How Developers Will Suffer from the Removal of the App Store from iTunes

As I reported here yesterday, Apple released an update to iTunes. The latest version, 12.7, has some minor changes, but one big revolution: the App Store is no longer available. I commented in this article about how this will be annoying for people with multiple iOS devices and limited bandwidth, because they’ll have to re-download the same apps on each device that wants to use the app. But a reader posted a comment to this article made me realize that there is a bigger problem. Developers will no longer be able to sell their apps on the desktop.

Let’s assume that you are developer and you have just finished work on a great new app for iPhone or iPad. You have a snazzy website, and you send out emails, post on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter, telling people about your app. Some of these people will hear the buzz on a mobile device. They will visit your website, see your Download on the App Store button, click it, and perhaps purchase the app.

But others will see your marketing on a Mac or Windows PC. They will get emails, or see something in a Twitter client. If they go to your website, and click on the Download on the App Store button, something strange will happen. They will not be able to go to the App Store, because it no longer exists.

In fact what happens after that click is interesting. The user’s web browser opens a web page which displays a message, above a spinning gear, that says Opening the iTunes Store. The browser eventually redirects to iTunes, which redirects back to the browser displaying a webpage showing information about the app. However, there is no way to purchase an app from this page. And there aren’t even any hints as to how one might go about this, such as suggesting that the user copy the URL and email it to him or herself to be able to access the information about this app on the iOS App Store.

App store

I haven’t yet heard that any developers have reacted to this, but I have a feeling that they will very soon. They will realize that they are going to lose what could be a large share of their income. I have no idea what percentage of people by apps on the desktop as opposed to on iOS devices, but Apple has essentially cut out part of developers’ revenue stream by eliminating the App Store. This is especially critical for developers of apps that are available both for Mac and iOS; they’ll be selling their Mac apps from their websites or through the Mac App Store, but they need to tell users to manually search for their iOS apps on an iPhone or iPad, or send them emails with links.

There are a lot of questions about Apple’s confounding decision to get rid of the App Store. But this one is going to affect all the developers that Apple always claims to support.

(An aside: I’m wondering if this iTunes update release wasn’t a mistake. It feels like it wasn’t thought out. There are too many oddities like this that simply don’t make sense, such as features that won’t be live until next week when iOS 11 comes out. I’m now leaning toward the idea that Apple is going to roll the iOS App Store into the Mac App Store app, which would make some sense. Except for Windows users.)

18 thoughts on “How Developers Will Suffer from the Removal of the App Store from iTunes

  1. Or it’ll just open the App Store app, which currently doesn’t exist on Windows but I would venture a guess that is going to change. I’ve fallen out of love with iTunes, but simplifying it doesn’t seem like a bad move.

  2. It’s like they care nothing about what they do to iTunes. It’s as if a second grader is the director of iTunes department. Steve must be screaming from the grave at their inability to make intelligent software decisions.

    • It’s idiotic to say what Steve would or would have not done and especially idiotic because iTunes was the mess it is under how too.

  3. I agree with you, Kirk. I never “discover” new apps on my phone. For me, it’s always reading articles on my Mac that informs me, and then interests me, in a new iPhone app. It’s already annoying to get from discovering an interesting new app to getting it downloaded and onto my phone, so adding new roadblocks will certainly hurt developers. But that also hurts the users, who will be less likely to try new apps and discover new software that could improve their phone’s capabilities and their user experience.

  4. It makes no sense to remove the App Store from the desktop altogether, but it might make sense to merge the iOS App Store with the Mac App Store. Hopefully, that’s what they’re doing.

    If not, I imagine they’ll solve the problem by opening the App Store on your device when you tap the link.

    • And how would that work? You click a link on the desktop and it magically opens on your iPhone or iPad?

      • Yes.

        In fact, with iOS11, Safari on my iPad tracks what’s on my MacBook.

        In other words, when I view a link in Safari on my MacBook, the dock on my iPad shows Safari with a computer-icon in the corner of the Safari icon. Opening Safari on the iPad then goes to the link I was looking at on my MacBook.

        FWIW, I’m not thrilled with this behavior. I think it has something to do with the handoff settings.

