Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a fanboy, the fruit kind. I like robots too, but I find them not sufficiently human, pun intended.
That being said, from time to time, I can really appreciate what Google can do with its soft skills (you know that thing a few humans possess; typically not an engineer’s forte). Today, I would like to highlight a practical case where Google, with a simple email, shows much greater empathy and illusion of care to its developer community. Here’s a copy of the email many of us received last week with my numbered (x) comments below:
Subject: Google Play Developer Program Policy Update
Making Google Play a great community for users is an important part of helping build a successful platform for you as a developer to distribute your apps. From time to time, we update our content policies as part of an ongoing effort to provide a secure and consistent experience for users. We strive to maintain clear guidelines for you as developers, to help us grow this platform and engage with those users (1).
This email is to notify you that we’ve made some changes to our policies; here are some highlights (2):
- Streamlined the ads policy, with guidance on interstitial ad behavior, and a new “System Interference” provision, which prohibits ads in system notifications or home screen icons, and requires user consent when an app changes specified settings on a device (3)
- A revised hate speech policy that provides more comprehensive coverage, while recognizing Google Play’s role as a platform for free expression
- Clarification that the gambling policy extends to all games that offer cash or other prizes; that virtual goods and currency in games are subject to the payment processor policy, that incentives should not be provided to users to rate an app; that artificially inflating an app’s install count is prohibited, and that the Google Play Program Policy applies to all developer information or content made available on the Store.
Please review the Google Play Developer Program Policy to see all the changes and make sure your app complies with our updated policies.
Any apps or updates published after this notification (4) are immediately subject to the latest version of the Program Policy. If you find any existing apps in your catalog that don’t comply, we ask you to fix and republish the application within 30 calendar days of receiving this email. After this period, existing applications discovered to be in violation may be subject to warning or removal from Google Play.
We recognize that some developers will need to change their app and advertising practices (5) to comply with the revised policy, but we believe these changes will help ensure all users and developers can maintain confidence in the standard of apps available on Google Play. Our aim is to foster a high standard of app behavior, so you will be able to take advantage of Google Play as a successful platform to distribute your apps and continue to grow your business. (6)
Google Play Team
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
You have received this mandatory service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Play service or account.
First of all, we receive an email, instead of being told to just re-validate the terms typically as we’re busy in our app submission workflow process. The email is asynchronous, and makes it much easier to process calmly.
Then, the soft touches:
(1) Restate and remind the context; policies are not there to make life difficult for developers, but rather to help grow a platform and raise the bar. Granted, Google has a lot of catching up to do here! But stating a shared goal puts me on the same team and puts my mind in a positive mental state to process the new “constraints”…
(2) Highlights! THANK YOU SO MUCH. With Apple, every new policy update makes me feel like I need to use the diff online command tool to find out what crept up and what will bite me back down the line. Here, the highlights tell me what I’m in for. 3 bullet points. Probably only one or two concerns me. I can digest it directly from the source, right there. Or I can dig deeper by reading the entire updated policies, but probably don’t need to. Don’t let me guess, or worse, discover the biased version from an (over) analysed blog post which inevitably is looking for the unwritten catch (which will add unwarranted anxiety).
(3) Short list, unafraid of using the “ad” word including technicalities like interstitial (Google understands and accepts ads, fully). Here, plain catching to Apple who’s had similar guidelines for a while. But introducing those changes is a huge deal in the Android world. That email was definitely the right thing to do.
(4) This whole paragraph is EXPLICIT, and leaves no doubt as to what is likely to happen and when. New apps, updates, and existing apps. On the fruit side, we actually never know if it will apply to new/updates and/or existing apps…
(5) Apologize, by empathetic. Nice touch. Doesn’t hurt. App publisher teams work as hard on an individual basis as any Google or Apple employee (if not more?). Thanks for recognising the work that actually makes YOUR platform stronger. Actually, since most publishers won’t turn ROI positive, then double thank them.
