First Impressions of an iPhone Developer

I haven’t see a whole lot of information around the intertubes about what it’s actually like to deploy an iPhone App. Sure there are stories every other week about Apple’s ridiculously inconsistent censorship, and talk of developers not being paid. But there is not a lot of information about the actual process of getting App into the iTunes Store.

I’m going to go through a couple of different steps in the process and talk about some of the unexpected problems. I must say though, I was not very impressed. Nothing about the process is very “Apple-like.”

1. Opening The Account
After you’ve paid your $99 developer fee, there are still a number of legal/contractual hoops you need to jump through before you can atually upload an app for approval. As a Canadian developer, there were some additional hoops.

First, I’m not sure if you can actually sell an app without a GST number. I have a registered business, so this would not have been an issue for me.  But because of the way the sales work I would not be surprised if you were required to have a registered business.

Second, when purchases are made through the Canadian iTunes Store, Apple collects GST for you. This is good because it means you don’t have to worry about the accounting. In order for Canada Revenue Agency to allow Apple to do this for you, you need to fill out a specific tax form. By “fill out” I mean, physically. Apple has a PDF download of the doc available. But they require the original. You have to snail mail it! Apple suggests that they’ll process the doc within one week of recieving it.

Third, if/when you get paid, are are paid by Apple USA (in US Funds). When a US company pays an outside employee/contractor/etc those earnings are subject to international income tax treaties. If no treaty is specified, the IRS will compel Apple to withhold 30% of your earnings. For Canadian software developers, the tax treaty specified a 0% withholding. If you do not want Apple to withhold 30% of your earnings, you are required to obtain an “Employer Identification Number” from the IRS.

I put this off for awhile because I assumed it would be painful. To my surprise, getting this number was one of the most pleasant customer service experiences I’ve ever had over the telephone.

Fourth, this is fairly minor. Apple pays you via wire transfers. So you need to dig up some archaic routing numbers. Seemed to be a fairly common question for the CSR I spoke to at my bank. I imagine this could be a little more difficult to dig up if you use a Credit Union or something.

Once you’ve jumped through all these hoops, you’ll have all the information you need to fill out  the 4 or 5 contract and payment related forms in iTunes Connect. Then you wait. After a week of waiting for Apple to accept my forms, I emailed support. They did not respond, but it was magically up and running the next day.

2. App Approval
Getting an app approved is an entirely nebulous process. Once you upload your app, it just sits there in the “pending review” status until it gets approved. There’s no way to get any sort of updates, there is no indication of where you are in the queue. It’s frustrating.

My app took about 2 weeks to be approved.

3. iTunes Connect
iTunes connect is the web interface that you’re forced to use in order to manage everything related to getting an app into iTunes, getting paid, tracking sales, etc. It is easily one of the worst web apps I have ever used. From the looks of it, Apple just took the  mechanism they had in place to allow bands/labels to manage iTunes music sales and hacked in some hooks to allow app uploads. A lot of the terminalogy used seems to refer to album sales.

The interface is clunky. The site is slow. It doesn’t really work properly on an iPhone. The web-based app upload form doesn’t even really work – they encourage you to use a mac app to upload the application bundles (which works like a charm BTW).

I could live with all of these problems if I actually got decent download and sales statistics. But, you can only look at downloads/sales in a GIANT un-readable 2000px-wide table! (Or CSV – which is moderately useful when imported into a spreadsheet). You can’t compare stats, track trends or do anything really useful with the sales data.  The total sales aren’t even really tallied properly – they’re broken up by country, even though you’re paid by region. You can’t see your month-to-date or year-to-date sales. You have to compile and calculate all of this on your own.

Apple should be ashamed of this piece of junk webapp.

4. Payment?
Apple has hidden a really important tidbit of info in their documenation, something that might have discouraged me from selling my app if I had known ahead of time. Apple only cuts you a check if you have sold (the equivalent of) US$250 PER REGION! Long story short, I am probably never going to get paid for my app. The iTunes sales world is divided into 6 regions: USA and the rest of the world, UK, EU, CA, AU, JP. If you sell $240 in the US and $10 in Canada, you don’t get paid!

I can’t speak to the late payment, non-payment issues the internet has been talking about, I haven’t breached that $250 threshold yet.

I can tell that Apple just released my financial statements for March. Now, it’s really not terribly unusual for companies to release these sorts of finiancial statements 1 month behind, but I’d think a fully automated ONLINE store would be able to generate these reports instantly. In addition to the tardiness, the numbers in the finiancial statements are quite a bit lower than the weekly sales stats that iTunes connect was generating in March.

Conclusion

It sucks.

At the end of the day, Apple is not very friendly to their developers. There’s no oversite, no real point of contact with Apple. If you have a problem, there’s not much you can do about it. My suggestion is, don’t even bother trying to sell your app. Release it for free for the love of the game.