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Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple

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Walter Soyka
Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:55:51 am

The entire series is interesting and well-worth reading, but Part IV is especially germane to some conversation we've had here:

http://www.elischiff.com/blog/2015/3/24/fear-of-apple

A selection of key quotes:

"There is an unfortunate climate of fear in the software community today. It is primarily in ephemeral video interviews and podcasts that we get any semblance of coherent criticism and even then it is reticent. Worse than the fact that this criticism is relegated to verbal discussions is that it is later renounced by the very same designers and developers when they are interviewed in the more permanent-seeming medium of the written word. In written interviews, these fair-weather critics go on to reverse their opinions and praise the products of modern minimalist UI design because it is more convenient not to risk questioning powerful industry leaders."

"According to an anonymous source: 'Apple optimizes [the app store] for one-hit wonders. Nail it in 1.0, get featured, then throw it away and build a new app.'"

"In the words of analyst Ben Thompson of Stratechery, Apple has 'commoditized their complements': 'Apple makes money on hardware. It's in their interest that said hardware be sold for as much of a premium as the market will bear. However, it’s equally in their interest that the complements to that hardware are sold as cheaply as possible, and are preferably free.'"

"After years of operating under these conditions, consumers today perceive software to be worth effectively nothing. According to an anonymous developer, 'if you're trying to sell to the mass market for more than $2.99, you might as well charge $1M.'"

"Recent revelations show that the situation has gotten so bad that today there are only approximately 3000 apps profitable enough to support a median income of $50k for their developer. It is also important to note that not all apps are built by one developer, many work as a team. So it follows that there are many fewer than 3000 developers sustainably doing independent development."

"For developers today, there is actually disincentive to providing support for their apps in order to make them dependable. Every time a developer release bug fixes in an app update, prior reviews are wiped and the reviews are left blank for the new version. Instead the best option for developers is to create 'free' viral apps with casino-like in-app purchases. Ideally, these trivial entertainment apps get featured and hit the "Top Free" list only to become abandonware shortly after. If they opt for a sustainable paid model, they have little chance for exposure."

"Criticism is rare today indeed, as noted by developer David Barnard, the creator of Launch Center Pro, who pointed out, "Developers don’t even publicly share all the crazy rejections for fear of reprisal from Apple. They micromanage the App Store" in App Review, a process in which apps are vetted for publishing."

Walter Soyka
Designer & Mad Scientist at Keen Live [link]
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
@keenlive [twitter]   |   RenderBreak [blog]   |   Profile [LinkedIn]


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Michael Gissing
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:12:11 am

Over in the Google Play Store there is probably a similar situation although from friends who are software developers they say privately that Apple is worse.

The best way for them to make money for apps is for a business that wants an app to pay them to develop and maintain it. So an app that feeds into a different market like hotel bookings or travel/ sport/ leisure business might make money for the app developer.

Taking a punt on making an app for which the public will pay is considered too risky by my friends, either iOS or Android.


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:34:06 am

And this is one reason we are seeing an uptick in software subscriptions. When both companies (like Apple, BM, etc.,) and users devalue software what forms of recourse do software companies have?


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Steve Connor
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:44:27 am

[Andrew Kimery] "And this is one reason we are seeing an uptick in software subscriptions. When both companies (like Apple, BM, etc.,) and users devalue software what forms of recourse do software companies have?

"


That's a bit of a leap!


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:32:36 pm

[Steve Connor] "That's a bit of a leap!"

Why do you say that? If software prices get driven down below the point of sustainability then software makers have to look to alternate business models to generate revenue. That pretty much means going ad supported, freemium and/or subscription.

For example, Google gives software tools away for free because they are all ad supported. Apple is a mix of free and pay once, upgrade forever because they are trying to get you to buy Apple hardware. Blackmagic gives away a nearly fully functioning version of Resolve for free (and only charges $1k for the full version)but it's tied to BM hardware. People are assuming they will do the same thing with Fusion..

Do you think it's a coincidence that Adobe, Microsoft, Avid, etc., have all gotten into the software subscription market in the past few years?


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Aindreas Gallagher
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:00:39 pm

someone pointed out there recently that as a professional, with adobe offering virtually everything you need to do the job bar hardware, the idea that you would balk at six hundred dollars a year is a bit rich if you consider people who have to maintain say - a vehicle - buy it, repair it, fuel it, pay tax on it, congestion and parking fees for a year as a basic cost.

It kind of does seem like paid software in our area is getting eaten by companies at varying scales more than willing to make it a loss leader thunderdome/meat grinder for hardware or ecosystem advantage. I'm probably past the point of throwing tomatoes at adobe.

http://vimeo.com/user1590967/videos http://www.ogallchoir.net promo producer/editor.grading/motion graphics


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Steve Connor
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:43:31 pm

[Andrew Kimery] "If software prices get driven down below the point of sustainability then software makers "

Adobe's Perpetual license costs weren't being driven down before they decide to go subscription only, it was probably because not enough people were upgrading regularly enough which may or not be the same thing I suppose.


