Apple Starts to Woo Its App Developers


Apple also said that it would cut its usual 30 percent commission on all subscriptions to 15 percent after an app subscriber had been active for at least a year.

“That’s the right thing to do for developers,” said Bob Bowman, president of business and media at Major League Baseball, which makes one of the most popular subscription apps, MLB.com At Bat, for live-streaming baseball games.

Big outfits like Major League Baseball have always been treated well by Apple. The league had an app ready at the 2008 unveiling of the App Store, and Mr. Bowman said he talked regularly with Mr. Schiller and Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services.

Smaller developers tend to have less satisfying experiences. Loni Schuman, a 23-year-old entrepreneur in Israel, was frustrated by the process of getting her app, Fanify, approved.

Fanify allows musicians to live-stream concerts, with viewers dropping tips into a virtual jar to compensate them — “like a street artist, but in an app,” as Ms. Schuman put it. She planned a June 1 release and had several artists lined up to promote the app during its first few days. She submitted the app for approval 10 days ahead of time to allow plenty of time for review.

Photo

Craig Tashman demonstrates the technology of his company, LiquidText.

Credit
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Apple’s initial response was quick, but Fanify ended up in an extended back and forth as it tried to address various problems. At one point, Apple raised a fundamental objection, saying that Fanify’s method for tipping artists, which used the online payment services Venmo and PayPal, violated Apple’s requirement that all in-app payments be routed through iTunes so the company could take its 30 percent cut.

Ms. Schuman and her developer had to rewrite the app to force users to buy tokens that they could then use to tip musicians. The app was finally approved on Thursday, nine days after the first concerts were supposed to have taken place.

“It ruined our whole launch,” she said.

Apple declined requests to interview Mr. Schiller or other executives about its relationship with developers. The company said in January that the App Store had generated nearly $40 billion in revenue for developers since it was created.

Getting an app noticed is one of the biggest problems for a small developer. The search function in the App Store follows no apparent logic in displaying results, leaving most apps lost in the pile. Apple’s system for choosing which ones to highlight on the front page of the store is similarly opaque.

“It used to feel like a frontier town where lots of people bought apps and tried new things,” said Phill Ryu, who helped found the software studio Impending. “Now it feels more like a lottery ticket.”

When an app maker wins that lottery, the benefits are tremendous.

Craig Tashman, the founder of LiquidText, a document annotation app for the iPad and iPad Pro, managed to get on Apple’s radar early, when a company employee in his network made an introduction in 2012.

Apple asked Dr. Tashman to keep in touch as he developed the app over the next few years, and LiquidText was showcased in the App Store for two weeks when the app was introduced last September. “We got a banner right on top of the App Store,” he said. “We got 100,000 downloads in two weeks.” When the iPad Pro was introduced in November, LiquidText received another round of promotion from Apple.

The new search ads for the App Store will allow developers to buy attention if they are not lucky enough to get that kind of free publicity from Apple’s editors. Although the ads will be available to everyone, it is unclear whether prime search terms will end up being bought mostly by big marketers. App developers, most notably game makers, spent $3 billion last year in the United States alone to promote downloads of their software inside Facebook, Twitter and other apps, according to eMarketer.

Bryan Wiener, executive chairman of 360i, a digital advertising agency, predicted that airlines, retailers and video streaming services would eagerly pay for advertising slots in the App Store. “Search will be table stakes,” he said.

While overall app download trends favor a handful of top developers, Apple has made other moves to improve life for the smaller fry.

The company is giving more guidance to developers about ways to market their apps, said Brian Mueller, who has been an Apple developer for three years. He makes the Carrot series of apps, including ones for weather, exercise and to-do lists.

Apple is also more actively choosing what appears on the front page of the App Store, where popular, new and interesting apps are prominently featured. “It signals to users that the App Store is a place to check throughout the week,” Mr. Mueller said. “A lot of developers were asking and hoping for this.”

Developers say they still hope Apple will make more improvements. They want the company to continue to improve search in the App Store and let developers respond to user comments. They also say that communication with Apple is still largely one-way.

“You can’t fix overnight all of the grievances that piled up,” Mr. Ryu said.

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