Apple’s Mac App Store ‘Losing Devs to the Great Unknown’: Survey

In an exhaustive survey of macOS developers, MacPaw found the ‘new’ Mac App Store is still widely disliked by developers.

Positioning its questionnaire as a comparison of the Mac App Store and MacPaw’s Setapp app distribution subscription service, MacPaw gauged responses from those developers who distribute inside the Mac App Store entirely, those who distribute apps and services outside the app store, and those who do both.

While some sentiment is more positive, the overall takeaway is developers are still not seeing the value in Apple’s desktop app destination. From MacPaw:

In 2018, the Mac App Store is slowly losing devs to the great unknown; fewer choose to sell exclusively through it – down to 22 percent [from 23 percent in 2017] – with more (32 percent, up from 30 percent) looking outside the App Store for customers, and slightly more picking both options compared to our 2017 survey results.

Some 59 percent of developers say they make more money outside the Mac App Store than in it, which is up a few percentage points from last year. This is perhaps why more developers who distribute exclusively through the Mac App Store are aware of Setapp than those who choose to distribute elsewhere: They are seeking a way to make more money.

Of those who aren’t utilizing Setapp, 30 percent say they’re just not interested in a subscription model, and 19 percent say their app or service is not a good fit for that model. This is telling; Apple is pushing subscriptions hard to developers, and these findings suggest almost half of developers distributing via the Mac App Store don’t see value in that method.

Comparatively, developers who are exclusive to the Mac App Store dislike it as much as they do the idea of Setapp, affording NPS scores of -19 and -22, respectively. This scoring metric went haywire for those who avoid Apple’s desktop portal, where the Mac App Store scores a -77, while Setapp scored a 17. Developers who utilize the Mac App Store and other means score Apple’s option at -35, while Setapp scores a 7.

(‘NPS’ is MacPaw’s method for weighing three options: detractors, passives, and promoters. It says “results can go from -100, if customers hate everything about a product/service to 100, if every customer loves absolutely everything about something.”)

Mac App Store WWDC 2016

If you think Apple’s steep 30 percent cut of revenue is dissuading developers, it’s not. Only 49 percent say the revenue split is ‘not worth it,’ which is way down from the 69 percent last year.

Sandboxing is also no longer an issue. Last year, MacPaw found it was the largest detractor. This year, prime issues included the lack of analytics via the Mac App Store and the inability to offer trials, along with Apple preventing “pricing upgrades” that would allow a paid app to have in-app purchases for upgraded features.

Trials and upgrade pricing aren’t new: they’ve been a developer community request since at least 2012. Apple just won’t budge when it comes to the Mac.

Developers who avoid the Mac App Store do so for a variety of reasons, but most (65 percent) of those who don’t distribute apps via the storefront cite a “long and unclear app review process” as their reason. Around 60 percent say the 30 percent revenue cut Apple takes is a dissuader, while 41 percent say the lack of app trials is a problem.

Even more troubling for Apple is that many developers (38 percent) who distribute outside the Mac App Store have a “homegrown” solution, while 35 percent say they simply use third-party tools. Furthermore, the two largest third-party tools, Paddle and DevMate, have merged. This poses a large threat to Apple for macOS app distribution.

Setapp’s survey has a ton of insight into the macOS developer community (and desktop developer community at-large, since almost 70 percent say they also write Windows apps), and there are a few clear takeaways. Apple has improved the navigation and aesthetic of the Mac App Store, but it has failed to make good on its potential. Developers still loathe Apple’s stodgy, draconian app distribution practices, which just don’t work for the desktop environment.

It’s not an end-of-days scenario for the Mac App Store, but Apple really hasn’t turned the corner on it, either. Even those who distribute apps solely via the built-in Mac app distribution channel dislike it. Let’s hope WWDC 2019 brings sweeping change.

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