Why WWDC is totally terrifying for indie developers

Apple's product events always make Josh Michaels nervous. He's never sure if he'll still be in business at the end.
Apple's product events always make Josh Michaels nervous. He's never sure if he'll still be in business at the end.
Photo: Leander Kahney

SAN FRANCISCO — If you watched the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote earlier this week, you’d think it was a big love fest. But there’s a section of the audience sitting there in a cold, cold sweat.

Attendees are mostly software developers, and some of them are very nervous that Apple will announce something that will ruin their business overnight.

“The WWDC keynote is terrifying for developers,” said Josh Michaels, an independent software developer from Portland, Oregon, who runs Jetson Creative. “The uncertainty is the worst part.”

Take ReplayKit in iOS 9, a new feature that records games and app videos without the need for any external cameras or hardware.

Sounds great, unless you are Everyplay or Kamkord, a pair of young companies that raised millions of dollars to record games and app videos in iOS.

“They’re f**ked!” said a game developer at WWDC who asked not to be named.

AltConf makes WWDC look like a stuffy college lecture

Jeff Kelley AltConf 2014
There really is a good reason that AltConf 2014 looked like Jurassic Park.
Photo: AltConf

You’ve probably heard — repeatedly, from us — that Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is happening in San Francisco next week. But that’s not the only show in town. The Alternative Developer Conference, aka AltConf, is running at the same time, right around the corner from the Moscone Center at the AMC Metreon.

It’s a more open and accessible convention than Apple’s, and that’s not just because it’s free.

“Alt has great information, but it has a lot more community feel where it’s not getting talked down to from the lectern and Apple, you’re getting talked to by your peers,” Jeff Kelley, iOS developer for Detroit Labs and author of Developing for Apple Watch, told Cult of Mac. “And everybody there is kind of on the same foot. Especially because it’s free. You can pay to get a reserved ticket this year, but you don’t have to pay to get in. Everybody is there because they love this stuff.”

AltConf returns for this year’s WWDC rejects


App developers meet with tech journalists in the hope of gleaming a few tips on how to get their apps noticed at the AltConf Journalist Pitch Lab in San Francisco, CA, June 3, 2014. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Journalists teach devs how to make their apps get noticed at last year's AltConf. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is the hottest ticket in town when June rolls around. Before a lottery system was introduced for distributing passes last year, the week-long event sold out in a little over a minute.

For those who aren’t lucky enough to get into Apple’s main event, there is AltConf. Created by developers for developers, the indie conference will run alongside WWDC again this year — and it’s expected to be bigger than ever.

Why no one cares about your app and what to do about it

Arnold Kim, of MacRumors, listens as a developer explains her app at the AltConf Journalist Pitch Lab in San Francisco, CA, June 3, 2014. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Tara Zirker shows the StayAtHand travel app to MacRumors' Arnold Kim during AltConf's Journalist Pitch Lab. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — You created an app. You think it’s awesome. Your friends say so too. Something nags at you, though: You have zero reviews, your downloads don’t outnumber your Facebook pals, and you need to make rent.

There’s a fancy name for your problem: “discoverability.” Millions of good apps face it, gathering dust between bogus fart apps and Flappy Bird clones.

“It’s hard to make a living in the App Store,” says Michael Yacavone, founder of Individuate, which makes personal-development apps Ace It! and Affirmable.

But there is definitely money to be made in the App Store, to the tune of $15 billion Apple has paid developers so far. Apple recently vowed to improve discoverability by adding an “explore” tab to the App Store, but whether users will search for new and exciting apps remains to be seen. The basic problem remains for most developers: Nearly everyone is ignoring you. Journalists can help, but you have to know how to deal with them.

Lifestyles of the rich and famous independent software developer

Victor Broido, COO at DigiDNA, talks about his work and lifestyle during Alt-WWDC in San Francisco June 3, 2014. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
DigiDNA COO Victor Broido is living the dream -- and talking it up at AltConf 2014. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — Victor Broido has an enviable lifestyle. He lives and works 200 yards from a sun-kissed beach. He often kitesurfs before work. Sometimes he surfs during work.

“It was my dream, as a kid, to surf for an hour before going to the office,” Broido said. “That’s my life. It’s happening right now.”

You might want to punch Broido in the face upon hearing this, but he’s the nicest, most self-deprecating guy. You can’t begrudge him anything. Plus, he worked to attain this way of life.

Broido and his colleagues run DigiDNA, an eight-person company based in Geneva, Switzerland, with a satellite office in Geraldton, a small city in remote Western Australia with a reputation for world-class water sports.

DigiDNA is one of thousands of small, independent software developers spawned by the mobile revolution. In 2013, Apple’s App Store revenues topped $10 billion, and a lot of that money flowed to small startups. There are small indies in every category, from games to databases. Lots of them flocked to San Francisco last week for Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. DigiDNA was a gold sponsor of last week’s AltConf, the alternative conference that ran parallel to Apple’s event. (DigiDNA has also sponsored Cult of Mac’s Cultcast in the past.)