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Can Apple win back developers?

Can Apple win back developers?

Good morning! This Monday, devs don't expect an Apple apology tour at WWDC after the Fortnite trial, Leon Panetta's cyberattack wake-up call, the undead corpse of Jawbone is suing Samsung, and a good tip on how to make everyone feel equal in a hybrid workplace.

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The Big Story

WWDC gives Apple a chance to reset the narrative

Apple is hosting its second all-virtual Worldwide Developers Conference starting today, giving the company its annual opportunity to showcase upcoming changes to its software platforms and maybe some new hardware, too. But more important than in years past is that Apple communicates that it cares about developers and actively wants to make their lives easier.

Because the Epic v. Apple antitrust trial that just concluded is looming over this year's conference. The trial often provided Apple an opportunity to make a rather convincing case for how it built the iPhone and the App Store and why it runs its mobile business the way it does. But in the picture Epic painted, Apple has been unwilling to change its behavior to protect profits, and exists in a market devoid of competition that would force that to happen.

The timing is tricky for Apple. The company has to square many of the revealing comments its executives made, both in private emails and in testimony, with the rosy message it sends to the world during events like WWDC.

  • Perhaps most telling were responses from CEO Tim Cook in court where he characterized the App Store's 30% commission as "a return on our IP," and said he believes Apple creates "the entire amount of commerce on the store," justifying whatever commission it chooses.

But a majority of iOS developers are actually pretty happy. We spoke to Ben Bajarin, CEO and technology analyst at Creative Strategies, who is in the process of conducting an iOS developer survey to measure satisfaction with Apple and the App Store.

  • "You're seeing that a lot of really small developers for the most part are pretty happy," he said.
  • But once they're a certain size, Bajarin added, and they no longer qualify for Apple's commission reduction down to 15%, then you start to hear some grumbling.

Complaints against Apple aren't new. Even the most successful iOS developers have voiced concerns about Apple in recent years, mainly focusing on app review delays and onerous App Store policies that force developers to jump through hoops.

  • But developer Ben Sandofsky said he tries to put them in the context of what Apple provides, how that offering has improved over the years and the company's core philosophy around closed ecosystems.
  • "I feel like a lot of complaints come from people who expect something like web development. iOS is a closed and proprietary OS, which sounds bad, but it's all about trade-offs," he said.
  • In Sandofsky's eyes, the feud between Apple and Epic was "mostly a distracting reality show" hashing out what are largely settled matters.

That perspective is pretty common among small to medium-sized developers, Bajarin said, and those are the people Apple is largely focused on during WWDC.

  • By his estimation, Apple does seem to genuinely believe the creation of the iPhone, iOS and the App Store — in addition to the tools it provides and its ongoing and massive R&D spend — justifies a significant return in perpetuity.

The judge in Epic v. Apple will be the one who decides whether any of Apple's behavior or its business model justify intervention from the court. But it's also clear Apple does care deeply about its public image, both among consumers and the developer community.

  • It strategically released a press release in the middle of the trial touting how much fraud the App Store caught in 2020, not to aid its courtroom fight (witnesses were instructed not to read anything in the media) but as a method to combat Epic's public claims that the App Store is rife with scams.

Whether or not Apple decides it needs to address the views of dissatisfied devs will illustrate on a deeper level how it views challenges like Epic's. In the courtroom, the Fortnite trial was an unprecedented assault on the iPhone, Apple lawyers argued. But at WWDC, it seems more likely than not that developers with similar concerns will be met with business as usual.

— Nick Statt (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

A recent study from the University of California-Berkeley and Brandeis University found that when Amazon raised their starting wage to $15/hr, the average hourly wage in the surrounding area rose by 4.7% as other employers followed their lead.

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People Are Talking

Leon Panetta has been warning about cyberattacks for years, and said it's time everyone woke up to the threat:

  • "Once those capabilities fell into the wrong hands, I was witnessing firsthand how they could be used to really hurt us, to damage our country, our national security, and was still frustrated by the failure to have a coordinated approach to dealing with the threat."

