The App Store and iCloud Aren’t the Only Game in Town Anymore

It’s the eve of WWDC 2013, and Apple’s cloud sync platform, iCloud, is one of the highest priorities in every developer’s mind. It’s been 603 days since iCloud‘s launch and exactly 1 year 5 months after the App Store burst onto the Mac scene, and yet both feel like they’ve hardly moved forward at all.

Sure, they’re both widely successful, and the App Store especially has change the way we approach buying apps. But the App Store has also made it tough for developers to make upgraded versions of apps economically feasible, leading them to add in-app purchases for new features, or add their own subscription-based services to make money. Of the two, though, iCloud has been the most problematic, leading developers like The Soulmen to have to rewrite major parts of iCloud sync code to get it to work in their apps (Ulysses III, in this case).

We’re all hoping Apple significantly improves iCloud this year, and perhaps there’ll be major announcements about both it and the App Store next week. But there’s also alternates now. Aside from just relying on Dropbox for sync, the Omni Group has built their own iCloud competitor, OmniPresence, and Paddle is making it simpler for indie devs to sell their own apps with in-app purchases, outside of the App Store.

In-App Syncing on Your Own Cloud

Dropbox made syncing folders simple, and we all got used to that. But its model breaks down on iOS, because there’s not a user-accessible file system. You have to go back and forth between, say, the Dropbox app and the app with the file you’re editing, leaving duplicate files in between. iCloud “solved” this issue by syncing files directly between apps, leaving traditional folder systems behind.

But that’s old news for most of us. iCloud is great — magical, even — when it works, but more and more developers have come out saying how trying it’s been to make iCloud work for them. But who wants to leave behind something so promising that every customer assumes will “just work”?

The Omni team has been working on their own solution: OmniPresence. When it’s running in an iOS app and on OS X, changes will be pushed between apps just like iCloud promised. Your files will stay in syn thanks to Omni’s own sync server, or you can run the sync service on your own server — goodbye cloud lock-in. You can even add any folder on your computer to OmniPresence, something that’s not possible with either Dropbox or iCloud.

Here’s OmniPressence in action:

It’s designed to work great with multi-file documents — the exact type that The Soulmen found troublesome in iCloud. It’ll sync the changes, not the whole file each time, so your data will sync faster and changes will appear on all of your devices far faster than with other services. It’s what iCloud promised, on your own cloud.

Your own personal non-Dropbox

Your own personal non-Dropbox

You can start using it today on your Mac to keep your own documents in sync sans iCloud or Dropbox, and it’s already integrated with the Omni Group’s iOS apps. Going forward, developers can add OmniPresence support to their own apps using Omni’s opensouce framework. It might not be so useful for you just yet, unless you use any of the Omni apps in your workflow, but it’s promising as another option for app syncing going forward.

Selling Apps Doesn’t Have to be so Hard, Either

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Aside from iCloud, the App Store made it simple to sale your apps for OS X. Everyone from big companies like Adobe, AutoCAD, and Apple itself all the way down to the one-developer startups have equal footing (or nearly so) on the biggest software marketplace on the globe. It’s made it easier for new Mac users to discover great apps, and even long-time Mac users have come to love the unified updates and simple purchase and installation the App Store brings.

But it’s not perfect. Apple can be slow at reviewing apps, fussy about what you include, and it takes 30% of your sale price off the top. All of those add up to make it a rather frustrating place for developers. That’s where Paddle for Developers comes in, with an alternate to the App Store — one that might be even more appealing if you’re not using iCloud to sync your app’s documents anyhow. Paddle gives devs an API to easily add in-app purchases to their apps with just 2 lines of code. With that done, users can download your app’s trial, then buy a copy inside the app in a few clicks. That’ll only cost you 5% of your sale price plus $0.55 per transaction — pricing that works out cheaper than the App Store’s 30% cut if your app costs anything over $2.

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For the rest of us, there’s already a ton of apps in Paddle’s burgeoning store. You’ll find popular apps that we love, such as Boom, Hype, Voila, Ondesoft’s tools,  and more. If you’re looking for a place to find deals on apps — or just a central place to apps that aren’t in the App Store — it’s a great place to check. Plus, everything’s a trial by default. Unlike the App Store, you won’t have to buy right off the bat.

Don’t Count Apple Out

Of course, neither of these solutions replace the App Store and iCloud. Together, they’re a powerful duo — one we only wish was a bit more developer friendly. Apple will almost assuredly continue improving both of them going forward, and we’ll be watching closely to see what’s announced at WWDC. It’s still good, though, that there’s competition that’s taking these two platforms on directly. That’s never a bad thing.

So, if you’re a developer, here’s two services you should consider if you’re tired of working around Apple’s solutions. And for the rest of us, expect to see both of these pop up in apps you’re trying out soon.