Hot-selling mobile apps have earned some independent programmers hundreds of thousands of dollars. But one of the greatest risks of developing apps for a platform controlled by a large corporation, such as Google or Apple, is that you can easily get crushed.
Take for example Mike Jacobs, a developer of software startup Hello, Chair. For nine months, his team of three has been working on an iPhone app called Appsaurus, which makes App Store recommendations based on the apps you already own. So it was very bad news for Hello, Chair when Apple in September introduced a free App Store recommendation tool called App Store Genius.
“That’s one of the scariest things: If Apple moves an inch, they crush a bunch of little developers,” Jacobs said in a phone interview.
With giants dominating Silicon Valley, start-ups and independent programmers are fitting in between the cracks by developing apps for corporations’ mobile platforms. Apple’s App Store, which launched July 2008, is the largest to date with 100,000 apps and counting. Google’s Android platform is second largest, serving roughly 14,000 apps. In the case of the App Store, a lucky bunch have struck it rich with soaring sales, while others have suffered at the mercy of the giant they’re developing for.iphone crowds
More often, Apple is scrutinized for its questionable approval policy. The company has rejected some developers’ apps for unclear reasons, which often puts them in financial hurt (in severe cases, a six-digit loss).
But stories like Hello, Chair’s — where the corporation inadvertently competes with its developers — are a bit rare. Jacobs said his company was striving to provide something the iPhone was missing in hopes to make the platform even better. However, Apple, too, is thinking of ways to improve its products — and with a considerably larger team of in-house programmers and billions of dollars in resources, the Cupertino, California company beat a small start-up to the idea of an App Store recommendation tool.
Hello, Chair submitted Appsaurus to Apple this week and nervously awaits Apple’s approval. The team is hoping it does not face the same outcome as Podcaster, an app Apple rejected in September 2008. The Podcaster app enabled the iPhone to download podcasts and listen to them on the fly. Apple rejected Podcaster, saying it “duplicates the functionality” of the iPod. However, the iPhone didn’t have this feature when Podcaster was submitted. Only after rejecting Podcaster did Apple introduce a podcast downloader through its iTunes app.
Alex Sokirynsky, who developed Podcaster, said he had spent four months learning the iPhone’s programming language, and he was “heartbroken” by Apple’s rejection of Podcaster.
“Apple has a very tight hold on everyone in the App Store,” Sokirynsky told Wired.com. “They could pull any app for any reason, and the developer has no say. This could ruin a new company.”
This Goliath-stomps-on-David scenario isn’t unique to Apple, either. Etienne Baratte, a software engineer, was developing an app for the Google Android platform called Jamdroid, which would provide real-time traffic information anywhere on the globe. Baratte entered Jamdroid in Google’s Android Developer Challenge, a contest inviting developers to submit app prototypes for a chance to win awards. Jamdroid received an honorable score in the competition — but Google in August 2009 announced it was working on almost the exact same traffic-analysis tool.
Baratte was dismayed: He’d been working on Jamdroid since November 2007 with a few partners. He killed his project when Google rolled out its traffic service in August.
“There’s no competition possible at all,” Baratte said in a phone interview. “I can’t say they stole my idea. They’re in their right to implement such a service, and in fact, in a way I am quite happy that they did so…. But I spent all my free time on this.”
Hello, Chair hasn’t given up on Appsaurus, however. When Apple introduced App Store Genius, Jacobs and his team proceeded to add more features to Appsaurus to make it better than Apple’s recommendation system. When making recommendations, App Store Genius only takes into account the apps currently installed on a user’s iPhone. Appsaurus, Jacobs said, will use an interactive algorithm that allows users to rate and modify suggestions in real-time. The app will also make app recommendations based on other apps people have purchased, similar to Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature.Read More...