Craig Hockenberry’s “Half-Assed” calls out the disparity between Apple’s Mac and iOS App Stores with respect to app analytics, limiting customer reviews from beta OS releases, and support for beta testing with TestFlight:
Mac developers have never had access to TestFlight, either internally or externally. It’s “coming soon”, and until that day comes, there’s no way to test apps that use the iCloud servers. Which sucks for both the developer and the customer.
For years, I’ve harbored my own resentments about the way Apple seems to treat the Mac App Store as a second-class citizen. One point that has nagged at me since the Mac App Store launched five years ago is the lack of effort Apple makes in promoting these products through social networks. For years, the @AppStore account has been extremely active promoting iOS apps to its huge (now 3.8 Million people!) audience. It’s obviously a priority for Apple to promote the iOS App Store, and their Twitter account does a great job of it.
But there is no Twitter account for the Mac App Store, and the @AppStore account has nearly never mentioned Mac software. (Go ahead, do an advanced Twitter search for “from:AppStore mac“). Around four years ago at WWDC, I asked a group of App Store affiliated engineers what they made of this. They all looked at me blankly, paused, looked at each other blankly, paused, and then shrugged as if to say “Huh, I wonder why we don’t promote the Mac App Store?” I don’t know either! But they were all in a much better position than I to find out or push for a change. Evidently, that hasn’t happened.
The neglect makes sense on one hand: iOS and now watchOS are the new hotness, the platforms that represent the fastest and most culturally significant growth for Apple. They sell the most devices, generate the most revenue, and create the biggest headlines, worldwide. It still makes sense for Apple to prioritize the iOS App Store, but it’s a shame they haven’t done more over the past five years to integrate the systems that power the stores so that benefits to developers for one platform’s store would automatically benefit the developers for the other.
On the other hand, let’s acknowledge that the disparity is not all roses for iOS and weeds for the Mac. iOS developers continue to face obstacles for which we have long enjoyed simple solutions for on the Mac. As Craig points out, we can’t ship a useful beta testing app that fully exercises all of Apple’s locked down services such as iCloud, but what can we do? We can ship arbitrary binaries to an unlimited number of people, who can install and run those apps on whatever devices they choose. How do you like them, ahem, Apples?
And what about the absurd steps iOS developers must take in order to stay up to date with beta releases of the OS? Either they commit themselves to running guaranteed buggy and possibly unusable versions of the OS on their machine “machines,” or else they spend extra money on devices whose only purpose will be to act as testbeds for the risky new OS. Want to maintain backwards compatibility? Better keep multiple iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, of varying generations handy, but be careful not to update them to a newer OS, as there’s no going back.
On the Mac, we enjoy the ability to erase and reinstall whatever version of the OS we choose, whenever we choose. Furthermore, we can maintain parallel installations of the same or different versions of the OS, on easily switchable partitions of the same disk. Even in the context of a single OS install, we enjoy the ability to test varying user scenarios by configuring test accounts and “Fast-User Switching” between them from the comfort of our Mac’s menu bar. Heck, we can even virtualize whole Macs thanks to VMware, Parallels and VirtualBox. When it comes to testing various configurations affordably and expeditiously, it’s the iOS developers who should be crying to Apple that their priorities are skewed.
I guess it’s lucky the Mac was around for so many years before the dawn of iOS, it’s had time to accumulate many developer-empowering features. Although Apple’s priorities with respect to development resources and marketing seem to be focused on iOS today, we enjoy many privileges on the Mac that I doubt iOS developers will ever see. And to top this off with a bit of true optimism for the future: the weird thing is, Apple keeps improving OS X. I’m sometimes surprised by the amount of attention Apple continues to give to the OS given its apparent relative lack of importance. But I guess Apple is well and truly stocked with a bunch of Mac softies, after all.
There’s a ton of totally vexing behavior that seems to be ill-spirited towards Mac developers, but also a ton that seems to hold iOS developers in low regard. I think this speaks to the likely truth that Apple is, more than anything, under-staffed and not well situated to deploy solutions to both platforms in tandem. It truly is a case of six in one, a half-dozen in the other. But wouldn’t it be great if iOS and Mac developers could each enjoy the benefits of all twelve? I’ll hold out hope that one day Apple will unlock the secret of organizing their efforts so that developers on all their platforms can benefit more or less equally from the technologies the company provides.