It is incredible how silly we humans can be and how short our memories are. The first iPhone emerged in 2007 and the first Android phone in 2008-9. Apple’s App Store debuted in July 2008, Google’s Play Store in August 2008, branded as Android Market.
The software business before that was mainly an internet, browser-based business, or a desktop software business. I remember clearly how expensive and difficult it was to distribute software before the app stores and smartphones. Even distributing in a single country was hard, forget about global distribution and forget about free distribution.
After investing billions of dollars in a hardware platform, a software operating system, a developer infrastructure, and a distribution platform, and offering all this to developers for free, Apple is under attack for wanting to charge a percentage of revenue to developers who make money from it. Currently 15% for developers who earn less than $1m a year and 30% for those who earn more. Google is similarly under attack.
The iOS and Android ecosystems are a major advance for humanity. Developers, Users, and pretty much every element of our civilization, benefit from them. In 2020 $643 billion in billings
were issued by developers on Apple’s store. Google’s Play Store is not as lucrative but it too paid out $114 billion
to developers between 2012 and 2020.
By now these amounts together are well over $1 trillion. As a four decades-long software industry participant I can tell you that all of this revenue only exists because of the mobile ecosystem created by the two giants.
The social good that comes with the exosystem adds many trillions of value more to the world. Think of the educational apps, productivity apps, media consumption apps, and more, penetrating every aspect of society and mostly free.
And think of how global the ecosystem is. There are almost 4 billion potential users of an app that can be distributed for free in 24 hours. Today’s billion-dollar and 10 billion dollar startups exist because of the scale and speed of growth that this ecosystem brings.
Yet we want to focus on the fact that these companies charge higher earners a 30% fee for using their platforms for making revenue. The government of South Korea has passed a law forcing the app stores to allow developers to point to alternate billing systems than those built into Android and iOS. Thus giving them a method of avoiding paying Apple or Google a share of revenues. The word is that similar laws will appear elsewhere. This is wrong and short-sighted. All one has to do is imagine Apple or Google discontinuing sales in South Korea in order to see who it would hurt.
My guess is that most developers would rather pay a fee and benefit from all that these companies bring to the table than seek to reinvent the wheel in their own apps. I suspect the revenues of both Apple and Google to grow along with their ecosystems and be barely touched by government interference. More in this week’s video.