I watched the Apple Special Event on September 9th with excitement. The iPad Pro was announced and has been on my wish list for a long time.
Ben Thompson had an excellent piece on Stratechery, which highlights some points about the event and iPad’s future that I hadn’t considered.
Talking about Tim Cook’s iPad Pro introduction:
Note that phrase: “How could we take the iPad even further?” Cook’s assumption is that the iPad problem is Apple’s problem, and given that Apple is a company that makes hardware products, Cook’s solution is, well, a new product.
It sounds good, Apple recognizes the need for a different iPad, something with more. Bigger, with needed peripherals to make the user’s job easier, better.
My contention, though, is that when it comes to the iPad Apple’s product development hammer is not enough. Cook described the iPad as “A simple multi-touch piece of glass that instantly transforms into virtually anything that you want it to be”; the transformation of glass is what happens when you open an app. One moment your iPad is a music studio, the next a canvas, the next a spreadsheet, the next a game. The vast majority of these apps, though, are made by 3rd-party developers, which means, by extension, 3rd-party developers are even more important to the success of the iPad than Apple is: Apple provides the glass, developers provide the experience.
So right. The iPad is an excellent device I use everyday, often for long periods of time. 90% of my usage is as a consumption device and very little to produce content. Why? Well, there’s not a lot of applications that transform this piece of glass to a device running software I can’t live without or use on my MacBook.
It becomes apparent the success of the iPad and now the professional iPad Pro is reliant on developers. Developers who can and are willing to create great apps to take advantage of what these devices can provide.
As an iOS developer, I can attest first-hand how hard it is to make a living on the App Store. It can be done but it’s not easy. Apple needs to change the way the App Store works, the way developers have been saying they need it to work:
The problem for iPad developers is three-fold:
First, the lack of trials means that genuinely superior apps are unable to charge higher prices because there is no way to demonstrate to consumers prior to purchase why they should pay more. Some apps can hack around this with in-app purchases, but purposely ruining the user experience is an exceedingly difficult way to demonstrate that your experience is superior.
Secondly, the lack of a simple upgrade path (and upgrade pricing) makes it difficult to extract additional revenue from your best customers; it is far easier to get your fans to pay more than it is to find completely new customers forever. Again, developers can hack around this by simply releasing completely new apps, but it’s a poor experience at best and there is no way to reward return customers with better pricing, or, more critically, to communicate to them why they should upgrade.
That there is the third point: Apple has completely disintermediated the relationship between developers and their customers. Not only can developers not communicate news about upgrades (or again, hack around it with inappropriate notifications), they also can’t gain qualitative feedback that could inspire the sort of improvements that would make an upgrade attractive in the first place.
The introduction of the iPad Pro is an opportunity for developers and for Apple. It’s a chance to truly be able to develop pro-level applications, but it won’t happen if things don’t change for developers. We have to be able to charge a reasonable amount for our hard work and allow users to try it out. We need to be able to charge for upgrades without having to resort to obscure tactics.
Ben also discusses this in more detail on his Exponent podcast with James Allworth in the Segue episode.
Apple, it’s obvious you need the support developers to continue to grow the iOS platform. Apple it has to be more about getting developers to write software for free so you can sell more hardware.