        Given what they’re doing with Safari, I don’t think the ‘magic’ with opening the App Store is on your device is too magical ;>)

        I also don’t think they’re going to give up on all the traffic that comes from Google searches and desktop computers.

        • a) That’s not opening a link, that’s offering you to open the same page via Handoff.

          b) As long as the protocol is something that redirects to a webpage on the desktop, the link will do the same on iOS. I don’t think it’s possible to grab a link during a redirect, and, to be honest, that would be a security risk.

  5. I can see how iOS App Store links are now broken on macOS. But I cannot see how this would affect most (non-techie) users. Techies who are affected know what to do.

    I myself cannot remember when I last purchased an iOS app on my Mac, and I suspect very few people have done so within the last few years, even to the point of not having to worry about bursting through LTE bandwidth caps and certainly not WiFi caps on their home network. After all, most apps are still mercifully less than 100 MB in size.

    I think bandwidth concerns are a red herring, because an iOS device almost always has WiFi access to the same network as their trusted Mac, so bandwidth burdens were always the same for downloads on Mac vs. iOS.

    Links to iTunes.apple.com continue to work fine in iOS WebKit and redirect to the iOS App Store app. A lot of casual browsing is done perfectly fine on iOS these days. Surely Apple had the data to compare referrer counts from iOS and macOS and concluded that it is quite reasonable to drop the effort for maintaining the macOS iTunes detour.

  6. iTunes 12.6.2 still works with the iOS App store & 12.7 isn’t available for older OS’s (10.9 is not showing it for me). It makes me wonder how long Apple will keep the store functioning or if they will make an app to access it on Mac OS. It seems pointless keeping the system running if the intention is to remove it from all iTunes versions.

    The syncing features that have been removed can be replicated by third party apps to an extent (Phoneview & similar apps) but the App store is beyond what a third party could do as Apple control the backend.

    Anyone else get the feeling that the right hand doesn’t know what the left one is doing?

  7. The launching of the iTunes app can be fixed.

    I’m far from technical, but if you remove the query string from the link, it simple opens up the app detail page in browser.

    The LoopInSight (http://www.loopinsight.com/2017/09/14/itunes-app-store-removal-and-a-whole-bunch-of-broken-links/) guys have an example link of bad behavior:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id887947640?mt=8&partnerId=30&siteID=Rc40DmWgBQE&u1=web

    Now, if you remove the query string (the question mark and everything after it), no more iTunes<>browser bouncing: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id887947640

    • Well, to start with, that means every developer needs to know to remove the query. They mostly create links using the Link Maker tool. But it still doesn’t resolve the issue of not being able to sell iOS apps on the desktop.

      • Oh, agree with you 100%. This is a huge problem.

        The bouncing between iTunes and browser, however is very disconcerting and at least that can be alleviated. If Apple can update the Link Maker, that will also help.

        No, it doesn’t fix the GIANT problem of a download button that doesn’t let you download, but a tiny part of it can get better.

        Also, wanted to thank you for for bringing this to our attention. My agency was able to reach out to our clients about this before they reached out to us.

  8. I’d much prefer if Apple had a more ad hoc system than handoff for transferring links and simple pasteboard content; but in the meantime what they could do to improve the “iOS App Store link on desktop” experience is show a QR code for the URL in the web version of the page, which any iOS device could easily pick up, especially after iOS 11 ships.

    • Yes, that would be a valid approach. But they’d have to inform developers of this, so they can prepare. As it stands now, I don’t think developers have gotten any official info from Apple.

  9. We’ve heard in the past that the App Store’s UI was all rendered in HTML, that iTunes had its own WebKit browser embedded to navigate it. So why doesn’t Apple just make the iOS App Store web-based instead now? Let us browse and research and compare and read reviews and PURCHASE apps, directly via the web. This is how Google Play Store handles it (and Google even lets you choose which device the new app will get pushed to. It’s actually quite a bit nicer than Apple’s own approach in this regard.)

    As someone who has downloaded over 2000 apps, this move by Apple, of removing the App Store from iTunes, will absolutely diminish the time I spend shopping and the amount of apps I end up trying or buying. No question about it. Bad move, Apple.

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