Remember back in the day when you were lucky if you got a new version of your favourite app once a year? The developers would tell you nothing about what was coming and you just had to hang out and wait.
Recently I became aware of the whole iPhone/iTunes Store phenomenon. Firstly I was like a kid in a candy store - so many apps, so cheap. Then I began to realise that I was seeing for the first time a - sorry about the word - revolution that had been going on without my knowing about it.
Firstly these are "midget" apps. Lots of little apps, most of which do one thing and one thing only. They are judged on how well they do their thing. So I downloaded an app that gives me the winds from around Port Phillip Bay. I normally use the web on my laptop to access this data and the pages are always open. This little app does the job brilliantly and it's free (BayWinds).
Now some of these midget apps are midgets on steroids. What about TramTracker for the Melbourne trams. That app has a lot crammed into it but it does its thing really well.
What really got me going though was the expectations of users and the feedback. Feedback was brutal and to the point on lots of apps. What's more it is really clear that user expectations are much more aggressive than they used to be. Users expect bugs to be fixed tomorrow. They expect new versions quickly and repeatedly. They expect developers to respond to new OS capabilities really quickly. Users are intolerant of delay, poor communication or bugs. They feel like they have a right to a new version, a bug fix or whatever. They value their $1.99 much more than they ever valued the hundreds of dollars that they paid for some monolithic application like MS Word.
So the tables appear to have turned. On the one hand the iPhone has lowered the barriers to entry for app developers. The iTunes Store has made a huge audience available to developers and provided the infrastructure for micro commerce.
On the other hand it has created a really competitive market that exposes developers who don't meet user needs.
Apple appears to be struggling under the load they've imposed on themselves. Developers deliver new versions and then it appears from anecdotal evidence to take around 1 month for Apple to approve the app. That can't be good for anyone given the expectations of users.
I wonder what it's like for developers in that environment. Do the ups outweigh the downs?
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