Dear Apple, Why is your App Store such a mess?

Is it scale, neglect or — as the latest lawsuit alleges — greed?

From a complaint filed Wednesday by the creator of FlickType — No. 1 on the U.S. paid App Store for three days in Feb. 2020:

Apple entices software application developers like Plaintiff to develop innovative applications with the promise of a fair and secure ‌App Store‌ in which to sell them. In truth, Apple systematically flexes its monopoly muscle against potential competition through the ‌App Store‌ and profits from rampant fraudulent practices. If Apple cannot buy a desired application from a developer on the cheap, Apple attempts to crush that developer through exploitive fees and selective application of opaque and unreasonable constraints against the developer.

At the same time, Apple permits other developers that Apple does not view as real competition, including scam competitors, to peddle similar, inferior products because Apple profits from their sales. Scammers oftentimes use screenshots and videos taken from legitimate developer’s applications and manipulate their ratings. Apple does little to police these practices because it profits from them. Apple then lies to its regulators by asserting that it must maintain its monopoly power over the sale of Apple-related applications to protect consumers, when, in fact, Apple lets them get ripped off and exploits the developers trying to deliver innovation to consumers.

Despite possessing massive resources and technological savvy, Apple intentionally fails to police these fraudsters, costing honest developers millions, and perhaps billions, while Apple continues to amass huge profits for itself. Apple holds both its device users and developers hostage. Yet each time it faces antitrust claims, Apple justifies its monopoly by claiming it is necessary to protect its users and developers from unscrupulous conduct and ensure a fair competitive marketplace for the benefit of both. In truth, Apple turns a blind eye to rampant fraud and exploitation to make an easy profit.”

My take: It can’t be easy managing an ever-shifting marketplace of 1.96 million apps, but you’d think that Apple would be up to the task. There is no mention of the App Store on the company’s leadership page, but this sure looks like another Eddy Cue operation.

CORRECTION: Neil Cybart points out on Twitter that Phil Schiller is responsible for the App Store. My bad. I thought Schiller had stepped down.

25 Comments

  1. David Emery said:
    Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    But it seems to me the app developers can’t have it both ways. They can’t argue for hosting and curating, and then not expect that to come with costs and delays.

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    March 18, 2021
    • Rodney Avilla said:
      “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

      Great saying, but I can’t help but wonder how many of the issues is due to the malice of developers trying to ‘break the rules’ by ignoring them, trying to skirt around them, applying their own interpretations, or, as in one developer, violating the rules intentionally and with fanfare. And then claiming to be the victim.

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      March 18, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    The Flicktype App has a 3.2 rating on the App Store.

    Shall we believe that Apple also tricked users into giving them mediocre reviews as part of Apple’s evil empire anti-competitive ploy to dominate the world?

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    March 18, 2021
  3. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Quote from the first paragraph —

    “In truth, Apple systematically flexes its monopoly muscle against potential competition through the ‌App Store‌ and profits from rampant fraudulent practices. If Apple cannot buy a desired application from a developer on the cheap, Apple attempts to crush that developer through exploitive fees and selective application of opaque and unreasonable constraints against the developer.”

    A rather potent proclamation, no?

    “Complaint” it is. Prove it — and is that in any way the REAL problem?

    As PED notes, the operational problem Apple deals with compounded by this vast ocean of apps would naturally somehow conjure up outcries of “unfairness”.

    Is it a matter of “I was wronged, wasn’t I?” with complainers trying to redefine fairness or is Apple just haplessly swamped with a “herding of the cats” syndrome where everyone eventually acquires a personal malaise?

    Where’s my million, Apple?

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    March 18, 2021
  4. Phil Service said:
    Whine, whine. Suppose the App Store went away and everybody could buy and install iOS apps directly from developers. It’s hard to see how that would solve many of the issues raised here. Instead of a poorly (in some cases) curated App Store, we’d have a completely uncurated marketplace. Except for saving developers the cut they pay to Apple, it’s not clear they’d be better off — and might, in many cases, be worse off. That’s not to say the App Store is perfect, but jeez.

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    March 18, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      That is exactly how the marketplace worked before the App Store. People couldn’t find apps (dispersal issue) and those found were just as likely to not work on your OS version, or be a vehicle for malware. Certainly mobile app developers were (b)NOT(/b) making millions on their efforts.

