Does Apple’s App Store Need a Radical Revamp?

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Earlier this month, Apple launched a website touting its job-creation record in Europe.

“Throughout our history, we have created entirely new products—and entirely new industries—by focusing on innovation,” reads the website’s text. “This has resulted in nearly 630,000 European jobs at Apple and at developers and businesses supported by Apple.”

Click here to find app developer jobs.

And that’s not all: “In addition, the App Store has created hundreds of thousands of jobs that previously did not exist in the European economy, enabling developers to launch new companies and earn $6.5 billion from App Store sales worldwide.”

Apple claims that, in addition to the 132,000 European jobs “directly or indirectly supported” by the company, some 497,000 jobs are “directly attributable to the App Store,” while 116,000 jobs have been created at “other companies as a result of Apple’s growth.” (Apple’s actual employee base in Europe, at 16,000 souls, is rather small in comparison.)

Drilling down a little further, European developers have earned $6.5 billion from the App Store. Apple counts 280,500 European members of its paid app-developer program. If you divide things evenly, that means each of those developers is earning roughly $23,172 from the App Store.

But the world isn’t an even place, of course, and some developers earn far more than others. VisionMobile’s recent Developer Economics report surveyed more than 10,000 app developers and concluded that half of all iOS developers, and 64 percent of Android developers, earned less than $500 per app per month. Meanwhile, the top 1.6 percent of app-creators earns more than $500,000 per month—collectively, more than the other 98.4 percent combined.

One big problem facing developers is the design of the App Store itself: Given the hundreds of thousands of apps currently on offer, it’s hard for any one app (no matter how well designed) to stand out, much less stay atop the bestseller charts for very long. In an August 10 blog posting, former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée offered Apple CEO Tim Cook some advice: Let humans curate the App Store.

“Instead of using algorithms to sort and promote the apps that you permit on your shelves, why not assign a small group of adepts to create and shepherd an App Store Guide,” he wrote. “A weekly newsletter will identify notable new titles, respond to counter-opinions, perhaps present a developer profile, footnote the occasional errata and mea culpa…”

Whether or not such an idea would effectively surface all the good content now buried under layers of Flappy Bird rip-offs is an open question; what’s certain is that, despite Apple’s rosy picture, developers around the world face a lot of uncertainty and competition when it comes to making significant money off their apps. The rising tide doesn’t necessarily float all boats.

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