Opinion: Apple must placate angry developers – or slide towards obscurity

Introduction and searching issues

The words ‘Apple’ and ‘developer problems’ are not often used together. Ever since the App Store debuted in 2008, Apple has had strong developer ties, handing over cheques for billions of dollars per quarter in exchange for best-in-class apps on their iOS and OS X devices.

‘iOS First,’ the idea that apps are made for iOS before Android, has become a common mantra amongst developers who believe that Apple’s control of its ecosystem – there are, at any one time, only a handful of device permutations to develop for – create a better place to work and try out ideas. Numerous hit apps, from Angry Birds to Instagram, started out their life as iPhone-only, using the App Store to propel them to multi-billion dollar success.

Wrath of the developers

But increasingly developers have started to get angry with Apple. The company’s iOS app review process causes much controversy, taking weeks to get a single, critical update into the hands of users, creating a rift not just between Apple and developers, but developers and users who have to endure potentially bug-ridden software for a long time before a fix is made available.

The App Store, on both iOS and Mac, has undoubtedly been a force for good, spawning many, many businesses and providing a way for a small-time developer to reach millions of customers. But the niggles hold it back from being a truly flourishing relationship.

Google recently unveiled a new app review process that incorporated humans for the first time but, critically, does not force developers to wait weeks for the app to either be accepted or rejected. By using algorithms to flag potential issues – bad code, copyrighted or offensive material – Google’s testers only have to focus on the ‘bad’ apps, rather than wasting time approving the good ones.

Due to the market dynamics of Android and iOS, it’s unlikely that vast swathes of developers are going to switch overnight, but it does make the grass on the other side seem a little greener and more appealing, a potentially vast problem for Apple.

Searching woes

Beyond the review process, App Store discovery has been described as “broken,” or words to that effect, too many times to count. Searching for apps can yield strange results with some developers deliberately adding popular app names to their app name. Searching for Skype, for example, produces a result for a picture enhancement app, something that is totally unrelated to video calls.

Despite acquiring Chomp back in 2012, search and discovery in the App Store is still perennially flawed. Many independent developers not backed by big studios find it hard to get their app out there, usually via a spot on the ‘Featured’ page which is controlled by Apple. This may seem like a small issue, but Apple should be incredibly wary of how developers see the company – iOS is, in part, great because of its strong and rich app ecosystem, and alienating developers certainly won’t help the operating system.

Hardware neglect

One of the more recent issues on Apple’s list of worries was discovered by developer Craig Hockenberry, the creator of Twitterrific, the first third-party Twitter app. In a saltily entitled blog post, Hockenberry shone a light on a system process that has bugged many OS X users called “discoveryd”.

The process isn’t new, in fact it’s been a problem that has persisted for many users for months and yet Apple has done nothing about it. Hockenberry describes how he provided “tons of documentation to Apple engineering” when he first discovered “discoveryd” in the Yosemite beta, back in early 2015, and yet Cupertino still went ahead and shipped the finished version of the operating system with the same problem.

Alienating developers in this way adds absolutely nothing to Apple’s credibility, and could cause long lasting damage in terms of the firm’s relationship with these important people. The resurgence of Microsoft could be enough to lure developers away, especially considering the exciting ways in which Windows 10 can be used across multiple devices. Google also benefits from iOS developer apathy, providing a clear alternative to the App Store, albeit a less economically viable one.

Pushing devs into the arms of competitors seems an absolutely idiotic move from Apple’s perspective and it’s unclear why steps haven’t been taken to remedy the situation.


High-end neglect

In some ways, it isn’t just software that Apple has neglected. The Mac Pro, the device for the high-end user, was neglected for over three years before receiving an update in 2013. Since 2013, very little has changed and there have been a conspicuous lack of rumours about an update for 2015.

Of course, there is still the iMac, a machine which can be tuned up to Mac Pro-style performance and comes with a screen, but the lack of care for high-end users seems to be a symbolic issue for Apple, representative of the company’s changing style as it goes forward. It’s impossible to force Cupertino into catering for a particular market – especially one as niche as £2,500 ($3,000 in the US, which is around AU$3,750) and up desktops – but Apple as a company was built on a foundation of “the high-end” and ignoring those users seems like bad business.

Slippery slope

While it’s unlikely that Apple is facing a coup right now, if the problems do not get solved quickly then the company could be in serious trouble. iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 are both coming up this summer and could provide fixes to these issues, but equally, Apple could choose to ignore the complaints and carry on regardless.

The quality of iOS and OS X updates has been the focus of much scrutiny lately with some speculating that in order to push out more features – including a complete redesign in iOS 7 – Apple has sacrificed quality, allowing obvious and annoying bugs into the final versions of the operating systems.

Catering to hundreds of millions of users is hard, but Apple is the biggest company on Earth, and it seems contemptuous of its user base to ignore issues that have a direct impact on products and, ultimately, how the company is perceived. Ignoring users is a slippery slope and we could just be witnessing the beginning of the end, as those who are most committed to the ecosystem are alienated.