Guest Posts, Mobile, Social Media Tools

Is It Curtains for the App Store?

Guest post by Bob Dennis, freelance Web designer with experience in everything from audio production to social networking.

After two-and-a-half years, iPhone app developers are getting fed up with Apple’s lengthy and often inconsistent approval process. Also, $0.30 may not seem like much, but the fact that Apple is taking 30% of all app profits has stirred some unrest. “The approval process for apps is a black hole,” says Tom Conlon of Popular Science. It’s difficult to get apps through, and then any updates and fixes take another 3 weeks. “They really need to sort this process out or they are going to end up losing developers to other platforms, which make it a lot easier to get an application approved and have more transparent processes,” explains Roland Hutchinson of Geeky Gadgets.

Death to the App Store via HTML 5

Some have begun bypassing the App Store entirely with HTML5. As mobile browsers become more powerful, Google and its partners decided to do things their own way. After Google Voice and its third-party apps were turned down by Apple due to “it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc),” Google built a completely browser-based app, avoiding the restrictions and not having to split the profits.

(You know what’s not a good idea? Pissing off Google.)

Web 2.0 introduced an application-geared Internet. Programs can be run completely online. Advances in browsers and especially HTML5 have sped this along by allowing these apps to be used offline as well. These Web-based “apps” can then be bookmarked on the iphone and run like a normal iphone app.

This is a big deal. Developers can completely bypass Apple’s money-grubbing, dictatorial policies. If you had a chance to increase your profits instantly by 30%, wouldn’t you?

Wil Stephens, CEO of Cube Interactive, shared in his review of Google’s Nexus One, “First up, I don’t really care much for apps. I believe the mobile Web will eventually win, and that apps are here as a transitionary measure until we can sort out browsers that are good enough to emulate the Web experience on mobile.” It’s only fitting to see smartphone apps mature the same way desktop apps have in the past 5 years, by going Web. With Google’s Chrome OS on the horizon, it seems the forecast is for everything to happen in the cloud, not via device-specific apps.

Speedy, Powerful, Easy-to-Code Apps in the Browser

Mozilla may have the tool to bring down the App Store: Fennec. This mobile version of Firefox is supposed to provide the fastest JavaScript experience for smartphones, also removing the barrier of coding for the various mobile platforms. In an interview with PC Pro, mobile Mozilla’s vice president Jay Sullivan explained, “Anyone who knows JavaScript and HTML can develop a great app without having to learn a specific mobile platform,” cutting costs and greatly simplifying the process.

Still, the power of mobile browsers might be exaggerated, and some apps really need the “bells and whistles” of 3-D graphics or full hardware interfacing. Raven Zachery, project director for the Obama Presidential Campaign app and founder of SmallSociety, defends native applications. “The mainstream gaming market will always be native. HTML 6 or 7 isn’t going to solve that problem… [because those games require] direct access to hardware. Gaming drives a large percentage of native app revenue.”

But, with an easier way to deliver custom content, receive full profits, get instant results, and even an opportunity to provide subscription apps instead of one-time purchases—will developers still stick with the mold Apple has pioneered, or will they break out of the box?

(iphone photo by merfam)

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  1. says

    I couldn't agree more Bob. I've always seen mobile apps as a transitional platform, eventually decreasing in volume and viability once the mobile web speeds up and browsers get more powerful. That being said, the “transition” will likely go on for some time, meaning there's still quite a bit of business to be had and money to be made in mobile apps.

  2. says

    You should take a look at the “Apple App Store Economy” chart which boils down a lot of the relevant numbers here ( But, in short, here is where this notion that the App Store is going off the rails is pretty baseless:
    — 280 million apps were downloaded from the App Store in December alone, generating $250 million in revenue. (I wonder how much web apps produced in the same month?)
    — Apple may take a 30% cut, but conversely developers KEEP 70%. In December, that meant $175 million in revenue to developers.

    Give me a scenario for web apps that competes with the profit motive of developing for the app store AND is a one stop, one authentication, one click purchase for the end consumer. Oh, and consider that the vast majority of the country does not have consistent high speed mobile web access yet (not even San Fran), so these web apps will also be slow and/or unavailable at certain times or in certain places where signal is low.

    I don't disagree that web apps may be the future, but given how many kinks need to be worked out (infrastructure for one) it simply is not ready for prime time.

  3. says

    While web apps may surpass native apps in the coming years, calling curtains on the respective app stores is way too premature. The transition is off in the distance, but certainly not on the horizon.

    The decision to go with a web or native app comes down to what makes the most sense for the business so there is no right answer to this one.

    A few things that will keep the app stores humming along for awhile:

    *The lack of high speed mobile access is a key impediment to the transition and I don’t see that changing in the near-term for the vast majority of users.

    *Caching content in the app provides for an experience that is both faster and more visually engaging.

    *The app store approval process complaints are greatly exaggerated. After spending months developing an app, a few days in the approval queue isn’t a big deal.

    *Device optimization for the various browsers is almost as inconvenient as the app stores. This will change over time, but still represents a near-term hurdle.

    *App stores make it exponentially more efficient to monetize apps.

    *It’s generally easier for marketers to garner excitement for a native app, though this will change over time.

    *Discovery of web apps is much more difficult for the end user. While I certainly wouldn’t categorize the app stores as discovery tools (they are distribution tools), they do provide a central location to review apps during the purchase/download decision process.

  4. John Oliver says

    This post has stirred up quite a few emotions in me… I honestly don't know where to begin. I'd like to apologize beforehand for what will likely appear to be a lack of focus.

    1. From what I gather, Mr. Dennis is a html-centric web designer. The ModernaDesign website makes no mention of App development as a service. This makes me wonder if Bob has any firsthand experience developing mobile, native apps.

    2. If you look back, Apple actually supported the idea of browser-based apps before the App Store came into existence. It was CONSUMERS and DEVELOPERS that pushed for a SDK… not Apple trying to shove this down their throats.

    3. I'm not saying I necessarily believe everything corporate America tells me, but Apple has indicated that the App Store is essentially a break-even proposition. Between hosting and implementation, there is no doubt that there are substanial costs involved. How many developers have the liquidity to host their own software? So many of my favorite apps are from developers with a laptop and kitchen table.

    There is quite a bit more running through my head at the moment, but this hits on my primary qualms with this posting.

  5. says

    Great summary of the numbers Thanks for that link!

    The beauty of the current changes is that mobile browsers will be able to run the apps offline, taking advantage of HTML5's appcache.

    A major setback would definitely be losing the centralization of the app store, but developers are pro at monetizing. Everything.

  6. says

    Good introduction to HTML 5 and its benefits versus a web app. While I do think its a bit premature to declare doom for Apple I would agree that the new platform opens a whole new world of possibility. Especially for an on-demand iPhone experience that doesnt require searching for the app and downloading it prior to using it. Thats convenience!

    What I found most interesting is the continued shift in the perception of the Apple brand. It use to be that Apple was the scrappy underdog and white knight to Microsoft's evil empire. More and more I'm seeing sentiments like: 'Developers can completely bypass Apple’s money-grubbing, dictatorial policies.”

    Is that due to the natural progression of success (all big companies are eventually vilified) or a fundamental shift in Apple's brand promise as ultra hip and very convenient?

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