Several months ago I wrote about how Apple’s opening of the iPhone SDK and its App Store would create a whole new business ecosystem for application developers for that platform. Apple offers globally accessible hosting and payment clearance in return for a 30% cut of the app’s sales price.
Now, there are early signs that the strategy is paying off for some early application developers who have developed popular apps for the iPhone and iPod touch (which uses the same SDK as the iPhone) users. Eliza Block, who developed 2 Across, a word game for the iPhone platform, has reportedly cleared in the area of $2,000 a day according to this article.
The App Store is a new updated version of the shareware movement which took hold in the early 80s with the launch of the Apple Macintosh 128K. In those days, homebrew developers would develop games, apps and productivity tools which were distributed on floppy disks. (Remember those? If you do, you’re showing your age.) More often than not, these came with a message which went something like “If you liked this app, please show your appreciation by sending a contribution to this address.” More often than not, people just used the apps without sending money, although there were a few kind and generous souls who did.
Now, Apple has become the doorkeeper for these independent developers. There is no more reliance on the kindness of strangers; Apple takes care of global distribution and payment for new apps in return for 30% of the app’s sales price. For devs, the App Store is the perfect barometer for what’s hot and what’s not.
In contrast, Facebook and others have not been able to find the magic balance point between independent developers and their own corporate needs for revenue. When Facebook opened its platform to developers, it ended up enabling app developers to spam the FB audience, driving many away from Facebook. Now, with Facebook Connect, FB is trying to find that balance point.
Chinese social media companies are no better at finding the right balance between independent devs and their own need for revenue. While there has been talk about open systems in China, all of the competing business models in fact, are not open. Apple’s system is certainly not open. it’s just that Apple is willing to share in order to grow the pie.
Apple and Steve Jobs have successfully put themselves at the juncture of technology, business and hardware, and are willing to share a larger cut in order to drive up sales of a very attractive new hardware platform. With growing earnings from hardware sales, Apple can afford to be generous with devs, and is effectively subsidizing a new business ecosystem. By making some independent developers financially successful with App Store and getting that word out, they do something none of their competition have been able to do yet.
The question for Chinese companies such as Tencent is whether they are willing to use their high corporate earnings to subsidize their own independent developers’ business ecosystem as Apple has, and share some of the revenue in order to grow the pie for everyone? Or do they still think that they can own the whole pie? Tangos Chan says that they still believe that they can own the whole pie.
But Tangos believes that this will change in the future. In the meantime, more independent devs will gravitate to developing for the iPhone platform. It’s better to open up sooner while there is still interest in their platform because opening up later means that they will have to be that much more generous in order to attract developers away from Apple’s platform.
After all, that’s where the money is. And I’m sure that Steve loves how his competitors’ moves help his platform.
What more could he ask for?