(6) Re-state the intent. It’s for the greater good. No shortcuts allowed. Life is hard. Suck it up. The platform rules. Publishers are guests. I knew it when I joined.
In essence, the above memo is a slam dunk announcing tough new constraints for a number of developers. But it’s a rallying call. It’s subtle in its own way, and it’s done right.
My feeling with Apple is that the developer relationship is brutal, in your face, with little to no empathy, Darwinian and unapologetic (except when there is an explicit mess, e.g. dev tools downtime). Apple does most things right, including letting us know when things change. But there is often too much room for doubt, anxiety, interpretation. It’s unnerving.
I suck it up not because I’m a fanboy; I do so because in my opinion, Apple’s end product is superior, by a large margin. Still, no excuse for not using soft skills to manage the developers expectations… could go a long way to strengthen the platform, and the entire business.
As WWDC 2013 is approaching and the rumor mill starting to grind thin air, here’s my secret iOS7 wish list…
As an app promotion specialist:
As a developer:
As a user:
Sounds like a lot? it is… but I’m pretty sure the folks have not been sitting idle since the last WWDC!
[this post is a quick & dirty translation of an interview of Yann Lechelle by Denis Verloes, on Ecran Mobile]
Hello Yann Lechelle, can you introduce yourself to Ecran Mobile?
Co-founder, COO / CTO at Appsfire. Coder and basketball player since 1982, started Objective-C in 1991 (note: the NeXTStep and later Mac OS X / iOS native programming language), MBA graduate from INSEAD, Paris-based entrepreneur since 2001… But otherwise, my LinkedIn profile is a little more complete ;-)
You represent Appsfire. Can you describe the company in a few words? If could please define your services both to the publishers and to the end users.
Genesis: I met my partner and co-founder Ouriel Ohayon in 2009 around the idea to provide a more social and organic app discovery solution. Already at the time, we wanted to escape the traditional rankings (already very polarised); back then, there were “only” 50,000 apps available!
Pioneers, we published our first version of Appsfire mid-2009. Early adopter interest quickly validated the concept. This version allowed us to raise seed money from our French “super-angels” (M. Simoncini, X. Niel, JA. Grandjon, JD. Blanc). We then reached our first milestone: one million users within 12 months, thus validating the scaleability aspect of our model: a free and complementary guide to the App Store to discover and consume apps in a better, smarter way.
That solid milestone allowed us to raise a series A with the Paris-based fund IDInvest Partners, mid-2011. We continued scaling the end-user model while building-up the business side: a suite of services to meet the needs of app developers and publishers, around three main themes: acquisition, retention, and monetization.
Acquisition is the part that everyone understands easily: the publisher pays to gain visibility and thus acquire new users. Retention is the most complicated and possibly the most important for developers, to ensure that their users engage into a long-lasting relationship with the app itself. Finally, monetization: provide developers with the means to make money by displaying advertising inside their app.
The acquisition is a paid service of course, the retention tools are free for now, and monetization will share revenue with developers. Appsfire is first and foremost a lot of technology serving users and developers, and yes, we leverage an advertising model that is 100% dedicated to promoting apps.
The Appsfire demo video.
In a recent article devoted to the removal of Appgratis removed from the Apple App Store for breach of Terms & Conditions, I mentioned Appsfire as another “app boosters” within the Apple ecosystem. You recognise yourself in this description?
The answer isn’t simple, in fact, it’s rather technical!
It is tempting to use the term “app boosters” and label certain business practices as such. In reality, we are talking about app advertising at large, and boosting one’s audience is legitimate, of course.
However it is important to distinguish the sources and methods. The key problem originates from the source of the downloads: [1a] voluntary download from one of the featured spots on the App Store (editorial or ranking), [1b] voluntary download from a third highlight,  incentivised or paid download (with no intent to use) and  bot-farms that generate fictitious downloads from stolen or fantom iTunes accounts. The problem starts there - and yet, I’m simplifying the complete picture.
