I’m sure a bunch of you remember the story a while back about how the app store is more of a casino than an actual business model. Now the recent acquisition of the sparrow mail app by Google has people talking again about how the app store works again.
It’s not good.
On the one hand people are feeling betrayed because after they shelled out money for the app, the developers are walking out on the project because of the acquisition. At least one person is correctly pointing out that the real reason people are reacting so strongly is that it violated one of their assumptions about how apps work. They thought that by paying for they app they were somehow more in control over what they were getting.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, other people noted that even though Sparrow has angered their users, they were also likely not making enough money to support their development efforts.
From our experience, a $2.99 app in the App Store needs to hover around #250 in the top paid list to sustain two people working full-time on the app.
This doesn’t work. You need to be able to have more than ~500 developers full time making apps. A lot more.
The worst part of all of this isn’t actually the fact that the app store is unsustainable—that’s fine, the app store can fail or people can raise prices. The real problem is that in the process of failing, the app store is redefining what people think software is worth. If we’ve permanently changed people’s valuation from software down from $30–50 to $1–5 that’s going to really hurt software development for some time to come.