Opportunity Knocks

Near the beginning of episode two of Behind the App (Inquisitive 28), David Smith comments that the App Store lowered the barrier to entry allowing him — one guy in his basement — to make apps that compete on a level playing field with apps from big companies like Amazon. That, in a nutshell, is much of what captures the imagination of many independent developers and drives their creativity. It's the spark that ignites "what if."

A lot has changed since the early days of the App Store, and there is no doubt that it is very hard to get noticed today. Some people conclude that this is a sign that the App Store's barriers are too low and should be raised to keep the "junk" out, but limiting access to Apple's developer programs is the wrong tool to address that problem.

Raising the price of the developer programs or taking other steps to limit membership would certainly weed out a lot of apps you might not care about, but it would do far more harm that good. For example, what about the kid learning to code who builds a rudimentary app and wants to share it with his or her friends and family? That sort of app would likely pass App Review, but might never appear on the store if the barriers to entry were too high, which would be a shame. As a parent with three boys, one of whom started selling iOS apps at the age of eleven, I have first-hand experience with the excitement, positive feedback and encouragement that being on the App Store creates. I for one do not want to discourage that.

To my mind, the right direction is to double down on app discovery. Granted, this is no small problem to solve. The sheer number of apps makes it exceedingly difficult to surface the gems, especially on the mobile store. But I would rather that Apple focus on tools for navigating a vast and diverse App Store than have it erect barriers to newcomers.

The playing field that David Smith described is not what it once was. Success is not guaranteed and requires hard work and perseverance, especially for indie developers, but the opportunity that David describes still exists thanks to the low barriers to entry. Closing that door would not fix the shortcomings of the App Store, it would only stifle creativity and innovation.

Which brings me back to Behind the App. If you have not listened yet, you should, it is truly remarkable. I have been thinking about this show a lot since it's launch a few weeks ago. It's special, but not just because the format is different than many other tech podcasts.

Even a few years ago, a podcast with this sort of polished production — produced largely by just one person — would not have been possible. Over time though, the cost of the tools to create a podcast have made the medium accessible to anyone with a desire to give it a go. That is not to say that making podcasts is easy, but as with apps, the barriers to entry are low and the distribution mechanism is relatively inexpensive. And as with apps, finding the best podcasts is is a hard and largely unsolved problem.

It's Myke Hurley's years of experience, hard work and countless interviews with developers that make Behind the App great, but it's the low barrier to entry that made it possible. App development, podcast production and really any creative pursuit share this common ground, the focus should be on creating and maintaining opportunity, not exclusion.