At this week’s developers conference, Apple made a whole bunch of announcements aimed at getting the hordes of people who make their living building apps and software for iOS, Mac, and Apple Watch excited to work with the company.
Some of those announcements, especially Apple’s plan to make its popular Swift programming language open source, got applause and cheers.
But not everybody is happy with Apple at the moment.
First off, a lot of things Apple announced make a lot of startups redundant.
Developers call this well-documented phenomenon “sherlocking,” in reference to the time in 2002 that Apple introduced a new search feature called “Sherlock” into Mac OS 8 that made a commercial, outside product named “Watson” totally obsolete.
Market research firm CBInsights noted in a blog post that apart from the obvious — Apple Music competes with music services like Spotify, Rdio, and SoundCloud, Apple News competes with Flipboard — there are 12 other venture-backed companies whose iOS-based services now compete with Apple. These include Evernote (Apple Notes) and menstrual cycle tracking app Clue (new updates to Apple’s HealthKit).
This isn’t necessarily a death knell. Apple’s iCloud, for instance, was supposed to be a Dropbox-killer (it didn’t work out that way, obviously). And just as iMessage didn’t kill WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, iOS 9 won’t completely destroy every other competitor. But it gives startups a much harder time getting off the ground if they have to go against Apple itself on its home turf.
Going on Safari
Next, Apple announced a change to the way developers work with Apple. In the past, Apple had separate programs for iPhone/iPad and the Mac. If you wanted access to the early developer versions of iOS and Mac OS X, and the tools to get your stuff listed in the App Store, you needed to join two programs, each at a cost of $US99 a year.
At WWDC, Apple brought the two of them together. So far so good.
The problem is that Apple also made Safari extensions — tools made by outside parties that add extra features to Apple’s Safari browser — part of the program. That means the people who make Safari extensions must now pay an annual $US99 fee.
That $US99 per year is not a big deal for developers who make iPhone games or Mac apps from which they can then make money (whether by charging for the app, doing in-app purchases, or by running advertising). But for developers who make Safari extensions, which are always available to consumers for free, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Often, developers release these extensions as hobby projects, and so many feel that charging $US99 per year to distribute software that makes Safari better at a net loss to themselves makes no sense.
“Not only is the cost an annoyance, I also don’t feel Apple deserves $US100 from me just so I can have the privilege of continuing to publish free software that enhances its browsers,” wrote honestbleeps, who makes the free Reddit Enhancement Suite tool in a very popular, widely-read post on the Apple subreddit community. “This just feels like a HUGE kick in the face from Apple.”
If you don’t pay the $US99, it seems that you can still distribute your Safari extensions from your own website, but once OS X El Capital is released with a new version of Safari, those extensions won’t automatically update themselves — basically a kiss of death.
Since websites can change drastically overnight, a browser extension that works today might not tomorrow, and without an automatic update from the developer, it will just stop working entirely until the user goes in manually. And who knows how long that would take?
Business Insider has reached out to Apple for clarification on this point and will update when they respond.
Compounding the frustration is the fact that Safari has a much smaller marketshare than other browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer.
There is, of course, another side to this story: The $US99 annual fee also includes the ability to list your Safari extension in the Safari Extensions Gallery, Apple’s official place to find extensions, meaning more eyeballs on the fruits of your labour.
Plus, by placing extensions under that same Apple Developer Program, it makes it easier for iOS and Mac app developers to make the Safari browser integrate with their apps. That’s especially important since Safari in iOS 9 for iPhones and iPads will let users install extensions for the mobile browser.
But many Safari extension developers, like honestbleeps, just want to make their passion projects for the browser and let people use them, without having to pay out of pocket.
Change is afoot
Apple is trying very hard to make itself friendlier to developers, and the streamlining of its developer program goes a long way. But for a company as big and as platform-focused as Apple, there are going to be some bumps in the road.
In the eyes of some people though, a few of the bumps appear to be smaller startups and independent developers getting run over.