The organic downloads generated by being in the “top” rankings creates the ultimate temptation to get as many initial downloads from [1b],  or , to gain maximum visibility, and therefore to lower the total cost of acquisition. Hence, advertisers buy everywhere, and the higher and faster the volume, the better for them (or at least, that’s how most marketers think it should be done).
But it seems clear to me that part [1a], the most powerful app booster of all, is Apple’s own property, nobody else’s.
Any entity that makes money derived from [1a] will warp Apple’s editorial line. It obviously the case with the “artificial boosters” that use sources  and  - as it is their sole purpose.
Therefore, to be in harmony with Apple and exist as an app recommendation on the App Store, one must both provide a pure source in [1b] mode only, and to be paid on that basis only, and of course not use methods  and  to inflate one’s own presence, or worse one’s clients!
Implicitly or explicitly promising to deliver the benefits generated by [1a] is in direct conflict with Apple’s editorial line, and therefore puts one at risk of seeing its App Store publisher license revoked.
Appsfire is solely defined by the model [1b], a pure source - and we have been against all practices using model  and of course bot-farms , both sources of infernal inflation.
Since Apple banned Appgratis, I have read an equal amount of positive and negative reviews regarding their business model.
On one side, people criticize their model that tweak the rankings, and on the other side, people find Apple’s general silence disconcerting, on top of their ability to let a business like Appgratis take off and decide later on to change the rules and therefore put the life of a startup in danger.
From your point of view of “expert”, and without being alarmist, what do you think of the “Appgratis case”?
Thousands of applications are submitted to Apple every day. Whenever there is an issue with an app, Apple communicates during the validation process, upstream, using the T&C as a guide. All iOS developers are familiar with this ritual; if the app is rejected upon submission, there is discussion, modification, and re-submission. It is sometimes frustrating indeed. But the process is well oiled, has improved dramatically over the years, and has worked for over 800,000 apps! A silent process - quite the contrary! The relationship with Apple needs to be maintained and deserved.
But the case mentioned is very different: Apple has “expelled” an app from the store, within a category that counts at least fifty such apps. Apple probably did this for cause, because I frankly do not believe Apple does things lightly.
In your opinion, is this removal the first of a long series, and Apple hit the loudest of them all, to teach a lesson of humility?
It is also true that when I read the T&C from the Developer Program I see many standard applications, even the most basic media type, could find themselves hated by Apple as they are not sufficiently “original”, as stated one of the points of the T&C.
Appgratis themselves recognized that they were running afoul of nearly five new clauses which did not exist when they started their business. So when proposing any form of “alternative presentation of the App Store” - another prohibitions contained in the T&C - isn’t this an obvious way to upset the firm in Cupertino?
It is impossible to say whether Apple has really taken a stand against the app recommendation applications. Similarly, it is impossible to say whether the alternative to other pre-installed apps have a guaranteed future in the App Store: Chrome / Opera vs. Safari, Mailbox vs. Mail, Whatsapp vs. Messages… And all such alternative apps were rejected in the validation process at least once; it’s an iterative and evolutionary process. And Apple also gives itself time to understand the true purpose of the app before accepting everything and anything.
Generally, I find that Apple welcomes anything that brings true value to its users while not going against the foundation of a platform that they have been trying to build and protect for the past 7 years; by the way, this platform is still the envy and reference! I have yet to find another platform (more “open” or not) that succeeds as well on the consumer side (ratio relative ease of use + quality / price) and on the developer (ratio earnings / effort).
More generally, am I the only one to find the T&C of the developer program to be subject to “interpretation”, making it hard to project for the future of an app?
Of course the T&C are meant to be interpreted! Clause 1.1 already allows Apple to remove 99% of all apps currently in the store!
The question is not whether to be compliant with the guidelines or not, but rather: does my app add to the foundation, and do I have solid arguments to back me up if Apple questions my purpose.
A virtuous circle?
From your perspective as a judge and jury, you still advise someone to start a business model that is based primarily on “marketing campaigns” directly in the App Store?
