How Indie Apps Did Pretty Well in 2020

Survey says!

Key Takeaways

  • COVID had both positive and negative effects on software developers.
  • The biggest non-pandemic news for Mac developers in 2020 was Apple’s App Store Small Business Program.
  • 46% of surveyed Mac developers said they felt no impact on their business from COVID-19.
A developer working in a home office.
Nubelson Fernandes / Unsplash

2020 didn’t treat everybody the same, and software developers, especially indie developers, have had a better year than many. It’s not all good news, but 2021 especially seems to be looking up. 

Every year, software house MacPaw conducts a developer survey. MacPaw is behind the subscription-based Setapp, an alternative to the Mac App Store. This gives the Ukraine-based MacPaw a unique insight into the world of app developers. 

"One of the biggest changes for developers is to speed up app delivery to the market to meet the high appetite for apps," Oleksandr Kosovan, MacPaw CEO and founder, told Lifewire via email, "which has been partly driven by the transition to remote work."

The App Store Small Business Program

For software developers, 2020 was dominated by two things. One was COVID-19, of course. The other was Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, which halves the cut that Apple takes from app-makers, as long as they earn less than $1 million per year.

For even a small software team, $1 million per year isn’t that much, but for individual indie developers it's a big deal. According to MacPaw’s survey, 68% of Mac app developers work alone, while 22% work in small teams (2–5 people).

An app developer working on a laptop with a smartphone connected by a cable.
Christina @ wocintechchat.com / Unsplash

"For an indie developer, Apple’s Small Business Program was very good news," Sergey Krivoblotsky, macOS developer and creator of NSBeep, told Lifewire via email. "Developers who earn less than $1 million a year from sales in the App Store receive a commission reduction of 30-15 percent."

Of the developers surveyed, "90% had a very favorable or rather favorable view of this change," says the survey. Some developers joked that they may now create a Mac App Store version of their app, now that they can make some money there. Some 50% of respondents plan to apply for Apple’s program this year. 

COVID-19 in 2020

Apple’s App Store Small Business Program won’t show its effects in 2021, so the pandemic was last year’s biggest deal. Lockdown changed things both for the developers and their customers.

In business terms, though, effects were mixed. 55% of developers said they didn’t experience any impact on their businesses. Of those who did experience an impact, the results were equally mixed, 29% negative and 24% positive.

For independent developers, working from home is business as usual. But for their customers, suddenly using their own computers, and getting them set up for work, meant a boon for business. According to the survey, one of the top positives of the pandemic was an increase in website visitors, and an increase in the number of users.

"One of the biggest changes for developers is to speed up app delivery to the market to meet the high appetite for apps."

"As it’s increased people working from home and using their computers, I’ve seen an increase in demand for apps," software developer Charlie Monroe told Lifewire via email. 

"I experiment a lot with my products, and I direct all the income from my applications back into development (like many of the indie developers I know): into advertising, development, and design," said Krivoblotsky.

"Therefore, I will now be able to spend more money on the development of my applications."

It seems that indie developers have escaped the worst of the pandemic’s economic devastation, partly because they work from home already, and partly because—according to MacPaw’s survey—the software business hasn’t been hit as hard as, say, the restaurant business. And with vaccinations and Apple’s App Store Small Business Program in view, 2021 is looking even better.

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