by Cesare Rocchi

Control the Narrative

by Cesare Rocchi


The App and Play stores have turned out to be exceptionally poor places to run a software product business for most developers.

DHH source

We have been saying this for quite a while. Check the presentations at iOS/Mac conferences in the last year and you’ll find at least one occurrence of the word “Indiepocalipse”.

There are people, even solo developers, that make a living or a good secondary income off the App Store. I meet them at conferences, I talk to them, they are real. They don’t blog and they don’t podcast. They found a niche with a problem and they built an app to fix it. But they are a fistful. You can build a business on top of the App Store, but we all know it’s hard.

Apple and Google both benefit from having apps be as cheap as possible.

DHH source

Definitely true, but there’s another aspect: controlling the narrative. When you build a product deeply rooted in the App or Play store you don’t control the whole narrative and this can be a problem.

Quick example. Friends of mine were building an app related to a big event. The event happened a few days after the public release of iOS9. You can’t postpone the event and you can’t ask Apple to change its plans. What do you do? You don’t want to be in that situation. Do you target iOS8, iOS9 both? There are so many possibilities to screw up. Needless to say, some bugs where related to iOS and were fixed in 9.0.1, which was released after the event.

Maybe you started building software because you felt there was freedom in that field. Now you are caught between fires, you will and the will of the people behind the platform you adopt. Apple and Google are business partners, like it or not. They call executive meetings and they don’t invite you. They make decisions and they don’t ask for your opinion. They control the narrative, especially Apple which oversees the full stack, from hardware factories to software distribution stores. You have to follow along. Were you planning that cool vacation in mid September? You might want to postpone. …

To give you a counterexample: Github chose when to upgrade to the new version of Rails. Was it painless? Probably not, but they had the luxury of choosing when.

In the Cocoa community we have a cyclic discussion about dependencies. Should I use Cocoapods? Should I trust that third party library written during the weekend by somebody in Alabama? Well, the App Store a dependency, a pretty relevant one.

Does this mean you should not build apps? No, it means you should get acquainted with your business partners. They are controlling their narrative. As long as your script fits theirs you are fine. Do you want to run you own show and write your script from scratch? You should probably look elsewhere or be ready to compromise.

Hit me on Twitter, I love discussing this topic.