While the legal battle between Epic and Apple is making its way to the courtroom, the PR battles raging in state capitals are reaching a fever pitch, and millions of software developers across the U.S. are caught in the crossfire. Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar will be told at a hearing on April 21 in Washington that app stores harm developers and consumers alike. Despite what the headlines want you to believe, neither of these are true, and developers aren’t the ones asking for a free ride.
We’ve been advocating for software developers for almost a decade and know them well. We’ve asked developers in the U.S. and around the world what they think about app stores. While they have plenty of advice on how they could be improved, they absolutely don’t want them broken up, government-run, or socialized. In fact, the vast majority of developers are quite happy with the benefits the stores offer and the ecosystems they manage. They also say they’d like the fees to be a little lower and that it’s hard to reach the complaint department. Hardly enough to justify turning them into NGOs against their will.
Most people recognize that success is built on a little luck and a lot of help. The cool apps, awesome games, and helpful tools that populate your phone or laptop are the result of millions of wickedly smart and hard-working software developers. They pay their dues like the rest of us; working late, skipping vacations, putting up with the boss, and sometimes forgetting to bathe. What’s unique about this community is they love outsmarting the machine and getting it to do what they want. They love the challenge of coding and the satisfaction of winning. And they love being part of a community that shares what they’ve learned and works collaboratively to create things that make people’s lives better.
App stores play an important role in an app developer’s business. They help developers come together. They provide programming tools and teach new skills. They provide back-end business systems and marketing help to allow new apps to reach billions of potential users. They allow developers to focus on ideas, creation, and coding – the things they love and do best. Nothing is free, however. In return for building and maintaining a trusted brand, cool devices, and a safe place for consumers to find new apps, the stores ask profitable companies to give back so that others can follow. Successful companies are asked to help fund the infrastructure that the not-yet-lucky need and that they themselves benefitted from.
Across the U.S., elected officials are being told developers are asking for a free ride and that app stores are “taxing” the little guy to feed their own greed. While free would be nice, developers are a practical group and accept that the value these stores bring costs something. For emerging apps, these costs are nominal, with the agreement that if an app sees great success, it will give back to the ecosystem so that others can have a shot at success of their own. These stores are the free-market alternative to the walled gardens that came before, where a small number of mediocre apps were built in-house. Removing the business case for app stores may benefit the companies that have outgrown them, but the cost is the destruction of the on-ramp millions of emerging apps are counting on. To be blunt, developers have no interest in being used to justify government intervention into a thriving digital economy.
Developers aren’t asking for a handout, or for government help. Developers know that a healthy and sustainable ecosystem means that everyone has skin in the game. They also recognize that when billion-dollar companies say they’re fighting for the little guy, it’s usually the little guy that comes out bruised.