A group of Apple employees doesn't like the company's return-to-office plan, and let Tim Cook know in an open letter:

  • "Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple."

China's crypto-mining industry is under serious threat, Kaboomracks's Robert Van Kirk said:

  • "People mining there have realized that it may now be a riskier proposition to operate in China than they had anticipated … We have clients that are hosted in China, but are Western, who are wanting to find capacity outside of China. They're looking for something in the United States or Canada."

Beware of anyone claiming that AI systems are automated and perfect, Microsoft's Kate Crawford said:

  • "When we pull away the curtain we see large amounts of low paid labour, everything from crowd work categorising data to the never-ending toil of shuffling Amazon boxes. AI is neither artificial nor intelligent. It is made from natural resources and it is people who are performing the tasks to make the systems appear autonomous."

Coming this week

It's conference season!

WWDC runs all week, with lots of developer sessions and announcements coming.

Cloudflare Connect is also this week, with some timely conversations about privacy and security on the internet.

Microsoft's Azure + AI Conference starts tomorrow at Disney World, which is the best reason we've seen since the pandemic hit for attending an in-person conference.

E3 starts on Friday, and promises to be an absolute gaming bonanza … assuming anyone can ever get their hands on a PS5.

In Other News

  • The G7 agreed to a tax deal that could significantly increase Big Tech's tax bills. The agreement proposes companies pay a greater share of tax in the countries in which revenue is generated, rather than diverting profits to low-tax locations. It also proposes a global 15% minimum corporate tax rate. A U.S. bill will now need to pass through Congress, and the G20 and OECD need to agree to the deal too. One thing to watch: Amazon might be exempt from the new rules thanks to its low profit margin, though Janet Yellen said it should be covered.
  • Jeff Bezos is going to space. He and his brother Mark will both be on the Blue Origin flight in late July, along with whoever wins the (already expensive) auction to join them. Top that, Elon.
  • On Protocol | Policy: Donald Trump is banned from Facebook for at least two years. That means he could be back on the platform in January 2023, just in time to run for president, but Facebook said he'll only be allowed back under certain circumstances.
  • The Nigerian government suspended Twitter "indefinitely" in the country, after Twitter removed a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened ethnic groups in the country.
  • On Protocol: DoorDash workers are getting phished. Fake order cancellations are costing some workers hundreds of dollars, and they say DoorDash is refusing to help.
  • El Salvador wants to use Bitcoin as a legal currency. It's working with Strike to build a system that could take over an economy that continues to be mostly based in cash.
  • Speaking of Bitcoin: Bitcoin Miami was this weekend, and it was … a scene. But who could expect anything else?
  • Amazon is poaching government officials for AWS. Our friends at POLITICO report that the company has brought in at least 66 former government employees, more than half from the defense department.
  • Cruise got a permit to run a driverless taxi business in California. It's the first company to actually be allowed by the state to offer rides to passengers without a driver in the car. Cruise can't charge for rides yet, though, so this is still just a test.
  • Almost 2% of the App Store's top apps are scams, The Washington Post reported, and have conned users out of about $48 million. This is something Apple's going to have to address, either at WWDC or elsewhere.

One More Thing

All virtual for one virtual

Slack has a new rule for hybrid meetings, The Washington Post reported: If one employee has to dial in remotely, everyone has to dial in remotely. That means fewer groups gathering in conference rooms and more "virtual" meetings with half the participants just sitting at their desks.

Almost anyone who has ever run a hybrid company will tell you this is the only way to make hybrid work. Sure, companies are working on ways to isolate every face in a conference room and make them appear as individual squares on Zoom screens, but for now there's just no way to make the two people on the phone feel like first-class participants in an otherwise IRL meeting. So it's all or nothing: Either everyone's virtual or nobody is.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

"Before working at Amazon, it was hard for me to pay my bills on time and save money." Going from $11 an hour at her last job to making more than $15/hr at Amazon meant Kimberly could afford a bigger place.

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