Can new rules revitalise Apple’s app store?

The death of the app store might be - just possibly - a premature announcement to have made. The next year could be very entertaining.

Apple used to be a wonderfully predictable company. You could set your (non-Apple) watch by its announcement patterns. But in recent years some of those patterns have started changing in unusual ways. Last night I was caught by surprise by this on Daring Fireball:

“We’re doing something a little different this year. We’ve got a bunch of App Store/developer-related announcements for WWDC next week, but frankly, we’ve got a busy enough keynote that we decided we’re not going to cover those in the keynote. And rather, just cover them in the afternoon and throughout the week. We’re talking to people today for news tomorrow about those things, in advance of WWDC, and then developers can come and be ready for sessions about these things, with knowledge about them before the conference. We haven’t done this before, but we figured, what the heck, let’s give it a try.”

So started my phone call with Phil Schiller yesterday.

Five days before a big Apple keynote, the company is making a significant announcement – albeit one of more interest to developers and companies than consumer right now – via select briefings to members of the media.

On one hand, it suggests that I need to put aside part of Monday evening to talk about whatever they’ll be announcing at WWDC.

Happy App Happenings

On the other, it suggests that big changes are – not before time – happening to the app store. Apple’s app store is what turned the iPhone into the powerhouse it became. The first iPhone shipped without it. You couldn’t write apps for it. Who remembers that now?

The boom in apps led to the boom in companies dependent on the app store. Where would Uber or Spotify be in our mobile-centric world without an app store?

And yet, it’s remained a surprisingly static environment since it launched a year after the iPhone itself. As Daring Fireball‘s Gruber notes:

I would argue that the App Store has changed more in the last six months than it did in the previous eight years.

Why is that significant? Because changes could start to reverse the stagnation that’s setting in. Recode noted that, quite possibly, the app boom is over:

If you are an independent app developer or publisher, you have probably known this for a while, because you have found it very difficult to get people to download your app — the average American smartphone user downloads zero apps per month.

That’s a sign of a market in maturity – with people happy with what they’ve got. If Apple wants to keep the market dynamic, then they need to change the environment and let new forms of app emerge. And there are some significant moves in the announcement:

  • The first crack in the 70/30 split model
  • Subscriptions now extending to many more forms of app
  • Paid placement in app store search
  • Faster app review

(Full details here)

What do those enable? New business models. And new business models enable new kinds of app.

The death of the app store might be – just possibly – a premature announcement to have made. The next year could be very entertaining.