The 99c App Store

Written by David Frampton @ 8:08 pm, December 10, 2008

I don’t normally blog about anything other than major releases or my development progress. However, what I’m seeing the iPhone App Store become is concerning enough that I just have to comment.

Paid App Store applications are currently racing towards 99c. This race is adversely impacting the quality of iPhone applications, the options available to developers, and the integrity of the store. 

I’ll first explain why I think paid apps are taking a dive to 99c. 

Currently the App Store has a browsing system heavily weighted towards finding apps that have the highest download count. On the iPhone you can browse this, 25 apps at a time, and on iTunes you clearly see the top 10 apps on the App Store page, and clicking on the ‘Top Paid Apps’ link will give you the top 100.

This easily visible ranking system seems great at first when you’re browsing for apps. Your average user thinks ‘Wow, that’s popular. It must be good – I’ll get it’. And here is the main problem. Many, many people download apps that are in the top few. So, every developer must try to maintain a position in the top 25 or at least the top 100 in order to get a huge magnitude of sales above what they would get while languishing at #101.

So, how does a developer get their app into the top 100 and stay there? Well, The best way is having a really good product that gets the press it deserves. This is still the biggest factor (as it should be), but is way too close to the second best way: Look stupidly cheap compared to everything else.

Any developer who has dropped the price of their app will have seen the difference in sales it makes. $1.99 to $0.99 wouldn’t make any difference on most platforms, but because everything is already so stupidly cheap, it can double sales… or more. Double the sales at #101 and a day later you’re at # 70 with 4x the sales. At 4x the sales you’re at #50 two days later. It’s a feedback effect until everyone else drops their prices too, and you end up back where you started.

So here we are with every paid app anywhere close to the top 100 plummeting to $0.99. What does this mean?

As a developer my interest in the platform is swinging back and forth between excitement because of the massive potential audience, and concern because of the massive risks of a 100:10,000 chance of any app paying for my time. As a result, I am more inclined to take small risks. A small 2 week project, priced at $0.99 has more chance of paying for my time than a 6 month project priced at $9.99. The quality of applications available on the App Store is nothing compared to what it could be. iPhone users are missing out on the $15.00 apps that could change their lives.

The result of all this is pretty much a continuation of what we have seen. Prices will continue to drop, but a precious few developers will work hard and long to produce fantastic apps that will be low yielding, under priced, and motivation destroying. Everything else will either be worth $0.99 and fade away quickly (with rapid updates, but that’s a different story…), or be worth less than that, and still get into the top 100 because of clever external marketing.

I hold hope that Apple will fix this. I can see how they got here. Anyone would want an App Store with top 100’s, a rating system, developer pricing, and pretty much everything Apple has done. 

But we don’t always know what we want.


Written by David Frampton @ 5:45 pm, December 1, 2008

A couple of days ago I released FluidTunes.

FluidTunes is a coverflow like interface to iTunes controllable by just waving your hands.

I had aims to make an iSight controlled dancing game a while back, but as often seems to happen I gave up on it when facing a few major technical hurdles.

But I had basically completed this part of the interface, and instead of leaving it to gather further virtual dust I decided to tidy up what I had and release it as freeware.

So FluidTunes is the result. It’s probably not really all that useful for day-to-day use. But it’s a unique toy, and something to show off to your PC friends!