White-labelled mobile apps is a bad idea
Apple did the right thing when they banned white labelled mobile apps
Before starting Zagl, I was part of Restoplus, a white-labelled mobile apps development company for restaurants. Restoplus was quite successful and you could find apps deployed by Restoplus for it’s clients on the AppStore and PlayStore, a lot of these clients are doing well on their apps. But Restoplus is not accepting new sign-ups anymore.
The essence of white-labelling lies in the fact that every participating client gets the product with their name, logo and brand colours as if it was developed for them, while every one gets to share the development and maintenance cost. This brings down the cost of the software significantly and make it affordable for small businesses who cannot otherwise afford to have it.
When Apple banned white-labelled apps in the name of AppStore Cleanup, I was furious because it meant only big companies like McDonalds and KFC can have individual mobile apps while your local restaurants cannot. You can see that in a series of tweets that I posted during that time.
After an unsuccessful ordeal with Apple the team at Restoplus started working on Zagl to deliver the same benefits an App would deliver while not deploying individual apps for each client.
Zagl turned out to be much better and more scalable solution than while-labelled mobile apps, while offering almost the same benefits as an individual app
As you can see, my views on the ban has changed from negative to positive, so what has changed? Having been on both sides of the equation, I could clearly outline the pros and cons of each approach. In this post I’ll summarise the reasons why white labelled apps is a bad solution, I’m doing this with the intention to warn companies that set-out to build similar solutions in other domains.
One of the biggest challenges with white-labelled apps is building the app itself. Any framework or library you choose are designed with a single app in mind, while a few cater to limited variation like free/paid versions of the app, most do not cater to 100s of deployments that would satisfy the needs of a white-labelled platform.
Let’s say you create a shop on Shopify, a new white-labelled e-commerce site is available for you instantly. If you take a closer look, nothing new has been deployed just for you, instead using multi-tenant architecture a few new entries in the database is all that took to deliver you a branded e-commerce portal.
But with a mobile app, a new app had to be built and deployed on both the AppStore and PlayStore, without drilling into the details I can tell you that this is a multistep and complicated process and a deployment for each client is not a good idea.
This problem derives directly from the deployment model. Shopify can update their platform with a single push, but in order to push an update, all the individual apps on the AppStore and PlayStore had to be updated. At Restoplus we built tools specifically to automate a lot of these processes, but still I wouldn’t set out to do something similar again.
Cost of ownership
Perhaps this is one of the most important arguments against white-labelled apps. Restoplus changed a subscription of $100/month flat, while Zagl is essentially free. This is a hundred-fold improvement in cost of ownership. Maintaining an app takes more time and energy irrespective of whether you are using it or not.
This ongoing commitment means a huge barrier of entry for small businesses and in future any of your client discontinues then it orphans the app on the AppStore and also on the installed devices
Unlike other white-labelled solutions, white-labelled mobile apps is not scalable. The complexity increases exponentially with the number of apps increasing on the AppStore. To give some perspective, with 75 apps on the Appstore and PlayStore, every update used to take hours running on a single-worker on our Continuous Integration servers, now imagine thousands of Apps or perhaps 10s of thousands and it will simply not work.
Apple demands that each app created for your client to be listed in the client’s developer account. At Restoplus, we had one developer account for Restoplus and all the apps of our clients were listed as part of the same developer account, but maintaining a developer account for each client is simply impossible.
Of course I have not listed every reason why white-labelling is bad for app ecosystem, but these are some of the important factors to consider.
While having your own mobile app is the obvious way, checkout Zagl which is the smartest way to get on the AppStore
After all this, may be Apple did the right thing by killing white-labelled apps for good. Zagl is obviously one of the ways to get around the ban and it will be interesting to see how different industries approach this issue.