If you want to know how iOS developers really feel about working with Apple, just ask Mike Lee.Lee has had plenty of interactions with developers, both as a former senior engineer at Apple, where he worked on the company’s Worldwide Developer Relations team, and as the head of Appsterdam, a movement to bring together indie developers. He’s also worked on his fair share of popular apps including Tap Tap Revenge and the Apple Store app.
Along the way, Lee has overheard more than a few developer complaints. Over the course of a couple conversations with Business Insider, Lee opened up about some of the most common complaints he’s heard from developers and what Apple should do to address them.
'There used to be an epidemic of these fake or knock-off cheap, garbage apps that shouldn't be in the store, not necessarily because they are crap, but because they are fraudulent or harmful to people making them,' Lee said.
Apple has started removing some of these applications from the App Store, including blatant knockoffs like Temple Jump (a ripoff of Temple Run) and Plant vs. Zombie (a ripoff of Plants vs. Zombies). But many developers feel the company hasn't done enough.
'From third-party testimony, I hear Apple has not done a good enough job of policing these, or responding to these complaints,' Lee said. 'Developers feel like Apple just doesn't care.'
'A big complaint that developers have is they are cut off from their customers,' Lee said. 'If I have a customer who is unhappy with my app for any reason, the customer should be able to write me telling me they have a problem. And if somebody doesn't like my app, I should be able to give them their money back.'
Unfortunately, none of that is possible with Apple's App Store, which likely ends up hurting individual developers more than it hurts Apple.
'The App Store takes that away. I can't give them their money back. They have to fight with Apple for it,' he said. 'Will they get mad at Apple? No. They will get mad at me.'
'The most common complaint I've heard is that there's no pro-level support for developers inside Apple,' Lee said. 'There's nobody you can call to answer your questions or help you when you're stuck in App Review or some such.'
However, Lee says Apple does have a Partnership Management program, which is intended to provide this kind of service. The problem, he said, is that this program is a 'pure meritocracy.' He added, 'You don't call them, they call you.'
Lee says that iOS developers struggle to understand all of Apple's rules and the reasons why their apps get rejected. At times, Lee says the app review process can feel inhuman and the decisions can feel random at best.
'I think the app review process is getting better over time, but the challenge is that the App Store is getting bigger, faster,' he said. 'So people may not see the improvements that are being made because the universe is expanding faster.'
Lee argues that Apple could help address this complaint by hiring some sort of ombudsman for the App Store who would personally respond to specific questions from developers. 'It would go a long way to keep developers from feeling like they're the subject of a Grand Jury inquest,' he said.
Some developers aren't too fond of having to forfeit 30% of their revenues from subscription apps because Apple takes a cut. But while this is a common complaint, Lee argues it says as much about the developer as it does about Apple.
'I think a lot of people who look at that 30% see what it pays for and look at it as the tax of doing business with Apple. But you have to be able to see that to feel OK about it,' Lee said. 'So ultimately I think that complaining about that 30% comes down to Apple seeming like a robot and not like real people. When you see that you give that 30% and Apple seems like a stone wall, then you don't appreciate it.'
Each year, Apple's big Worldwide Developers Conference seems to get harder and harder to get into. Indeed, this year, WWDC sold out before most developers on the West Coast were even awake. Apparently, iOS developers don't appreciate this much.
'It has become increasingly irritating to people because they can't get in,' Lee said. For that reason, he says Apple should rethink the planning for the event. 'When you look at WWDC, you see a 5,000 person conference with a 100K person waiting list. What it really needs to be is more like Comic Con where the whole town comes out.'
It seems unlikely this will happen though, as Apple is reportedly planning to hold events like WWDC at an underground auditorium in its new spaceship headquarters.
All of these complaints essentially boil down to a single issue: Apple's whole app process, like the company itself, is just too opaque.
'Opacity is 80%-90% of the problem,' Lee said. 'Developers do not trust big opaque systems, and are powerless to do anything about it.
That said, Lee believes this is something that might change for the better under Tim Cook. 'I have very positive feelings that Apple will move in the right direction here. Tim Cook seems determined to increase transparency even as they double down on secrecy.'