BradzTech

How Apple Charges Developers Twice

Written by BradzTech on Jul 14, 2019

To develop apps for Apple iOS devices, one must become a member of the Apple Developer Program. I've been a member of this $99/year program for four years now. The yearly fee is a pestilence as someone who has only developed free apps so far, but I recently have begun to realize the true cost of this program is far higher. In fact, I would argue Apple actually charges you twice.

No Mac? No Way.

My main complaint about the Apple Developer Program is that having a Mac is a hard requirement to be able to build iOS apps. At that, not just any Mac, but an up-to-date one.

A year ago, my 2011 iMac stopped being supported by the latest macOS system update, 10.14 Mojave. At first, I didn't stress about this, as I knew the update was just another your of incremental changes that I probably wouldn't miss too much. The iMac is still running along fine after all. It's begun to slow down a tad due to using a spinning Hard Disk Drive as opposed to a newer Solid State Drive, but the quad-core processor and 16GB RAM still make it faster and thus more fit for software development than the much more recent lower-end MacBooks.

However, I soon noticed that I could no longer update to the latest version of iTunes or Xcode, as they require the latest operating system. Because of this, I could no longer develop for the latest version of iOS. I could still develop and test the app in the simulator, but I could not test the app on my personal iPhone, nor could I upload it to the App Store after a few months.

Meanwhile, I am still paying Apple $99/year to be a developer, but I have effectively lost my ability to make apps. I'm now be forced to purchase a new Mac. Given that not even the highest-end Mac laptop has a GPU sufficient for my needs, I had elected to purchase a Windows laptop instead. So now I'm expected to buy a Mac in addition to it, that I might not need for anything else!? With the cheapest MacBook starting at $1100 and having processor cores and RAM inferior to my still-operational iMac, this is outrageous.

I am being a touch over-dramatic here. One can purchase a used MacBook Air on eBay for much cheaper, as I have, and I do appreciate its portability compared to my 7.8 lb. Windows laptop. However, others might already have a highly portable PC, and who's to say an older MacBook Air model won't become unsupported by the latest macOS once again in just a year or two?

What's the Point?

To be clear, Apple does allow aspiring programmers with a Mac to start learning iOS development for no fee. All one must do is download Xcode and begin learning. However, they're restricted to testing the apps only on their own personal iOS device- and, at that, the app will expire after 7 days if the user stops working on it.

Once a developer decides they would like to go further and potentially upload their app to the App Store, they must sign up for the personal Apple Developer Program, which again, entails a fee of $99/year. This creates a barrier that will keep some casual developers off the App Store. This is actually Apple's goal; while they want to invite useful apps onto the store, they also wish to keep out low-quality apps that may provide a poor experience for their users.

Despite there being about two million apps on the Store, Apple hand-examines every one to ensure it meets certain standards. By keeping out those unwilling to pay, they hope to decrease the number of problematic apps they'll have to review and probably have to reject anyway. It also offers an element of spam protection, helping minimize malicious apps that may (and have before!) sneaked by the review team.

What about Android?

This is where things start to get frustrating. Google Play is the primary app store on the competing Android platform. Google Play is less strict about hand-examining every app than Apple, but they still deploy measures to inhibit malicious and spam apps infesting the store by charging a one-time $25 fee to start publishing.

This fee is already an order of magnitude more reasonable than Apple, which charges a four times greater fee every year. Part of this reason might be to motivate developers to keep their app current or to simply leave the app store if they are no longer interested. In fact, the number of apps on the App Store has been falling slightly due to this pruning of outdated apps. This process goes along with Apple's strict quality control but remains a huge annoyance to hobbyist developers like myself who are not making ongoing profits from their apps. That being said, the situation isn't much better for those who do sell financially successful apps, as they must pay Apple 30% of their revenue in addition to the standard $99/year fee. Ouch.

Evaluation

I think the Apple Developer Program is overpriced. I understand Apple's intention to try and keep the App Store as polished as possible, but it's just too much to charge us developers $99/year plus forcing us to purchase new Macs, effectively charging us twice. That is, too much if Apple has respect for the smaller developers on its platform, which perhaps it just doesn't.

Much of the issue is Apple's monopoly on iOS apps, as unlike Android, where the Play Store is only the primary app store, the iOS App Store is the only app store. This allows Apple to charge as much as they please to us developers, and we are forced to pay it if we wish to reach the current majority of the United States mobile market. A potential solution on my part would be to switch to a one-time $99 fee, but I have no power here.

This is just one of the reasons I will be closely watching Apple's court battle over its antitrust behavior surrounding the App Store.

About BradzTech

Hello, I'm BradzTech! I'm a technology enthusiast and Apple fan. I enjoy experimenting with my iMac and iPhone and using my knowledge of computers to help others with their computer problems, Mac and PC users alike! I created this website to spread my knowledge of technology over the Internet. I currently do this by periodically writing on my blog.