Is Apple's App Store Broken?

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There are more than 1 million apps in Apple's App Store. Those apps have been downloaded more than 60 billion times. Last year alone, people spent more than $10 billion on App Store purchases.

That's a lot of apps and lots of downloads. And lots of money to be made.

While the opportunity seems obvious, dig a little deeper and you'll find the competition is fierce. Only about 2 percent of the top 250 publishers in Apple's iPhone App Store are newcomers, and they only collect about 0.25 percent of the total revenue from those top apps.

It's issues like these, among others, that has Marco Arment frustrated and upset. The tech entrepreneur and founding lead developer for Tumblr has written a post examining what's wrong with Apple's App Store.

Here's a quick look at his points:

Related: How Apple's App Store Changed Business at Its Core

Lazy reliance on most-downloaded apps: The App store is designed around a "top lists" feature which, as you might guess, highlights the most downloaded apps in the store. Arment argues, like others have before, that the number of downloads does not reflect an app's success. People download apps all the time and then never or barely ever use them. 

"The dominance and prominence of 'top lists' stratifies the top 0.02% so far above everyone else that the entire ecosystem is encouraged to design for a theoretical top-list placement that, by definition, won’t happen to 99.98% of them," he wrote.

Things like quality, sustainability, and updates are almost irrelevant to App Store success. Arment says. Apple's reliance on top lists is "lazy."

A decline in indie app developers and quality apps: Citing other recent articles making the same point, Arment argues that there is so much "relentless and often shameless" competition among software developers, many smaller firms are either scaling back or shutting down altogether. The ones that stay in business are focusing on developing apps that do one simple thing well instead of designing big, complicated and lavish apps. Many, he says, aren't developing quality apps at all.

"Standing out [in the App Store] requires more effort than ever, yet profits are harder to come by than ever," Arment wrote.

Related: Apple's App Store Turns 5: A Look Back at the Most-Popular Business Apps

Poor economics: Since it's harder than ever to break into the App Store and make a splash, the ROI on app development is low. Because of this, app creators are doing more with fewer resources, or sometimes doing less with less.

"Efficiency is key," Arment wrote. "And efficiency means doing more (or all) of the work yourself, writing a lot less custom code and UI, dropping support for older OSes, and providing less customer support."

The bright side: As app developers strive for said efficiency, Apple OS updates aim to simplify the process. 

"iOS 7’s redesign gave indie developers a huge advantage by making the stock UI cool again." Arment wrote. "iOS 8 helps even more. Extensions open up vast new markets and give our apps a lot more functionality for very little effort."

So, is Apple's App Store broken? Arment thinks so. But he also thinks "it’s possible to adapt and keep going."

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Related: 3 Leadership Lessons From Tumblr's David Karp

Edition: July 2017

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