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      March 18, 2021
  5. Thomas Larkin said:
    Maybe an app’s initial popularity indicates only that some liked the developer’s solution, but many other app buyers feel there are better apps from others – so, an initial surge, then trickling down from there, a common cycle in business with new products; that’s likely not the result of anything Apple is doing. As Mr. Emory stated above, a legal complaint is always a one-sided story and there are few penalties (in the real world) for asserting ‘bovine effluent’ in a Complaint. Unfortunately, so many ‘journalists,’ in the Tech world in particular fail to address that reality, which is common knowledge in the legal community.

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    March 18, 2021
  6. Aaron Belich said:
    You guys are in the wrong here and your comments suggest you didn’t read the filed complaint beyond the opening paragraphs or haven’t followed this before last months tweet-storm.

    A developer is doing what they can with the tools they have available. Apple is not doing a good job keeping predatory crap off the App Store. They haven’t been for years, otherwise these stories would go nowhere and the basis for the lawsuit would be thrown out on day one. The App Store needs a cleansing, and it shouldn’t take social media blowups to make it happen after months of egregious activity occurring.

    This isn’t some spring chicken trying to grift Apple and AppleID’s. He’s been around developing keyboard tech for smartphones for a long time. He has merits, though some will be hard to prove in court without records to back up his noted conversations with internal higher ups within Apple.

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    March 18, 2021
    • Thomas Larkin said:
      Aren’t you reaching a conclusion before hearing Apple’s side of the story (rhetorical question)? If I may ask, in your view, what’s a reasonable charge by Apple for that curation?

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      March 18, 2021
      • Aaron Belich said:
        Apple is taking 30% (less obviously if the dev meets the small business requirements). That’s one of his points. If Apple is going to take a cut and provide a “curated” store, then they should be keeping the store free of bad actors and predatory applications.

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        March 18, 2021
    • John Konopka said:
      Agree with Aaron. I’ve been following this story and it sounds like Apple is not putting enough effort into curation. It is too easy for scam apps to piggyback on honest developers.

      As an outsider and not a developer I can only guess what is going on. My guess is that the App Store just appeared as an idea a decade or so ago and has grown really fast and Apple has not done enough to really make it great. They probably have just managed it in the sense that every time there is a problem they put a bandaid on it. The problems that affect developers don’t affect Apple so they don’t get fixed. I would like to see a SVP in charge of the App Store. Their mission statement would include policing the store and making it a great place for both developers and customers. The App Store is a huge asset for all of us. Apple should give it more independence and make it excellent.

      Developers should have transparency, consistency and recourse to appeal. Customers should have great search tools. Right now the simple search provided is way too primitive.

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      March 18, 2021
      • Thomas Larkin said:
        And do we get to hear from any of those other developers before drawing conclusions about their apps, and whether Apple should ‘curate’ them out of business? No matter what Apple does, someone will complain about it. And what in your view should developers pay (i.e., what’s a reasonable charge) given these developers are, also, using Apple’s software to run their apps on? Particularly, what should Apple be able to charge if it curated to the level you think it should?

        My problem is simply with the ongoing failure to recognize and acknowledge that a complaint is generally a one-sided story, and speculation based on a on-sided story doesn’t result in a basis for a reasoned opinion.

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        March 18, 2021
    • Rodney Avilla said:
      “not doing a good job keeping predatory crap off the App Store”

      Thanks for adding some balance to the discussion. I believe the main problem Apple is facing is what is an accurate definition of ‘predatory crap’. I’m sure some are quite obvious, my guess is many are not. And what is predatory to one person may be legitimate competition to someone else. Apple cannot afford to be accused of favoring one developer over another. I’m sure Apple would prefer for the market place to decide what app succeeds. They do need to make sure that those who play, play fair.

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      March 18, 2021
  7. Duane Bemister said:
    We have an iPad app called CREATEit A search for the word create will not find it on the App Store.
    It is free and does not track or advertise. We also have a macOS version, CREATEit Pro

    2
    March 18, 2021
    • Rodney Avilla said:
      The first question that come to mind, is why is it not on the app store?
      The second question is, does PED charge for advertising new apps?

      1
      March 18, 2021
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        @ PED —

        Don’t worry.

        Apparently they won’t be able to find it.

        😉

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        March 18, 2021

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