The app store ecosystem has revolutionized the way we use smartphones, providing a convenient platform for developers to reach billions of users worldwide. App stores offer many benefits for app developers, such as wider audience reach, monetization opportunities, and increased app discoverability. However, while app stores have undoubtedly boosted the app development industry, they also come with limitations that can hinder the creativity of developers. App store guidelines, regulations, and the approval process can all restrict the developers creative freedom, preventing them from realizing their full potential.
The Benefits of App Stores
If I had to name one thing that makes the App Store great, it would have to be the number of people who have a smartphone and access to the App Store. According to Statista, as of 2021, there were approximately 1.6 billion active iPhone users worldwide. If you are an app developer and you publish an app, that app is available to the majority of those 1.6 billion users who search for it. Although it has to be valuable enough for users to want to use your app but still, the opportunity is still present. That is what makes App Stores so valuable.
Now, I know not all 1.6 billion or so people will want my app but even a small fraction of them would benefit the developer. The opportunity of this is incredible. How could anyone not get excited about the possibilities of what could happen? What if millions of users download your app? What if even thousands do? Imagine, your app idea can make an impact in people’s lives all around the world. You can help them solve a problem and improve their lives. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Limitations of App Stores for App Developers
The limitation issues I have faced had to deal with certain wording that can and cannot be used on the App Stores. Fun fact, you cannot post an app review using the word Android on the Apple App Store.
When trying to explain what’s new for app updates, I was told I wasn’t allowed to say “We’ve added a few updates to make [App Name] app even better”. I thought it was a better message to say instead of a useless “Made improvements and bug fixes”. Unfortunately, this wasn’t allowed. I was then provided with suggested wording for what to say. That was an awkward experience but just changed my wording so it will be accepted and moved on.
If the app reviewer doesn’t like your screenshot, they will tell you to change it.
Creating promotional videos for the App Store is a headache. You will be going back and forth with the reviewer until either they feel it’s perfect for them or you give up.
Did you just add a new feature to your app? I was told a feature was too common in the App Store that I must remove it. Also created a new app that I thought was useful, it had great potential and features that helped those in the astrology world. Unfortunately, the app reviewer who reviewed it, rejected it right away, claiming they had too many of those weird apps.
You can be shut down for anything that they disagree with. Be it design, features in the app, marketing graphics, screenshots, or perhaps they released their own app to compete against yours.
If you have a dispute with an app rejection, you don’t have much say in it. Just solve it or get off the App Store platform. It is simple really but you have to follow the guidelines.
It is a gamble at times to see if an app works or not. It is one thing to get approved by the App Store, it is another to be seen as valuable in the marketplace.
Creating mobile apps is a great hobby of mine. I like the idea of coming up with the idea, drawing them out on paper, creating the app icons, the screenshots, and coding the app is exciting. Who knew I’d still be doing this since the year 2012. The process is challenging but that is what makes it fun. Overcoming obstacles and achieving success.
I have over a dozen or so app ideas written down. Some of them are great ideas while others are not so. I find that the easier ones tend to make more sales compared to the sophisticated app ideas. Just like when new auto manufacturers release car prototypes to the world, it isn’t that prototype version that is available for sale when that car hits the dealership, it is a run-down version that can still be viable but not as good as a prototype car. App ideas come with many sophisticated details, enriched with high end features, and excitement for the project. However, when it comes to certain App Stores, not all features or graphical user-interface designs can be applied as desired. There are limitations not just from App Stores but limitations to the type of smartphone the user is using. The cheaper Android phones do not perform as flawlessly as the new iPhone devices. Lower quality smartphones also mean slower performing apps and all your cool features cannot be implemented as desired.
Android is a unique platform to create apps on, unfortunately, they have a huge version issue that makes developers pull out their hair. The majority of new Android phones do not support the latest Android version so that means to reach a critical mass of users on Android we have to support obsolete code and not use all the fancy new features available to the newer Android versions.
So after we go through each platform we find that some features we really wanted to implement can’t or will just be too much of a hassle. This leads to apps that are just viable to release but not as good compared to that shiny prototype car.
Government regulations also affect what features are put in and what isn’t, the same applies to the App Store guidelines issued to developers. If that doesn’t burn out the developer, maintaining it over the years will. Every year there are changes to code that the developers have to rush in to fix because the big tech companies want to adjust things that break existing code structures in apps already on the App Store. This makes the developer look bad when it was the dang changes they did that causes our apps to crash on launch.
Did you just release a new feature for your users? Be cautious as there will be someone sending you hate email for it or negative app review. Be it a design change, new app icon, or anything else, someone has something to tell the developer, and it mostly isn’t anything positive.
I get the “this app should be free!!” review once in a while. Not knowing to this person how many hours, resources, and skills are required to create these apps. If they knew how sophisticated an app is to make, they would change their tone.
Alternative Solutions For App Developers
An alternative solution isn’t the same. App Stores pose as very unique opportunity that connects smartphone users to mainstream App Stores. For iPhone, you have the Apple App Store. For Android, you have the Google Play Store, etc… These channels help direct users to the App Store and give developers a higher chance of being discovered.
Although there isn’t much of a great alternative other than creating websites and Web Apps. These can be expensive if you gain a lot of traffic to your web app. More users also mean expensive cloud service fees. Not only that, discoverability is hard to achieve for websites compared to being an app inside an App Store. No App Store means you handle all the sale transactions, customer support, refunds, chargebacks, etc… You also have to handle people trying to hack you 24/7. You have governments that want to regulate you in every part of the world. Daily or weekly maintenance to ensure everything is up and running. If your web app is down on the holidays, you won’t be with family, you will be pulling your hair out trying to get it back online.
I hear this alternative solution all the time. Why don’t you just create a web app instead? Well, for the very reasons I listed above is why I have not. I try to bootstrap my business and not rely on cloud services. The lower the monthly business expenses the higher chance of profitability. Until you have a big enough audience willing to pay you on a monthly subscription that offsets the cloud service fees, I wouldn’t consider a web app personally.
Face the Hard Truth
If you’re an app developer, you may just have to face the true hard fact, that you are going to have to suck it up and deal with it. Swallow your pride and adapt to the ever changing environment. If we cannot adapt to changes, our businesses die and have to be shut down. The business world isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. It can be brutal and that is what makes it so exciting. This can be very lucrative and also a great risk of failure.
Lastly, nobody likes a complainer. The last thing you want to do is be like Epic Games. Even though they signed a developer contract with Apple, they implemented outside payments for their game fully aware it is against Apple’s policy. They were earning billions supposedly and wanted more. They got greedy and thought they were unstoppable. Well, low and behold today we hear Apple wins the court battle against Epic Games.
If greed didn’t get to Epic Games, they could still be on the App Store earning high sales numbers. Unfortunately, that is in the past and from what I understand, they cannot put Fortnite back on the App Store.
While App Stores do provide valuable services for both the developers and its users, it isn’t perfect. The same can be said about releasing your own app outside the App Stores. The question you should ask yourself is, do you have the capital to handle web apps, cloud service fees, marketing budget, staff, and resources to make it happen?
If you are an indie app developer like myself, I’d recommend staying in the App Stores until you reach a critical mass of paid users.