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When the Compass Breaks 🧭

When the Compass Breaks 🧭
By Ernie Smith • Issue #151 • View online
Thinking about an individual developer’s unearned greed in the context of an App Store’s unearned greed.

(ThayneT/Wikimedia Commons)
(ThayneT/Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, an iOS developer drew a lot of attention for leaning into the villain thing. And at around the same time, Apple drew attention for an iOS policy that seemed particularly villainous.
And I can’t help but connect the two in my head.
So, here’s the deal: You may have heard about the popular word game Wordle, which uses an incredibly simple format: A five-letter word, and you get six guesses. It only plays once a day.
Worlde is the work of an independent developer, and like other viral games that came before it, like Flappy Bird or 2048, a number of clones quickly started to hit the market. Apple took a number of them down. But one developer in particular seemed to become the Twitter villain of the day for unapologetically playing up his desire to want to make lots of money off this trending viral game, including by offering a subscription option with an outsized price.
I won’t quote his tweets because he doesn’t deserve the attention and they’re easy enough to find, but long story short, he seemed to not understand how his actions came off as greedy and reputation-damaging. When people that are generally highly respected, like Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, took steps to question his actions, the user criticized them as if they weren’t good enough for him.
Agree with Gruber or disagree, you don’t call him a moron, which is what this guy did.
The best way I can describe it is that the user felt entitled to his success simply because it was the easiest way for him to get there.
And in that light, a tweet from the viral tech account Internal Tech Emails just feels tone-setting:
Internal Tech Emails
Apple execs: Let's take a 30% cut of Uber and Lyft's membership programs

June 26, 2018
The gist of the email thread was that Apple, for no other reason than that it wanted to create a new revenue stream, attempted to charge a 30 percent fee for “membership subscriptions” sold on its service, even though it’s arguable that it did basically none of the work to help sell those subscriptions.
Uber and Lyft were the targets of this plan, and both balked at efforts by Apple to take such a large cut. A key passage from the emails:
Many of these developers recognize the benefits of using our subscriptions platform, particularly as a way to launch and operationalize these memberships quickly. However, we anticipate our 30% commission will be a key concern for them.
Both companies understandably balked at this plan. (Lyft, which was selling a $300 plan for heavy users at the time, had a lot of reason to do so, as that fee would have added nearly $100 a month to the cost of that offering.) But Apple had considered extending this plan to traditional retailers like Costco as well. It never happened, largely because tech companies understandably balked.
But that it was even discussed shows an astounding lack of moral compass on the part of Apple, already one of the richest companies in the world at the time this initiative was pushed. They wanted three-tenths of every dollar just for the right to sell a service using software that it was already paid for in three other ways.
In some ways I can’t help but to think that the reason we have developers that are so willing to trash their personal reputations and sully the work of others in the name of financial gain is because the people that run the platforms seem to have prioritized financial gain over innovation.
I’m not saying it widespread or even commonplace. But I have to imagine someone with a cutthroat desire to succeed on the App Store hears about things like this and sets their moral compass accordingly, not realizing that the other compass was broken.
Fix one, and you fix the other.
Related Reads:
App Store Predecessors: Many Early Attempts at Digital Distribution
Epic Games’ App Store Battle: Why its Past Defines its Present
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: alarm goes off
If you like this, be sure to check out more of my writing at Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.
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Ernie Smith

Hot takes in 30 minutes or less. A newsletter with an unforgiving deadline, written by Ernie Smith—who’s best known for another newsletter, Tedium.

Three times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday). Hope I hit the 30-minute deadline. ⏲

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