The Apple Difference

appstoreI recently found some notes and tasks from March 2008 – 18 months ago – and it really brought home to me how Apple has changed the mobile software world.

Our biggest problem at that time was that people didn’t know they could buy programs for their smartphone or PDA. Apple’s fixed that one – even people who don’t own a mobile device know “there’s an app for that”.

Availablility of apps is a huge factor in how new mobile devices or operating systems are judged. When the Pre was released, the sparse app catalog was mentioned in nearly every review. Same for the Zune HD. Imagine – if you can – a review mentioning “not many apps” in a review for a new device two years ago. It just wouldn’t have happened.

New mobile platforms and devices are big news. And any changes to the iPhone, iPod Touch or iTunes are huge news.

Mobile app developers are now a market by themselves. There are literally dozens of sites with iTunes App Store ranking tracking, tools and stats plug-ins. There are several providers of paid, in-app, mobile ads. Mobile developers’ blogs – at least some of them – get attention from major sites. There’s even a book coming out called Starting an iPhone Application Business For Dummies. (Don’t believe me? Here it is).

I used to spend about 20 minutes each morning reading enough mobile sites to keep up with any news and changes. Now it’s more like 90 minutes, and I’m sure I’m not reading half of what I should be.

We’re selling software for prices that we wouldn’t have even considered 18 months ago. While desktop app prices haven’t changed, the “99 Cent” pricing model of the App Store places mobile app prices at about 5% of what they used to be.

I am inundated with calls and emails from people who want us to put our apps in their stores, outsource our development to them, or buy ads on their sites. (Guys, here’s a hint. If you send me an email and I say I don’t want a phone call, I mean it. If you leave me alone, I’ll keep your info on file. If you call anyway, I’ll toss it.)

Mobile developers’ expectations of software distribution have completely changed as well. While we used to accept a distributor taking a commission of 60% of an app’s price (not happily, but we did accept that, having no good alternatives), 30% is now a de facto standard. And audience numbers that would have made us pretty excited in the past now seem pretty minor.

New mobile operating system and hardware releases are coming – and expected – at a much faster pace than ever before. What used to be considered a reasonable amount of time between hardware and OS upgrades is no longer acceptable.

Did all these changes happen because of Apple, and the success of the iTunes App Store? I think so. I can’t prove it, but we’ve been doing mobile software development – successfully – for over 12 years. The changes in the mobile world over last 14 months are nothing like anything that happened in the past.

Am I fan of every change? Of course not. But overall, I know that we as mobile developers have many more options than we ever have before. There’s a lot more potential for success, though I know that means that there’s also a lot more potential for failure.

What Apple’s changes have put in motion isn’t going to go away. I fully expect the next year will bring more and more demands on mobile developers, and more and more changes – big ones – in the mobile market. I expect we’ll see some of the established big companies fail, and some new ones succeed. Being smart and lucky won’t be nearly enough.

I predict interesting times.

14 thoughts on “The Apple Difference

  1. Mark S (OZ)

    I agree these are indeed interesting times…
    In the over 20 years I have used PDAs I started with a Psion expanded to 8kb (Yes Expanded). I too have never seen such change, both good and bad. The software today can be of a terrific std, but you need to spend time to select the software you want from a very large pool. This is now wasting a lot of time, Is there an App for that?
    Keep the good work up and any news on ListPro for iPhone?

  2. Dennis Goshorn

    You are so RIGHT. I remember lugging around a Franklin Planner and debating about switching to that new-fangled device called a Palm! I must have switched back and forth a dozen times. Even when I was using Mobile Windows 6.0 or Blackberry (though I did have the benefit of ListPro) I never felt like I was as organized as I was with paper. Now on the iPhone (sans ListPro, second hint), I feel I can live without the paper planner entirely. I love it! I think the advent of ListPro on Mac and iPhone will make it complete and I can’t wait.

  3. Pingback: Recommended: Ellen’s Thoughts on ‘The Apple Difference’ | Just Another iPhone Blog

  4. Marc

    @Mark and Dennis: Hey guys – again, I really appreciate the friendly tone. We’re serisouly doing our best to get it out. Again, in thanks, I’ll try to give you a little information. ListPro is coming along-the plans for it have evolved and you can expect something more than a List Reader (an idea we were talking about doing) although I can’t give details yet. Part of the time involved experimenting with different ways to sync. As you know, Apple doesn’t let us sync with the USB cable so we have to come up with something else. Part of the development time has been trying different things – it takes some time but will be worth it in the long run!

  5. John

    You are so right about the changes over the last 2 years. It’s truly amazing how much power we carry in the palm of our hands now.

    I’m curious about your statement that “established companies will fail, and some new ones will succeed.” Were you referring to software or hardware companies or both?

  6. Ellen Post author

    Hi John, I wasn’t specifically referring to anyone, but I’ll admit that who I was thinking of was distributors.

  7. Dean Roberts

    I know there has been allot of mention about Apple not allowing you to sync with the USB cable and this makes it difficult on you but I wanted to mention that I never cable my phone up unless I’m upgrading to a new iPhone software which is rare.

    I love syncing over the air. I also realize this is a problem in some work environments that have their Wi-Fi locked down.

    We will all be very excited on release day of both Listpro and eWallet for MAC.

    However, I did not see a response on when we can expect an update to eWallet allowing bigger text? I know it’s the forbidden timetable question (LOL) but what ever you can tell us would be appreciated! Like, expect it on the next update…

  8. Ken M

    Marc I will readily admit that while I have been / am a sftware developer I have no knowledge about what is involved in developing for the iPhone. That having been said I am puzzled by you statements regarding sync. You have a very usable (I will go as far as saying one of the best) sync capabilities already with eWallet. Why can’t that technology be used for ListPro?

  9. Erik

    Every time i hear or see Apple, i remember the OS mac. But then, of course, technology evolves. It is so dynamic that it evolves into an improved version unto various uses as well. Apple developed for iPhone is new to me but surely would be able to provide features and a service that Apple had been giving all these years.

  10. Marc

    @Dean: I swear I added a comment about this somewhere BUT basically, it’s on the list and we are going to do it but it’s actually a bigger change htna you’d think and right now we’re focusing on ListPro. We WILL add it however.

    @Ken M: A couple problems. First, LOTS of people don’t like synching via wifi for a variety of reasons. Second, MANY people don’t have wifi at home and don’t want to sync at Starbucks. Third, Bonjour (which is what is used to enable the wireless sync) doesn’t work for everyone – lots of reasons why, but it just doesn’t.

    Now granted, we can’t fix the wifi issue right now but we hope that we CAN fix the Bonjour issues. That is what we’re looking at right now.

  11. Ken M

    Marc I appreciate the response but I am still confused. Why were these not issues with eWallet? Based on your experience with eWallet are you unhappy with its synching and are trying to improve on it via ListPro?

    For what little it is worth I am very happy with the way eWallet syncs. It is, IMHO, far superior to that used by HandDBase

  12. Marc

    @Ken M: These are issues with eWallet also – that’s why we’re working on improving them – like I said, most people have no trouble at all but some do – we’re just trying to improve sync to eliminate the “some problems”!

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