Expressing caution with developer advocacy

The best laid plans of indie devs often go awry

Last week I was made aware of ‘The Developers Union,’ a group of iOS developers who have banded together to petition Apple for changes.

Their requests are salient:

Free trials for all apps, not just subscription apps
A more reasonable revenue cut

After these — requests, or demands, I don’t know — are met, it promises to continue “advocating for… other community-driven, developer-friendly changes.”

Sounds good. Every developer wants a bigger cut, and free trials would encourage more downloads. The requests are smart; get people into your funnel, and make more money. Great ideas.

One problem: Apple.

If by happenstance the above changes are being considered at Apple, this might have put a halt to them. Apple won’t want to be seen as cowing to a subset of developers, no matter how carefully considered their argument is. Further, the promise that these hits will keep coming draws a line in the sand.

Being analytical, I’ll point out there are only a few games in the apps listed as supportive of this cause. App Store revenue is largely skewed towards games and media. That’s just the economics.

Being critical, I’ll say some of the apps listed in support of the group are not well received by users. Mediocre reviews and apps that haven’t been updated in quite some time don’t bolster the argument that Apple should do more for developers. Also, some developers supporting the cause aren’t full-time independent developers; not critical, but also not a full-throated rallying cry.

Advocacy is idealism. This group is hoping that by organizing, it will inspire change at Apple. I hope it succeeds.

But there’s strong historic indication advocacy will work against the grain. I can’t recall an actual developer advocacy group targeting Apple, so perhaps this movement will defy logic.

I just don’t think so. Between these requests and a promise to grow its membership so it can insist on further items being checked off a list, Apple has every reason to wait this out until the group disbands and its voice dissipates. That’s the exact opposite of what its stated goals are.

It’s also not purposeful. In an interview with WIRED, one member said “It’s a non-union union in a way… I’m not super interested in creating a traditional union; I’m more interested in bringing the voice of indies back into the spotlight and this is a step in that direction.”

You can’t really have a ‘non-union union.’ That’s both antithetical to progress and a sign there’s no direction. Also, why is it called a union when it’s a non-union? Why not ‘The Developer’s Collective’?

More than a potentially counterproductive collection of interests, I’m concerned about the future with this group. Today, their requests have you thinking “well, obviously.” Tomorrow, it could be different.

That’s a trust issue, and trust is earned. The ‘union’ wants to grow its membership to 20,000 by WWDC, which is a large number of developers. It almost assuredly won’t get there, but what if it does down the line? Further, what if its requests become untenable, or just plain silly?

What if Apple thinks its silly requests are how most developers think? This group wants to make the independent developer’s voice heard again, but whose voices will be heard? Theirs.

The easy panacea is to join the cause, but I don’t see it as being effective, now or later. I am independent (and part time), and this group doesn’t speak for me.

Again, I hope it succeeds in being ‘heard’ on its first two goals, but Apple has heard developers and professionals all along. It will do what it thinks is right, whe it thinks the time is appropriate. All too often, that’s later than developers would like.

Which is clearly the genesis for ‘The Developer’s Union,’ but also its achilles heel. Again, its requests are sound because these wish-list items are long in the tooth, and I’d hate for Apple to pull punches because it doesn’t want the appearance it’s being coerced by a group.

If the changes are made at WWDC, for instance, this group could claim some sort of moral victory, and increase its membership simply by arguing it’s effective. That leaves Apple squabbling in the press about which groups it does and does not listen to, and el-oh-el if you think that’s energy Apple will exert. It would probably rather wait.

The subtitle for this article is spun from the poem To a Mouse. In translation from old English gibberish, the full context of the excerpt is:

But mouse-friend, you are not alone
in proving foresight may be vain:
the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
go oft awry,
and leave us only grief and pain,
for promised joy!

It’s the penultimate verse. The closing stanza is the man cautioning the mice not to run; their perception he’s dangerous is false, and there are greater dangers away from the barn he discovered them in should they fight or flee.