10 ways curated app stores undermine developers

The locked-down app store software delivery models limit choice for developers -- and ultimately hurts users

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5. The curating process is not always effective. This week, The Next Web uncovered what it believes to be "app farms" designed to game the App Store's ranking system. If some developers are struggling to get a single app approved, how did a company called Brighthouse Labs convince Apple to rubberstamp 4,568 apps -- and what does it say about the efficacy of the curated computing model overall?

6. App store security is questionable. Early this year, security research discovered apps on the Android Market that seemed designed to steal users' banking information. More recently, developer Thuat Nguyen was booted from Apple's App Store when his app sales were correlated to fraudulent iTunes purchases. Swift action was taken in both cases, but how did the offending apps make it past the curators to begin with?

7. The curated model is hostile to free software. As I've explained before, the licensing requirements imposed by the curated computing model conflict with the Gnu General Public License (GPL). Meanwhile, a study by 24/7 Wall Street claims the iPhone App Store has lost some $450 million to piracy -- yet developers aren't allowed to experiment with new business models because the platform vendor demands total control.

8. App stores don't always work. Unless you jailbreak your iPhone, the App Store is the only place you can get new apps -- so it had better be reliable. Apple's track record has been good so far, but not every competitor can say the same. The Android Market has been particularly flaky, with apps disappearing from the catalog and developers seeing inaccurate download counts. With the platform vendor as sole gatekeeper, independent developers have little choice but to cross their fingers and hope customers can download their apps.

9. App stores fragment the market. Cross-platform mobile development is largely a pipe dream, and it's likely to remain so as long as each vendor insists on its own, independent app store. Not even the major mobile carriers have been able to convince the smartphone OS vendors to play nice with each other, so your success as a developer will largely depend on whose horse you back.

10. App stores aren't always successful. Customers don't always see the appeal of the curated approach. As much as Microsoft hopes to emulate Apple's successes with an app store for Windows 8, desktop app stores have been particularly unsuccessful. Red Hat Exchange, a marketplace for desktop Linux apps, closed down in 2009. Meanwhile, Intel's AppUp Center, an app store for netbooks based on the company's Atom processor, offers but a paltry 200 apps.

Whichever way you slice it, consumers aren't the only ones for whom "choice is constrained" in the curated computing model. Independent developers must also sacrifice a lot to join the party. Will it be worth it in the long run?

This article, "10 ways curated app stores undermine developers," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in software development at InfoWorld.com.

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