In order to distribute your work on the app store, or test your work on your device, you need to sign up for the iOS developer program at a cost of $99 per year.
What purpose does this fee serve, aside from turning away potential developers?
It’s certainly not making Apple rich. According to Apple, there are over 500,000 apps on the app store. If we make the tenuous assumption that there’s a 1 to 1 ratio of apps to app developers, we can guess that there are around 500,000 registered iOS developers, who altogether make Apple a tidy sum of $49.5 million dollars per year. Sounds great, right? Well, not when you consider that Apple took in $28 billion in revenue in the last quarter alone. That 49.5 million dollars in annual developer program fees is approximately 0.017 % of Apple’s quarterly revenue. Less than a drop in the bucket.
No, the real reason, as I see it, is to intentionally raise the bar to attract only the developers who are serious about the platform. Were there no annual fee, the app store would likely be (even more) deluged with lower quality apps, and the approvals team would be even more swamped than they already are. This is certainly a valid point, but it hurts small developers, as even the simplest apps now have to sell approximately 142 copies per year just to cover the developer program fees (and that’s not even considering the other fees associated with iOS development). As a newcomer to iOS development, this is a somewhat scary number.
Since the motivation for the annual fee is quality, not direct financial gain, I have an idea to ease this pain: refund some or all of the fee for each app that is successfully submitted to the App store. By doing this, Apple would still create its desired barrier to entry, but it would be less of a burden on small-time developers. And as the money would not be refunded until an app successfully passed the submission process, developers would have just as much incentive – if not more – to release high-quality apps.
Of course, none of this matters, because Apple would never do such a thing. But I can dream.