There’s always the risk when developing for Mac OS X that Apple will compete directly with your product. iTunes, Mail, and Safari are high-profile examples, as well as the “lightning strikes twice” hit of Watson/Sherlock and Sandvox/iWeb. That history is “well documented”:http://www.karelia.com/news/small_and_nimble_the_long_s.html so I won’t repeat it here.
But when listening to the “Macworld podcast”:http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/mwpodcast.html a week ago (the episode with Dan Moren and Jason Snell back from the iPhone 3.0 announcement) it struck me that iPhone software is a little unique. They made the point, which I think is true for most software, that Apple’s offering is usually simple, full of holes that could be filled with new features from third-party developers. There is usually room for a developer with a unique twist on an idea to market and sell his solution to like-minded users, even if Apple ships a default good-enough app for most people.
Except there’s one pretty significant problem, especially on the iPhone. Apple cheats.
Third-party apps cannot run in the background. So it doesn’t matter how many features a recording app has that Apple won’t bother to implement, background recording is the killer feature that will always remain out of reach for developers.
Put another way, if the Apple app didn’t record in the background and a third-party app could, that third-party app would likely be worth $5-10 to many people for that one feature alone. But give Apple background recording and it doesn’t matter how many features another app adds — syncing music, FTPing to a server, multiple tracks, sound effects, more file formats — it’s going to be a challenge to convince users they need two recording apps. I expect some audio developers to overcompensate by adding every feature listed above and more to make up for the one feature they can’t have.
I wasn’t going to write about MacHeist this year, but after a hail storm damaged nearly every roof in our neighborhood, I noticed something kind of obvious: there are a lot of business that make it up on volume.
This is the new MacHeist promise, right? Not just exposure, although that’s part of it, but selling so many tens of thousands of copies that the developers do very well regardless of their tiny underpriced cut of the profits per sale.
We don’t get hail in Austin very often. I took the Flip out and “filmed a little bit of it”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/manton/3443213704, as golf-ball sized balls of ice blanketed the yard. Afterwards every roofing company in Texas descended on Austin offering steep discounts, in some cases even covering an insurance deductable of $2000 or more. Depending on who you ask, such practices may or may not be considered insurance fraud, but like MacHeist it does come with ethical considerations. The roofing companies knew that they could do so much business in the next 2 weeks that they will easily make up for reduced profits by the sheer volume of work.
There’s another kind of discount shared between roofing companies and MacHeist. Users promote the package they just purchased in exchange for further discounts. For MacHeist it’s spamming your Twitter followers (I get a free Delicious Library!). For roofers it’s spamming your neighbors with a yard sign (I get $250 off!).
I’ve learned a few things from all of this that I think will help me make “my own indie business”:http://www.riverfold.com/ stronger, or at least more consistent. I gladly give free licenses to reviewers, bloggers, and small Mac user groups. I also routinely do 10-20% off discounts that anyone who knows how to search Twitter or “RetailMeNot.com”:http://www.retailmenot.com/ can use.
But I’m just going to have a default “no thanks” answer for big promotions and mass giveaways. It’s consistent with what I believe about keeping prices fair to sustain a Mac business, and it takes the guess work out of which promotions harm the Mac ecosystem and which are a great deal for everyone.