It is a balancing act, hence risky! Already, building a business model on top of a platform locked by a certification or API key creates an absolute co-dependency; it’s the same problem on Google (Apps), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … In general, all stores have rules and prerogatives that evolve based on a delicate ecosystem; indeed, a host platform does not make progress without the trust of its developers. When things go well, it is called symbiotic. When things go wrong, it is called parasitic.
Can’t we assess the risk of Apple’s “irritability”, when talking investors?
The risk is legitimate, but it is up to investors to do their “due diligence” (audit before entrusting their investment), and understand whether the entrepreneurs have the same DNA as the “host” platform on which they intend to build an entire business. My personal DNA is compatible with Apple, my genetic mutations began in 1991 with NeXTStep, morphed with Mac OS X (2000) and iOS (2007). My partner and I share the same vision and ethics. I hope this acute sense will help us win over the long run, in harmony with Apple’s own development.
Objectively, I think app boosters, regardless of their model, perform a function and a role in promoting that I do not find in the advertising arsenal of Apple today. The promotion of an application that has created, through Apple is a kind of black box a little too opaque. It is an impression?
Booster = advertising, and all publishers need this, nothing new.
But let’s be clear, there is no real shortcut for publishers; at best an opportunistic use of artificial boost not yet regulated by the host platform (doping analogy).
Finally, let’s forget once and for all that the App Store is a promotion platform! It is primarily the reference catalog and distribution platform - the recipe involves creating real value and finding real users.
Do you think as I read this week that the app stores (Apple, Android, Microsoft, Blackberry ….) should gradually turn to the “neutrality” as also now required by ISPs?
Yes, the market will eventually get regulated, via regulatory consortium, but it will take time.
The strengths and challenges are enormous because the stores offer first and foremost a global distribution model, monetizable, and turnkey. This is probably the first time in the history of commerce that an individual (or a small structure) can provide a service to billions of users, delivered directly into their pockets wherever they are at the time of the transaction. The era of mobile service is a true revolution, a new Wild West with its cowboys and sheriffs …
I assumed, in my article on Appgratis, that Apple may be preparing a series of tools to strengthen iAd which is widely underused by mobile advertisers. And it would be for this reason that the app boosters get a kick out of the store. Is this a realistic possibility?
I do not believe it. If iAd for Developers becomes dominant, then Apple shoots itself in the foot by first disrupting its own editorial line, and then charging developers twice: commission for distribution, and invoice for advertising…
No, I think Apple needs external players that drive app consumption in a broad yet symbiotic way.
Thank you Yann
Les deux ennemis de la publicité pour applications mobiles: manque de traçabilité et transparence. Fort heureusement, il y a prise de conscience et auto-organisation des professionnels qui s’organisent autour des “App Stores”.
Granted that we hear about all the frustration, the rejections, the waiting game, etc…
But considering the 65k apps approved in the last year or so, I cannot help but think Apple is doing an outstanding job. Across the more than handful applications I have personally submitted or been involved with, all interactions with the app review team have been professional and even friendly.
One may argue that the process is overkill and unduly lengthy, however, I find comfort in knowing that Apple is both raising the bar by making sure developers stick to the “minimum standard” guidelines which ensures a fairly consistent common base for the end users, both in terms of UI and in terms of security. Not having this scrutiny would most certainly render the iPhone experience both very buggy and very unsafe for my end users (and therefore jeopardize my prospect base & target audience).
Moreover, this process has taught and forced me to include “best practice” in our iPhone app developments. I have had some “silly” rejections at first, such as lack of end-user warning in case the app was used in airplane mode: clearly, why would I need to notify the end user that the app is not managing to connect because they are in airplane mode; end-users should know better since they triggered the airplane mode in the first place!!! Well, Apple tells you in section X.Y.Z that you should take care of that. Of course, I had not digested the entire guidelines document, so I had failed to include this level of feedback, and learnt the hard way. And after thinking about it, Apple is right to make sure my end users are told why my app is not functioning; a simple reminder will educate the end-user and ensure a better experience both of the iPhone and my app, and vice-versa.
