But I’m not going to focus on that specific case, I’d like to talk about how the same App Store policy is getting in my way for a project I’ve been working on for a while now.
I guess this is the first public thing I’ve said about the app I’m working on, so here we go: I’m working on an app for knitters and pattern designers. I’m bringing interactive knitting patterns to the iPad, and the app has a built-in editor for pattern designers who want to get their designs in there.
Here’s my problem in a nutshell:
Knitting patterns aren’t all free, and I’d like to give pattern designers the opportunity to sell interactive patterns they create with my app.
I have no interest in making money off other people’s patterns. I would be content with only making money off of app sales. (More on this later.)
I was contemplating having a “Get More Patterns” button with links to third-party websites with interactive patterns, both for free and for sale if any of them go for that.
But I can’t link to third-party pattern marketplaces within my app to make finding them easier, because that would be in violation of Apple’s guidelines. Note that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t provide in-app purchases for content on those sites because it ultimately isn’t in my hands. This is the same situation any app using the Dropbox API is in today. Even if apps using the Dropbox API wanted to sell storage within the app (even if that’s not really the best place to do that), they couldn’t because they’re not Dropbox.
My only option if I want an easily-accessible marketplace for pattern designers within the app is to use in-app purchases and become a middleman.
I have no interest in becoming a middleman; I’d much rather work on making the app better than have to figure out how much I owe to which designer and whatnot. It would be a tremendous cost and timesink to do that, and besides, the 30% cut Apple takes makes being a middleman impossible, as the publishing industry is quick to point out.
Here is what I’ve been wanting for a long time, even before I began this project: Apple should provide a way for content created within an iOS app to be sold to other users of the same app. It would even be a better user experience for pattern designers if I could build the entire process of selling a pattern into the app, because right now, they have to get the file onto a computer to upload it to a third-party marketplace due to MobileSafari’s lack of file upload functionality.
The business model of selling something extensible and then allowing users to optionally charge for their extensions works wonders for me in the jailbreak world. My tweak, Iconoclasm, allows users to change the arrangement of the icons on their home screen into various layouts, and it has sold over fifty thousand copies at $3.00 a pop. There is a decently-sized ecosystem of layouts in the Cydia Store; many of them are free, but some are paid1, and I link to the Iconoclasm layouts category in the Cydia Store within the preference pane to make them easily discoverable2 I don’t manage any of the payment or purchase infrastructure for Iconoclasm or third-party layouts; I let the Cydia Store handle everything.
Third-party extensibility is probably the reason Iconoclasm sales have been doing so well almost two and a half years into its lifetime (judging from discussions with a few other developers). Whenever an Iconoclasm layout or a theme using one gets big on the jailbreak blogs and forums, sales trend upwards. I don’t need a cut of what third-parties make because they’re likely to hype whatever they made, and I benefit from that by having a paid app.
The same strategy could apply to knitting patterns and my app. Or user-designed levels for a game. (That was the example I imagined them demoing the feature with.)
Sadly, it doesn’t look like that’s going to work. My knitting app is nearing completion, but I really have no idea what to do about that aspect of the app right now. As much as I’d like Apple to introduce exactly what I want at WWDC, I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s something I’m thinking hard about.
If anyone should know how big of a deal this could be to my app’s success, it should be Apple. Apple’s insane success today is built around iOS. But would iOS be as huge as it is today if it wasn’t for the App Store making apps discoverable and easily purchaseable? Without easily discoverable and purchaseable patterns, my app gets downgraded from “being an iPad” to “being a crappy Windows Tablet PC”.
And almost nobody wants a Windows Tablet PC.
(And before you email me and call me stupid, yes, I fully realize that Apple’s policies have been this way for a long time, and that it’s incredibly stupid to build something whose success is more or less dependent on something that’s not allowed, but I didn’t even think they could impact me until a few hours ago. Had I realized this earlier, I wouldn’t have gone in that direction. I screwed up big time. Let’s learn from it.)
Usually when they’re coupled with a heavy home screen theme. ↩
Prior to this, the #1 email I got was “How do I get more layouts?” ↩