that more and more developers will just release free apps with other routes to subscriptions that don’t generate any return revenue back to the App Store.
Give a little to get a little
However, Apple is going to find far more success with the developer community if they give a little on their cut with some more flexible rules that apply to all apps than they will by taking this hard line. Some large companies will go their own way for their own bottom lines, but most small to medium sized devs are going to stick with Apple’s solution if they feel they are treated more fairly.
Apple also has to re-work their rules to fit the current tech landscape. Their enforcement problems are partially due to how vague, confusing and inconsistent their rules are. They have spennt too long making this crap up as the go along. They are setting their own people up for failure and mixed messaging by the way the App Store is run. This isn’t 2008 and these aren’t new problems. Apple needs to do the hard work and fix this and be transparent about how they are doing it.
It’s business. It isn’t personal
Poor rules enforcement in the App Store is made worse by the issues with the rules, but that isn’t the only problem. Some executives at Apple frankly need to grow up and stop taking all of this so damned personally. Yes, the company did completely change the course of software development, especially for mobile, in 2008. Initially it was a FAR better model than what had existed and it gave devs a much bigger cut than what they had traditionally received. Apple LOVES to remind us of this and use it as a shield when they are questioned. And they have a point because it is all true.
But things change. Time and tech move on and Apple’s App Store has to start moving with it. Apple’s execs seem to take offense and feel slighted by developers pushing back on them, but they need to take the emotion out of their reactions, because that is just making the problem a lot worse. This all could have been a lot less acrimonious for Apple if they had made some concessions to developers sooner. Now changes need to be made for preservation of what they have.
Lastly, if Apple wants to make regulators happy, they are going to have to include some oversight in their future plans. They can do this themselves or they can have something worse forced on them in the not too distant future. To avoid that force part, they need to create an at least partially independent board of review that can act as a hedge against Apple abusing their own rules. I know they will not want to do this, but the alternatives could bee a lot worse if they are imposed on them.
The status quo is no go
Apple can’t afford to let the status quo with the developer community continue. If they do, two things will happen. First, some developers will walk away from Apple and their operating systems. I don’t think a mass exodus is realistic because of Apple’s market share, but this would still be a completely unnecessary self-inflicted wound. The second likely action is far worse. Government bodies will start to restrict them in ways that Apple doesn’t get a say in. The longer Apple lets this drag on and the louder the complaints get, the tougher that governmental backlash will be.
With investigations already ongoing, Apple has a small window of time to work with at this point. If they don’t act in such a way that developers and lawmakers come away feeling they got needed concessions, then the company is going to lose some level of control of their own products and services. As an Apple user who prefers their stances on security and privacy, I do not want to see that.
If anything, largely tech-illiterate lawmakers will be tempted to overreach and hit harder than needed in response to this situation. A sledgehammer makes for a better headline than a scalpel, which is exactly how we got all this talk of breaking up big tech companies earlier in the US Presidential campaign. Apple won’t just be serving developers, but their own self-interest by checking themselves ahead of what could be coming. I just can’t understand how they don’t see that and haven’t already acted on it.
Phil Schiller doubling down on blocking Basecamp’s Hey email app is just more proof that Apple is still it’s own worst enemy. They have got to stop with the tone-deaf responses to developers and the tech press and make some changes for their own good and the good of users like me who don’t want to see their business model dismantled. The clock is ticking on this and Tim Cook had better come up with some better answers quickly.