Topic: App Store
As is often the case, various details are dribbling out today about the many announcements Apple made yesterday, so here’s a quick roundup. Firstly, CNBC reports that Apple quietly hiked iPad Pro prices by $50 yesterday without making any changes to the hardware – that’s likely because flash memory prices have been rising dramatically recently, putting pressure on both smartphone and PC makers (but driving Samsung’s highest ever profits).
Secondly, MacRumors reports that the new desktop version of iTunes drops the iOS App Store entirely, meaning it’s now just for buying and consuming content that can actually be used on a Mac or PC, further untethering the iPhone from the computer. I would guess very few purchases were made this way in recent years anyway given how many people likely sync and backup to iCloud.
Thirdly, the Wall Street Journal confirms a detail I pointed to during yesterday’s keynote: Disney is a holdout from the 4K movies that will be available through the iTunes Store, likely because it wouldn’t go along with the pricing Apple wanted. In the end, there was no clean answer on the pricing question I posed in my earlier piece on the negotiations: Apple won with some studios and lost with others, notably Disney, but they may still come around eventually.
Fourth, MacRumors confirms a rumor that wasn’t confirmed on stage yesterday – the new iPhones will support fast charging if charged with MacBook rather than iPhone power adapters, charging to 50% in half an hour, which will be a nice bonus for those that own MBP chargers but won’t affect most others (I find that an iPad charger already generally does a pretty good job with faster charging).
Lastly, Business Insider reports on Apple Watch LTE battery life, which is one hour for calls or four hours for exercising using the GPS and LTE while untethered from an iPhone. That should be perfectly adequate for the most likely use cases, which are exercising without an iPhone or taking the odd call while the phone is out of range while at home, for example. The Watch with LTE certainly isn’t intended to be used all day without a phone, and battery life certainly won;’t support that use case.
I’m seeing this change generally being reported as a clarification (including in the piece I link to here) but this is a change from the original wording here, which explicitly said the cut in affiliate fees announced a couple of weeks ago applied to both “app and in-app content” and didn’t include apps in the list of content types to which the change would not apply. Unless that was just really terrible wording, it does seem as though there has been a change in policy here. Applying the change just to in-app purchases again makes me wonder whether there might be some change to Apple’s cut of App Store revenue in this category, announced at WWDC in a few weeks. We don’t know quite how much of Apple’s App Store revenue comes from IAP, but games dominate total revenues, and IAP is the dominant model for games, so there’s a good chance that it’s 30% or more. As such, any cut to Apple’s share of revenues would dent overall App Store growth and Apple’s ambitions to double its overall Services revenues over four years from 2016 to 2020. So I’m somewhat skeptical, but changing the cut for IAPs would certainly go a long way to addressing the long-standing complaint from content companies like Spotify that Apple takes too much of their fees, given that those are charged through IAPs. And it would potentially open the door to Amazon’s arrival on the Apple TV too.
Apple Provides Better Source Insights to App Developers (May 4, 2017)
Apple has been criticized for not giving developers good enough insights on how their apps perform and especially for not allowing developers to know where new users come from. That’s now changing with an update to Apple’s analytics platform for developers, which will be particularly useful in light of the paid ads which now run in Apple’s App Store search function. Developers need to know whether those ads are being effective in gaining new users and downloads, and how they measure up relative to other lead generation methods. The incremental steps Apple has taken to expand the range of business models open to developers, to share more of the revenue with those developers, and to improve analytics over the past couple of years are all checking important boxes in the wish lists of developers and cementing the status of iOS as the platform to develop for, despite Android’s larger user numbers.
I noted this change myself this morning as I’m part of the affiliate program at Apple (we’ve very occasionally linked to the App Store and iTunes Store from the Beyond Devices Podcast site). The change affects app and in-app purchases, and represents both a short notice and significant reduction to the commissions affiliates have been paid in the past, without any kind of explanation or justification from Apple. There are several possible explanations: Apple could be adjusting this cut downward ahead of a reduction in its cut on apps and in-app purchases to be announced at WWDC in just over a month; it could have decided that too many companies are gaming the system, e.g. by linking to their own apps on the store and taking a bigger cut; it may have decided that it would rather foster better discoverability on the App Store than have third parties do it; or it could be something else entirely. Hopefully the other shoe will drop at WWDC – whether in the way I’ve suggested above or in some other way – but it’s entirely possible that we’ll never know. This isn’t a great signal to send people trying to build a business around the App Store, though, because it suggests capriciousness and unpredictability. And especially because it hurts those businesses which – like Apple – have eschewed advertising as a business model largely or entirely because of the tradeoffs it entails.
