Want Great Apps? Then Help Developers.

Imagine, for a moment, that the apps bundled with OS X — Preview, TextEdit, Safari, Mail, and the rest — along with the iWork and iLife apps were the only apps that could run on the Mac. There’d still be a lot you could do with a Mac, and some would still buy them — but in all reality, if there were no 3rd party apps for the Mac, we’d all end up switching platforms.

Apps make or break our computing experiences. They’re what make a thousand dollar slab of aluminum turn into something that can do whatever we want. The lack of indie apps on Windows is one of the sharpest contrasts with the Mac’s vibrant 3rd party app market — and that’s what keeps our Macs being amazing machines, far more than the core stuff in OS X.

But apps are tough to make, and take serious time and money to develop and design and support. And it’s getting harder — the race to the bottom in app pricing has made it tough for developers to keep making amazing apps. It’s time we started helping developers out.

Here’s how:

It All Starts with a Rating

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 9.41.22 PM

Quick question: When’s the last time you reviewed an app you love on the App Store? If you’re like most of us, you download apps from the App Store and — love them so much you start using them daily, or hate them so bad you delete them 5 minutes later — you never even think to review the app on the App Store. iOS apps have the annoying habit of asking for ratings, but even there, it’s hard to make yourself take the time to review apps.

And yet, we all at the very least take note of the star ratings on apps before we hit Buy, and I’d venture a guess that most of us read through the text reviews on the App Store at least on occasion — especially if the app we’re looking at isn’t famous already. So why not contribute yourself if you love an app?

Now, don’t go use the reviews page for tech support — it’s not the place for that (more on that later). If an app is truly broken or falsely advertised, and you can’t get a fix from the developers, then sure — feel free to leave a bad review to warn others. But just like so often happens in all public forums, most notably in YouTube comments it seems, people love to fuss and complain. It’s perhaps more fun to take out your frustration on an app by reviewing it — but why not take a minute to praise the apps you do like, too.

You don’t need to sound like a PR shill, and you don’t need to write a thousand word review. There’s people paid for both of those things elsewhere. All you need to do is honestly let others know what you think of the app in a few sentences. Tell them what problem it solved in your life, and why you’d buy it again if needed. You don’t have to do it with everything, but if there’s a half-dozen apps you rely on in your work or just love using in your downtime, take a minute a piece and review them on the App Store. It’ll help others find apps they’ll love, and gives you a tiny way to give something extra to the devs that made apps you love.

And then, if you find it in yourself to want to spread the word about the app more, all the better. Don’t go nuts, of course, but even one simple Tweet ever about an app you love is a huge help to developers in getting the word out. No one would trust your opinion if you shill apps, but if you occasionally mention when you find an app really useful, your friends won’t mind and likely will find it helpful. Win win.

Pay for Quality

The most obvious way to support developers and make sure great apps keep getting made is to buy apps. That sounds simple enough, but obviously it’s not — paid app sales are going down on iOS, and while the sky’s not falling on the Mac App Store right now, we see enough complaints in the comments here about app pricing to know that everyone’s not happy forking over money for apps.

Apple gives away so much high-quality software for free these days (from OS X and iOS to every app in the iLife and iWork suites), it seems that it’ll be harder than ever to convince people the value of software. But Apple makes money from hardware — those apps aren’t free, they’re just subsidized by other things you buy from Apple. For developers to make great apps like Pixelmator and OmniFocus, Airmail and TextExpander, and so much more, they’ve got to charge to make money. That’s the only way they get paid.

So don’t pirate apps, and don’t sit around complaining about how expensive they are. Think of what you’d pay for a decent case for your MacBook, or for a tool to complete a weekend project at your house, and then think again about the price of the app you’re wanting to complain about. If it’s a professional tool, think of what a similar physical tool might cost for another job. That software will likely not seem nearly as expensive anymore. If it can help you save that much money or time, or makes your life a bit better (insert the all-too-common price of coffee or movie night analogy here), then the app’s worth it at that price.

But then, there’s the other side. You can find cheaper alternates to apps you can’t afford, and support those developers and still help the ecosystem overall. If you can’t afford Photoshop, why not support an indie dev with one of their far cheaper alternates. Same goes for every other app: SublimeText and OmniFocus and practically anything else over $30 will often end up being called expensive, but there’s alternates that, while not as feature-filled, perhaps, can meet your needs. And if some day those apps have proved their value and you want more, you’ll feel a lot more like paying for something better then.

Either way, please don’t complain over what apps cost. People are notoriously cheap when it comes to software, even on devices that are quite expensive up front, and it’s simply illogical. I get that Creative Cloud is quite expensive over time, and even a handful of $10 app purchases add up. So make them wisely, pay for quality, and don’t be cheap. If you can’t afford one app, that doesn’t make that app bad — it just means you need another instead. Save the complaints, and instead lavish praise on the apps you can afford and do love.

Support Costs, too.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 9.39.11 PM

Then, there’s another problem, one that’ll be all too familiar to anyone who’s ever worked in support (yup, I have too). People buy a $10 app, then expect free upgrades and unlimited support forever. I hate to overgeneralize, but in my experience we always got the most support requests after a sale — meaning those who paid the least for the app took up the most support resources.

It’s great when developers can support customers, and awesome when they can ship updates and even full new versions for free. But support and developer time cost. So try to be reasonable with your expectations. Try to solve your own problems first, and if you still need to contact support, be kind about it. They’ll appreciate it, and your odds of getting a solution are far greater.

But whatever you do: don’t post support requests in an App Store review. Developers can’t reply to you there, so your chance of getting help is zero, and you only make the app look bad to other potential buyers. Instead, give the developer’s support a shot — reach out on Twitter, even, if you can’t get ahold of them — before posting a public complaint. It’s only fair to give them a chance first, really.

And then, it’s only reasonable to expect bug fixes to apps for free, but if an app’s been out for several years and a new version comes out with extra features but costs again, there’s no reason to complain. You could keep using your current version if it’s still working, just like so many of us kept using Sparrow long after it wasn’t supported. And if you want to upgrade, just weigh the purchase like you did the first time around. If the new features are worth it to you, go for it — if not, there’s nothing to complain about. You’ve still got a great app that works, regardless of the version number.

Just a friendly PSA

Of course, you can still write support requests in App Store, neglect to review apps you love, and even pirate apps to save some pennies. It’s your choice. But if you want the Mac app ecosystem to continue to flourish, please take these thoughts to heart. It’d help everyone out.

And while I’m writing a public service announcement anyhow, here’s a shoutout to the great developers that make apps for the Mac. Thank you for your hard work, and keep on keeping on. We really do appreciate it!