Indie App Developers have taken quite a hit this past week. Or at least, that's how it's seemed on the surface.
The first blow came in the form of Apple's significant announcement last week (alongside the new iPad stuff of course) that a number of its flagship productivity and lifestyle Apps would now be available to iPhone and iPad users for free from the App Store. Mind you, these are not basic little Apps (such as the Apple Store App or even that long-retired Greeting Card App we have all thankfully blocked out). We're talking *major* Apps like the iWork Suite for iOS (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), and the hugely complex iLife Apps (Garageband and iMovie for iOS).
For Apple it makes total sense - the App ecosystem has long been one of the primary differentiators of the iOS family - and as Apple's real revenues come predominately via device sales (primarily iPhone sales), the in-house Apple software has always been an "add on" in terms of business focus.
The problem for Indie Developers deriving their entire source of business revenue from paid App sales in the Apple App Store however, is evident.
Essentially (as the argument goes), Apple is re-setting user expectation at free - a standard that will be especially difficult to overcome when marketing to newer users to iOS. Don't forget as a new iOS user you are immediately shown the number of free Apps available upon your first visit to the App Store (mostly Apple Apps of course).
The second (and potentially more ominous) blow came yesterday, with the realisation that Apple is now inserting plugs for its own Apps and Services into App Store searches. Remember of course these Apps and Services are free - and in most cases, are extremely intricate and well designed solutions that will no doubt 'intercept' potential business from similar Indie Developer Apps.
After all, App Store search has always been lacking - now the prospect of siphoning off App conversions in favour of Apple's own Apps feels downright cruel.
So what's happening here? Does Apple have it out for Indie Developers? Is the end nigh for paid Apps entirely?
Without a doubt, if you're an Indie Developer tied to a revenue-generating productivity App (i.e. something similar in functionality to a free Apple App) you have reason to worry. Sure the 'killer Apps' will always sell (Fantastical, TweetBot, etc) - but it's fair to assume they may be a dying breed.
As iOS Developer David Smith pointed out in a recent podcast, Apps are becoming a commodity business - and Indie Developers in particular need to think long and hard about how to monetise their products in this new paradigm of free software. For example, services and subscriptions can still be a lucrative method of revenue (i.e. charging for recurring use of tools, services, or content - see Spotify, Feed Wrangler, or any Magazine App).
Gone are the days where the impulse (upfront) purchase of a £5 or £10 App will mean a windfall for the Developer. The onus is now squarely on the content and services themselves to sell the App. Free initial App downloads must now give the customer a chance to see and feel the App before a subsequent in-app purchase or subscription is required to access tools or content. Just look at what's happened with Mobile gaming - where the "freemium" model is now the accepted norm.
So it's not all doom and gloom for Developers - the indie software business can still survive. But the message Apple seems to be sending is clear - software itself should be free, and you'll have to produce something substantially different or better than our own Apps to make a success of it.
It's now - more than ever - up to Indie Developers to quickly realise which way the wind is blowing - and begin to structure their Apps and services for this new paradigm - a place where an App must prove (and continually re-prove) it's value before earning its revenue.