Apple’s App Store Gets a Makeover – Bloomberg (Mar 21, 2017)
The headline makes it sound like there are changes coming to the App Store, but this story is really about all the changes that have already happened on the App Store since Phil Schiller took it over from Eddy Cue a little over a year ago. One of the notable things in the story is the impact that better analytics have had, and how that’s made it easier for more dynamic developers to update their apps more frequently in response to user behavior. More generally, though, the article suggests that big strides have been made in the way the App Store runs from a developer perspective, which is a story that hasn’t been told much. It’s been subtle, and if you’re just a user you might not be aware of most of these changes, but better experiences for developers make for better end user experiences too. I know there are still lots of developers, especially Mac-centric developers, who have complaints they feel have gone unheeded, but Apple has at least made some progress in fixing big pain points on the iOS side.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a claim like this – Apple has been hinting at dropping apps that haven’t made the switch to 64-bit from the App Store for quite some time. While it’s good to get some sense of how many apps might be affected – Sensor Tower says 8% or 187,000 apps – what’s missing from this analysis is whether any of those apps are actually ones people care about or use today. My guess is that there are very few apps in the App Store which haven’t been updated in years and still see significant usage – I can only think of one app I use today which would fall into this category, and that’s because it’s been superseded by a new version which dropped some features I use. So even though the number here sounds dramatic, my guess is that dropping these apps in iOS 11 – if that is indeed what’s going to happen – will have minimal negative impact on users, and potentially remove some dead wood from the App Store in the process.
Making More Outside The Mac App Store – Rogue Amoeba (Feb 10, 2017)
Some interesting data points here from Rogue Amoeba, one of the medium-sized Mac app developers which has recently pulled the last of its apps from the official Mac App Store, and has seen roughly similar unit sales and slightly higher total revenues as a result. Although the iOS App Store continues to be the only way to get apps onto an iPhone or iPad, that’s not the case with the Mac, and frustrations over sandboxing, limited business model options, and the lack of formal upgrade mechanisms among other things have driven a number of prominent developers to eschew the MAS for direct sales. It continues to be fascinating how Apple’s approach to the Mac App Store has been so much less successful, in part due to the longstanding existence of alternatives, but in part also due to Apple’s inflexibility and lack of support for key developer requests. For all Apple’s strength and success with developers broadly, its Mac developer story is a lot less compelling.
via Rogue Amoeba
App downloads up 15 percent in 2016, revenue up 40 percent thanks to China – TechCrunch (Jan 17, 2017)
Two things are worth noting about all the data presented here: firstly, apps are still growing massively, putting the lie to the idea that native mobile apps are somehow dead, to be replaced by some combination of better web apps, bots, or something else. The number of apps being downloaded is growing rapidly each year rather than stagnating or slowing down. The second point is that there continues to be a massive disparity between usage and spending when it comes to Android and iOS. See the first and fourth charts in this article – the first shows massively more Android apps downloaded than iOS apps, while the fourth shows double the spending on those iOS apps relative to Android. It continues to be far more profitable for developers to make apps for iOS, even with a smaller user base and far fewer apps downloaded. That, in turn, seems likely to reinforce the pattern that the vasty majority of big new apps get launched on iOS first, and Android second (if ever). That continues to be one of Apple’s big ecosystem advantages.
China Orders Registration of App Stores – NYTimes (Jan 14, 2017)
In and of itself, this new move by the Chinese government can be seen as relatively innocuous – the regulation is vague, and ostensibly motivated by policing the plethora of alternative app stores that exists in a market where the official Google Play store is unavailable. However, in the context of the recent request to remove the NY Times app from the App Store in China, this definitely has more sinister undertones. Having policed the web for years, China now appears to be trying to find ways to police the app stores as well, as a way to block access to content critical of the regime. This could end up getting very ugly for Apple in particular if it carries on.
This has always struck me as one of the more implausible legal challenges to Apple, and it fended off the first round through a technicality. Now, however, a higher court has overruled the technical objection and the case can proceed on its merits. I would still think it was a long shot that Apple could be successfully sued for monopolizing app storefronts for its own devices, but you never know. One more Apple lawsuit to keep an eye on.
Russia Requires Apple and Google to Remove LinkedIn From Local App Stores – The New York Times (Jan 6, 2017)
This comes hot on the heels of the Chinese New York Times app story earlier in the week, and there’s a danger of this becoming a trend. Apple and Google both tend to comply with local laws when it comes to this kind of thing, and that’s certainly a reasonable defense. But if oppressive regimes start to use the major app stores as a way to block content they don’t like, Apple and Google are going to find themselves on the receiving end of attacks from lots of civil liberties groups.
The numbers in this article, which appear to come straight from Apple, are fairly impressive – half of those who click on an ad in the App Store end up downloading the app. That’s measuring conversion rate differently from the usual method, which would be downloads / impressions, rather than clicks, but it’s still high. And the average cost is low too – 50 per click, and $1 per install, much lower than, say, Facebook. Advertising is never going to be a significant chunk of Apple’s revenue, but this could turn into a nice little revenue stream over time, and it has a lot in common with Google’s search advertising, combining timeliness and relevance.
App Store Shatters Records on New Year’s Day – Apple (Jan 5, 2017)
These new numbers from Apple reinforce the sense that Service revenues, driven largely by the App Store, continue to be the company’s most consistent growth driver. Payments to developers were up 40% on 2015, for a total of $20 billion, while subscription billings alone were up 74% to $2.7 billion, or almost 10% of the total. That 40% year on year growth rate is fairly consistent over the past year or two, as the rise of IAP accelerated growth above levels in 2012-2013. All of this also reinforces Apple’s argument to Wall Street that Services will grow even as device sales falter.