Apple makes life easier for Ottawa iOS app developers

As Apple offers a rare glimpse into its App Store sales data, several Ottawa developers say the California tech giant has made several significant changes that make publishing to the popular platform much more lucrative.

Earlier today, Apple said in a release that app developers made US$20 billion on the App Store in 2016, up 40 per cent from 2015.

However, Apple is doing more than just writing larger cheques to win the favour of developers, experts say.

The App Store launched in 2008 and has long been a source of frustration for developers.

Graeme Barlow, director of marketing for Ottawa-based app developer Iversoft, says publishing on the App Store has traditionally been an “arcane science,” with limited transparency on Apple’s part as to why various apps are rejected or accepted onto the store.

Barlow says that changed significantly in 2016. He says Apple made the approval process faster and that Iversoft has been able to talk to representatives from Apple for the first time to understand why a specific app was rejected.

Before last year, Barlow says the company would typically wait seven to 12 days for a response to a publishing request. Apps were then commonly rejected, fixed, sent back again, rejected for another reason – on and on – until they were finally published, on average, two months after the initial request.

He says criteria for approval and rejection was often unclear and would sometimes vary based on who the reviewer was for the app.

Apple did offer an expedited publishing option, but Barlow says the approval rate on that method “historically has been horrible.”

These timelines made it challenging to identify and fix critical bugs, or add user-critical features, in a timely manner.

For the past year, however, Iversoft has seen the App Store average 48-hour turnarounds on approval for apps, with the expedited option delivering results within 12 hours.

Apple vs. Android

Brian Hurley, president and CEO of service app developer Purple Forge, told Techopia via e-mail that his company has noticed similar trends. He says approval times are getting faster, and that the App Store has developed tools to help its customers deploy and test applications before official release.

Barlow says Apple’s guidelines for submission are often more strict than those of Google Play on Android devices, but argues the restrictions are worth it and sometimes even work in developers’ favour.

For example, Apple often limits which devices are supported for apps, and will make upgrades to its operating systems mandatory. This limits the number of possible devices and iOS versions that Iversoft, Purple Forge and other developers would need to test their products on.

Not so with Android.

Apps on Google Play may need to be compatible with hundreds of devices and various operating systems, making it next to impossible to have each device handy in the studio to test an app’s performance.

“There’s a million different screen resolutions, there’s a million different app versions,” Barlow says. “Submitting through Google is easy, and we almost never get rejected, but from a development studio standpoint, it’s way more challenging.”

Reaching the App Store audience is more important as well, as advertisers are usually willing to pay a premium to reach Apple users, who tend to be more affluent.

The typical Apple consumer is generally willing to pay more for their devices as well as for apps and the advertised products within those apps.

Barlow estimates that 95 per cent of Iversoft’s revenues from its gaming portfolio come from the App Store.

“IOS is a far more premium audience. Always has been.”

On a more personal level, Iversoft also owes its start in part to the App Store. Founder Vicki Iverson was a developer with Apple before the App Store launched, which allowed Iversoft to have an inside angle into the specifications of the platform. As a result, the company became one of the first, if not the first, to develop a Solitaire application on the App Store.