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David Lawrence
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:29:36 am

[Steve Connor] "Adobe's Perpetual license costs weren't being driven down before they decide to go subscription only, it was probably because not enough people were upgrading regularly enough which may or not be the same thing I suppose."

True. And the way to get people to upgrade regularly is to offer upgrades that are worth upgrading to. Customers will pay for innovation and value. They won't pay for gimmicks and bloat. If the big software companies tried innovating instead of resting on their market dominance, they might find they'd have more customers buying their upgrades.

In Adobe's case, innovation in the Production Suite applications has been remarkably deep. Innovation with Photoshop and Illustrator not so much. We're a relatively small market but the photo and design applications are their bread and butter. That's why they have the special photo bundle/pricing. In a sense, we're experiencing collateral damage from a company that has lost its way with its core products. I'm rooting for Afinity to eat their lunch and bring them back to earth.

https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/about/

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David Lawrence
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Andrew Kimery
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:42:08 am

[Steve Connor] "Adobe's Perpetual license costs weren't being driven down before they decide to go subscription only, it was probably because not enough people were upgrading regularly enough which may or not be the same thing I suppose."

All companies face multifaceted problems and certainly Adobe becoming it's own biggest competitor was one of theres. I think they also saw the downward trend of software prices but didn't want to get crushed in a race to the bottom scenario. Subscription kills two birds with one stone. You can lower the financial barrier to entry while avoiding discounting yourself out of businesses.

[David Lawrence] "And the way to get people to upgrade regularly is to offer upgrades that are worth upgrading to."

Unfortunately there is no uniform answer as to what is worthwhile upgrade. Ask 10 different people to make a Top 3 upgrades wish list and you'll get 10 different lists. If a company focuses on new features some segment of the user base will bash them for ignoring long standing issues and overall performance for the sake of some useless bells and whistles only fit for a marketing handout, while on the other hand if the company focuses on addressing long standing issues and overall performance another segment of the user base will bash them for not rolling out new features and just fixing things that shouldn't have been broken in the first place.

Coming back to Walter's OP, even for new, innovative apps on mobile devices people are having a very hard time making money from them because of the devaluing of software. The devaluing of IP in general has been happening over the last 15-20 years but that's a whole other thread.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:07:36 am

[David Lawrence] "True. And the way to get people to upgrade regularly is to offer upgrades that are worth upgrading to. Customers will pay for innovation and value."

It's part of my point that customers aren't willing to pay what it costs to deliver innovation and value, because the value of software has become distorted.

Also, I question how well customers are measuring value. Some of the best features added to After Effects since CC are BORING to talk about, but are truly useful every day. The shiniest features added to After Effects that demo well and are impressive to new users were worthless for every day use.

As a software user, I like that subscription makes keeping me worth just as much to the developer as attracting a new customer. That means that making the application work better for everyday users is now at least as important as adding a shiny new feature that looks good in a demo.


[David Lawrence] "In Adobe's case, innovation in the Production Suite applications has been remarkably deep. Innovation with Photoshop and Illustrator not so much. We're a relatively small market but the photo and design applications are their bread and butter."

Actually, the Photoshop team has been pretty busy since CS6!

CC:
https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/whats-new-cc.html

CC 2014:
https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/whats-new.html

The Illustrator team has a shorter list of features to show, but a lot of the work they're doing seems to be foundational (read: slow to develop with big payoff over time):

https://helpx.adobe.com/illustrator/using/whats-new.html



[David Lawrence] " In a sense, we're experiencing collateral damage from a company that has lost its way with its core products. I'm rooting for Afinity to eat their lunch and bring them back to earth."

I hear what you're saying. I use Photoshop a lot (including many of those new CC/CC2014 features you might be unaware of assuming you're still on CS6), and there are things that frustrate me about Photoshop: too many modal dialogs, too many destructive (sorry) workflows, too long workarounds to make them non-destructive, not enough focus on immediacy and interactivity, too-limited masking system... and I could go on.

However, to fix many these things requires blowing up the application, really changing the user experience -- think Photoshop X.

Reimagining Ps's legacy (not necessarily a bad word) data models and behaviors would devalue the skills and familiarity that its core users have built up over the last two decades, and would break advanced workflows based on scripts or plugins. While you might interpret slow movement in this area as Adobe taking their customers for granted, I interpret it as respecting their customers' production needs.

Keeping all that stuff working from one version to the next is hard work, but that stability -- think Photoshop as a platform, not an application -- is critical for users and I think is an important element of Photoshop's success.

I don't mean to disparage Affinity, and I think that serious competition in the design space is overdue, but honestly, I question how $50 can possibly be a sustainable price point for enterprise-grade creative software.

