App Economy

Indie Developers Have it Pretty Good These Days

myst Indie Developers Have it Pretty Good These DaysThanks to the incredibly successful Instapaper, the Apple App Store has become Marco Arment’s bread and butter. But that means he’s at the mercy of Apple’s stringent guidelines and app review process, which have given thousands of developers including Mr. Arment and, more severely, his friends at Readbility, trouble in the past.

Twitter recently announced a 12-day death sentence for full clients like Seesmic, Hootsuite and Brizzly by removing the ability for third parties to access users’ private messages. Mr. Arment’s reaction, as someone who makes his living as a third party developer? Tough luck.

It’s the simple, brutal truth. Twitter must do what’s best for Twitter. They owe us nothing.

It’s not a public good. It’s not a right. It’s a private, entirely centralized service with no meaningful competition and a massive network-effect barrier to competitive entry. Twitter has all of the power in its relationship with users and developers.

It doesn’t matter whether third-party clients helped make it popular. Twitter has reciprocated for years by giving such apps a compelling platform for which to sell software. Successful Twitter-client developers have made a ton of money in exchange for the help they provided in making Twitter popular.

The situation isn’t exactly analogous–Apple is an established company and Twitter is still a young, rapidly-evolving product. “Next year’s Twitter might be radically different from today’s,” he wrote. “You can’t count on anything about Twitter to remain constant.”

But Apple recently introduced a drastic change that was devastating to some developers by requiring in-app purchases to go through its official subscription system, a move that benefits 1) content publishers, 2) Apple, and, Apple would probably argue, 3) users. Even the supposedly-open Android Market recently yanked the music-streaming app Grooveshark.

Moral of the story? No one is safe. But considering the leaps and hurdles that developers used to have to go through in order to build software to sell to consumers–buying shelf space! dealing with Microsoft!–the mobile app economy is still a pretty good place for developers.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com