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Apple's App Store is not a walled garden, it's a dumpy casino

I have been reading with interest about the Epic versus Apple in-app payment saga, but have no respect for either of the parties. Epic, because they pretend to care about the developer ecosystem when all they want is to be the gatekeeper instead of the gatekeeper. Apple, because they claim higher ground, The words “Apple” and “higher ground” in the same sentence of course bring to mind Marco Arment’s essay, but the ground Apple lost 9 years ago has since been reclaimed. wanting to keep their walled garden pristine and free of bad actors, while the garden is in fact overgrown with weeds. Where the roses bushes used to be there are now squatter tents pitched, mangy dogs guarding the perimeter. The magnolias are on fire. Somewhere in the distance a mother cries for her lost child.

You see, our four-year-old has developed an interest in sea animals. Sharks in particular, but any saltwater organism will do. To nurture that interest, I scoured the iPad App Store for anything that a) features the ocean and b) is in the 4+ age category. I should have known better than to trust Apple’s own search, because the results were a disaster: “games” that let you play for all of 30 seconds before serving you a noisy add that can only be closed by tapping repeatedly on an 8-point sized barely visible white “x” even after the mandatory 1-minute lockout period when all you can do is watch low-resolution mock-ups of what may or may not be the game that you will get if you are successfully tricked into downloading whatever they are selling; or “edutainment” products that pop up offers for $99.99 in-app purchases after each tap; or once-reputable game developers who deck out their 4+-approved shark simulators with so many bells, whistles, and requests to buy their in-game currency that you may as well have sent your child to an Atlantic City casino. And not one of the good ones.

In what universe, then, is Apple’s repeated shakedown of Hey not simply evil? Why is the company protecting its adult users from the horrors of an app that is unusable without an externally created account, but is just fine with four-year-olds being bombarded with advertisements and offers for double-digit in-app purchases of worthless game credits? Having even half-way decent curation and a usable search screen would be ideal. Any one of those without the other would also be acceptable. As of January 2024, the iPad/iPhone App Store has neither, and it is a disaster. And Apple has the gal to charge 15–30% for the privilege of being listed in that pigsty.

If Apple’s other App Stores — Mac and AppleTV — are not like that, it is only because they are not worth the scammers' attention. In less than 24 hours I will log into a different Apple store and pay almost four thousand dollars — about a thousand more than my first ever monthly paycheck as a medical resident a dozen or so years ago — for the privilege of playing with their new doohickey. I can only hope that Vision Pro does not become too popular: a 360° full-immersion experience of the iPhone/iPad App Store would not be pretty, though lovers of gross-out horror may be appreciative.

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