Walter Soyka
Designer & Mad Scientist at Keen Live [link]
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
@keenlive [twitter]   |   RenderBreak [blog]   |   Profile [LinkedIn]


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Gary Huff
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:40:53 am

[Walter Soyka] "I don't mean to disparage Affinity, and I think that serious competition in the design space is overdue, but honestly, I question how $50 can possibly be a sustainable price point for enterprise-grade creative software."

Completely agree.


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 29, 2015 at 3:28:07 pm

Great article. It raises very salient points.

[Walter Soyka] "It's part of my point that customers aren't willing to pay what it costs to deliver innovation and value, because the value of software has become distorted.
"


Distorted is one way to put it. It is true that Apple has built a store, and the value of "apps" and therefore the value of developers is seen in that light. We do have to remember that Apple doesn't set the prices.

And it is true that Apple suggests a lot of people to become a "Developer" and Apple is writing their own programming language to make it more accessible, and that situation, if you skew towards the cynical, does nothing but self serve Apple since all of the new developers will have to buy new apple products to test their new code and apps.

On the other hand, there's a lot of work that Apple has done there, and does represent opportunity for a developer.

I think that developers, perhaps, rely on Apple putting them in the "top 25" a little too much, according to this article. If you look at Apple as retailer, and the developers as a wholesaler or producer (and granted, this analogy isn't perfect), you don't get mad at the big box retailer for not advertising your product on the coupons list all of the time. You, as a product maker, have to raise awareness (advertise) the product, so that ideally, the customer knows your product before they enter the store. The App Store, and front facing content or retailer devices like it, carry an absolutely dizzying amount of material. Browsing the aisles and looking at products isn't as easy as it is irl (meaning it's hard to sometimes get a bird's eye view), and you can't try a product and return it. So as a developer, are you relying on the AppStore to do your marketing as well? Is that "fair"? Apple already handles the transactions, provides the marketplace (and takes the retail cut), so how much responsibility do they have to be the marketer? Although, fixing the search engine should certainly be top of list (using the Twitterific example).

We have also spoken about user interface of online "stores" (or channels) in other threads. The iTunes store, App Store, Google Play store, Netflix, YouTube, I think all suffer from interface foibles of some sort. I don't think the right interface has been invented yet, either. It's going to take some time to figure it out.

Now, the ability to monetizing your current customer base, yes. That seems to be a shortfall of the current app store model.

Ironically, the App Store does have subscription payment as an option. I have no idea if you can apply the subscription model to a software service, perhaps it's impossible as feature updates would have to be 'subscribable' and bug fixes free, however there isn't a clear yes or no here:

https://developer.apple.com/in-app-purchase/In-App-Purchase-Guidelines.pdf

Then there's the side that people simply don't download mobile apps that much. I don't think that has much to do with price (article)

Jeremy


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Aindreas Gallagher
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 29, 2015 at 8:39:19 pm

Not that I know what I'm talking about really - but it's an interesting conversation so what the hoo... but isn't this all so utterly unrecognisable from the situation pre the iphone?

The first thing I remember buying was ram doubler for OS7 - and I may have bootlegged a bit in my time too - but the idea that around a billion people would be perusing software additions for wireless download as a hobby on a daily basis would have sounded like total madness even ten years ago. One way or another software looks like shiny little smarties for 95% of the people who encounter the idea of commercial software today.
What's not clear to me is if this has despoiled the previous dark ages natural market of people like us generally accustomed to the notion of a fairly serious software purchase?

As in I get that people trying to sell software for something more than 99 cents are having issues in the mac app store - but in a parallel universe without the iOS store that begat the playstore and the windows store and the mac appstore, in the absence of those, would the vast majority of the people currently at it be still somehow attempting to enter software authorship in the first place? Isn't this the same old stuff of the removal of scarcity that's going on in print voice music media in general?

I thought marco arment's breakdown of the profit cycle on overcast was really interesting and brilliant of him to have done - ditto for the guy who showed how it played out for him advertising his blogging tool on daring fireball - they both made good cash - but given the barrier for entry is now close to zero, the chance of being totally ignored has shot up like a sky rocket at the same time?

http://vimeo.com/user1590967/videos http://www.ogallchoir.net promo producer/editor.grading/motion graphics


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Gary Huff
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:10:14 pm

[Aindreas Gallagher] "The first thing I remember buying was ram doubler for OS7 - and I may have bootlegged a bit in my time too"

I would have bootlegged too if my first software purchase was a RAM doubler! :-D


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Critical Sharks IV: Fear of Apple
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:30:29 pm

[Aindreas Gallagher] "but given the barrier for entry is now close to zero, the chance of being totally ignored has shot up like a sky rocket at the same time?"

Sure. The other side is that a no name could sky rocket in popularity, thus defining technology of today.


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