Moreover, I’ve included this “warning message” in all subsequent apps; and the review team has never bothered me with this again, and rightly so. I’ve therefore built into my practice, by force, a better experience going forward. And Apple has made sure that we, the developer community, do so going forward. Yes, Apple has a few tricks to teach seasoned developers!
Long story short: the approval process is quite a daunting task, and I’m sure Apple has invested quite a lot of resources into it already. Recent interventions by Phil Schiller show that they are listening, and care about improving the process. Curious to see how this pans out in other app store initiatives, and eagerly waiting to see how the Android community will manage this, with possibly even more pressure…
There is room for immediate improvement for sure: lack of transparency between submission and expected release date (often: ASAP), and feedback rounds are sequential (the review team will not give us a wash list, but instead give us each pain point one at a time, forcing us to go through week-long iteration cycles). I feel for those that are waiting for a very long time - though I would never wait sitting idle, and instead would email Apple with additional info about the app, it’s intent, it’s way of working, etc… my waiting time has been at best 4 days, and at most 13 days; and 4 days is already frustrating. I agree that Apple should be more transparent about where they are at, even if it’s just to say: “5 more days until processing (position : 250 in the queue)”, or “pending escalation (reason: not sure about privacy)”, etc… That would help tremendously.
I am confident Apple will fix and improve this process going forward.
Meanwhile, I am proud to say that we released the @appsfire iPhone app (http://appsfire.com/4iPhone) in one go (no iteration with the review team), with a 13 day span between submission and approval (slightly below the current “average waiting time”). With regards to Apple, I am sure the track record with them, the experience and understanding of how Apple caters to its consumer world helps optimizing all of this. Again, hats off and keep up the excellent work Apple. The expectations are high and that’s a good thing.
INSEAD releases a case study entitled “ETHERYL S.A.S. - Growth Paths for a Lifestyle Venture”, a joint effort by Filipe Santos (Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship) and Yann Lechelle. The case is used each semester in the New Business Venture MBA elective class to illustrate the many strategic and financial options that a “lifestyle” entrepreneur faces after having initially bootstrapped a commercially viable business (in contrast with a “leveraged” entrepreneur that “simply” needs to grow the business to show return to his investors).
European Business Plan of the Year 2001 took place on June 18th and 19th at the IESE campus in Barcelona, hosting 13 teams from 13 top European business schools. The event staged various teams to present their business plans to a panel of industry, banking and consulting professionals. On the first day, the judges were asked to select the 6 finalists which were to present again on the following day for a final selection of 4 prize recipients. A first classical stream of awards was to be allocated to the most promising business plans, with a winner, a first and a second runner-up. These were respectively awarded to Imperial College, IESE Barcelona, and London Business School. Another type of award was to be granted to the most innovative business plan. This year, INSEAD took home the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Innovation Award with the NetVestibule business plan.
Christoph Zott, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD at the time (now at IESE), had selected and coached a “winner team” that was already formed within the New Ventures elective class. Led by Yann Lechelle, the NetVestibule team also comprising Neela Murkherjee, Laszlo Kreiner and Felix Vogler, demonstrated at the competition an innovative product and development plan likely to pioneer a new market. In a nutshell, the NetVestibule product offers an all-in-one ASP solution for the admissions departments of higher education institutions that wish to offer an interactive and online platform to their admitted candidates, a sort of highly specialized e-CRM system. Once in place, this platform allows the incoming class to optimize its logistics in a peer-to-peer fashion before reaching campus, leveraging the network effect that the embryonic community can provide, but also accelerating the creation of the network itself. This type of platform is especially useful for institutions like INSEAD, with a student population coming from all over the planet, and spanning over 70 nationalities. In fact, the INSEAD prospects have been benefiting from this platform since 2000.