japanfemdom

The Mac App Store and the future of indie development

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the Mac App Store over recent years, you will have noticed a couple of things; how little it has improved since its launch five years ago and secondly how a steady stream of big name developers from Barebones to Panic, have been forced to pull their apps due to its limitations. The most recent refugee being popular design app Sketch.

I was initially very enthusiastic about the Mac App Store (MAS), but as the years have ticked by with literally no improvements, that enthusiasm has waned to be replaced firstly by concern and now increasingly by anger and frustration.

I’ll give the briefest of summaries of the main pain points with the MAS, as you’ve probably heard them all before:

  • No demos or trials. Apple won’t even let us link to or mention that we offer these from our websites.
  • No upgrade pricing for existing customers.
  • No way of handling refunds or addressing support requests left in reviews.
  • No bundles (even though we have this on iOS!)
  • The huge 30% cut Apple takes of every sale.
  • Long delays in getting updates approved by Apple’s review team.
  • Mandatory stringent sandbox restrictions.

Having just one or two of these problems to deal with wouldn’t be insurmountable, but dealing with all of them, along with many others, just feels like death by a thousand cuts.

Now if you’re not a developer you probably appreciate the convenience and security of the App Store and all these other issues may seem fairly peripheral. You would like things like trials and discounts, if you remember what buying software used to be like, but it’s not the end of the world now that you don’t have them.

Indeed the problems almost all fall into the developer’s lap. We get the blame when Apple screws up and receipt checking fails spectacularly. We get the anonymous 1 star reviews we can’t respond to. We get the angry users who can’t download updates because they’ve been stuck in review for a month on some technicality. We watch our sales dip ever lower with no conventional means of reinvigorating them.

Developers and users ultimately have a symbiotic relationship, one can’t survive without the other. Eventually the pain inflicted on them will also impact on all of us. Either they give up because it’s no fun fighting with the platform owner for survival or they go bankrupt because business conditions have become so hostile. Then that shiny piece of software you invested in stops getting updates, there’s no one there to respond to your emails when something goes wrong. Your data is held hostage in a dead app. It’s on you to have to go through the troublesome task of finding a replacement, migrating your data and learning something new just to get back to where you started. All the time hoping the same fate doesn’t await this new app.

I’ve worked with a lot of Mac developers over the years and I’m sad to say a large number of them are no longer in business, or they’re just barely clinging on if they are.

In some cases like with Microsoft and Adobe or Barebones and Panic, they have enough clout to survive outside the MAS. But for smaller developers, including ThinkMac, the MAS has sucked so much oxygen out of the rest of the world, that it would be suicide to pull out. So we stick around, accruing cuts and counting down the days until we finally succumb to them.

I live in hope that Apple will announce some changes to improve the Mac App Store (and frankly the iOS store too) in 2016, but I have to confess I’m growing more pessimistic about the future of indie development on the Mac. The clock is ticking Apple, the ball is in your court and it’s getting dusty!

Further reading:

Too late to save the MAS? by Manton Reece
Bohemian Coding Pulls Hit App Sketch from Mac App Store by John Gruber
The Mac App Store: Not gone, but certainly forgotten by Macworld
The Mac App Store Needs Paid Upgrades by Wil Shipley
NSFW: Apple’s benign neglect of the Mac App Store by Peter Cohen
Mac App Store: The Subtle Exodus by Milen

Updates, updates everywhere!

Hard to believe 2015 is nearly over already isn’t it? Lately I’ve been hard at work on a bunch of updates to my various Mac apps. All of which are live for direct download customers. If you use the Mac App Store, so far only the iKana update is live, but the others should get there eventually. In semi-related news, I’ve now migrated the ThinkMac Store over to FastSpring. This should make the process of buying my apps and getting your license file a bit smoother. It also handles the troublesome new VAT legislation problem that had meant I was unable to sell directly to EU customers for much of the year (cheers bureaucrats).

iKanji 2.0.7

This is actually a biggish update and adds some requested new features like JLPT vocab sets, the ability to set the length of training sessions and increases font sizes in various places to improve legibility. This also squashes some bugs and fixes some text rendering glitches when running on El Capitan.

iKana 2.1.1

This update (finally) adds retina graphics throughout the app and gives the interface a refresh to look more modern. There are also various bug fixes and tweaks to improve stability.

NewsLife 2.2.3

This version has some visual tweaks for El Capitan as changes to the way fonts are rendered in the new OS left the default text looking very spindly and hard to read.

Lastly but not least(ly), on the iOS front I have a nice update to iKanji touch in the works. I hope to have that on the store before Christmas.

iKanji touch 2 is here!

iKanji touch 2 on an iPad Air and iPhone 6

Good news folks, iKanji touch 2 is now live on the App Store! This is a big release because it finally brings iKanji touch natively to the iPad. The whole interface has been refreshed and refined and there are lots of little tweaks and improvements. The main new feature is a vocabulary browser with flash cards and kanji breakdown*. Just like in its big brother, iKanji for OS X. Another much requested and helpful feature from iKanji on OS X is the ability to search by kanji radical parts. This makes it so much easier to find kanji where you’re not familiar with the reading or meaning, I’m sure it will get a lot of use! Happy studying ^_^

* Vocab testing isn’t quite ready yet but will be coming in an update later this year.

File that under grumpy 1 star reviews

App Store reviews are infamous as a lousy one-way feedback mechanism to developers. Thankfully the majority of reviews I get are 4 and 5 star, but every now and then someone posts a 1 star bug report or makes accusations I can’t respond to. So for a bit of balance I’d like to address a few here.

I paid for this app in good faith long ago, but since then the developer’s primary concern has been about pushing “updates” that do nothing more than expand IAP, even as long-standing, irritating bugs go unfixed. You have kanji revision cards missing readings that are then tested for, sets of “fully learned” characters which reset for no reason, etc., but fixing these take a back seat to getting you to pay for “Kanji Drawing Practice” and “Kana Chart”. – Disappointed Developer

Well Disappointed Developer, I’m sorry if you’ve had trouble with iKanji touch. The correct place to report problems if you want them acted upon quickly is here. Why you’ve picked the 1.9.1 update to complain about IAPs that were added in version 1.7 I don’t know. You can read the rational behind adding them here.

By your own admission you bought iKanji touch a long time ago, you can’t expect a lifetime of free updates to a piece of software, it’s simply not financial viable. If you’re a developer you should realise that or you’ll go out of business pretty quickly. We’re not all Googles or Apples, funded by venture capitalists or hoping to get bought up by FaceBook before the money runs out. If I don’t earn enough in sales from the App Store in a given month, I can’t pay my rent, it’s not that I’m a greedy mega corp trying to nickel and dime you.

If you’re wondering why fully learnt kanji are reseting back to unlearnt then you’re probably not understanding the way the spaced repetition system works. Look at the help documentation within the app.

Most readings are wrong. For the price the developer could at least proof tested by a native speaker. – Meksonthego

It has been tested by native speakers – out of the thousands of people using iKanji touch you seem to be the only person who thinks it’s a scam with incorrect readings. The original source of the readings are Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC, a highly respected free kanji database and dictionary. For clarity’s sake we only include jouyou readings in iKanji touch – that is the readings Japanese kids learn at school. There are many more of course, you could spend your life learning every one if that’s your thing, but the majority of people just want to know the basics and you can pick up other readings if they’re used even remotely commonly through everyday usage of the language (e.g people’s names, place names, literature etc).

£3 is a ripoff for a kanji only app. No vocab, grammar or listening. – WillTRiker

No £3 is a bargain. I’m sorry your expectation of software value has been so skewed that you think years of work isn’t even worth £3. If you read the app store description you’d also see none of the things you’re claiming are missing were ever indicated to be part of the app. Even the name ‘iKanji touch’ implies it’s primarily an app for learning kanji.

Won’t let me subscribe to google alert feeds. This app is useless to me. – MJbor

NewsLife never attracts terribly positive reviews on the App Store which makes me sad, but it’s a pet project rather than a real money earner so I don’t let them get to me that much.  When I went and created a Google Alert feed myself I found it added without a problem though. User error perhaps?

Welcome to the new ThinkMac

As you may notice, I’ve completely redesigned the ThinkMac website. Since I originally created the site for a student project 14 (!!) years ago it’s been hosted as static files. I feel it’s now long out grown this and it was time to switch over to a content management system. I’ve been really pleased with WordPress, which powered the old ThinkMac blog and my other business site Light Priority, so it made sense to use it here too. I’m using a customised version of the Business theme by Organic Themes with several plugins including Meta Slider, JetPack, Contact Form 7 and others.

As WordPress performs very poorly on MediaTemple’s Grid service I’ve also moved hosting providers to TSO Host in the UK. This marks the fifth migration this website has made since its inception. Hopefully it’s not something I’ll have to do again anytime soon!

ThinkMac's website back in June 2000

ThinkMac’s website back in June 2000, grammatical errors abound!