Opinion: Quality and Business

It’s a shame these guys chose business over quality.” – Mitch Barlett

Back in 2008, during the transition from 1.1.x to 2.0, speculation was all the rage on the quality of the App Store applications and whether or not people would stay jailbroken or otherwise. Many people (including the moderating staff) had already upgraded to the 2.0 betas and had the satisfaction of having something that others didn’t: a fancy new calculator. At that point, the 2.0 betas didn’t have that much on them but the promise of potential. That shiny App Store button didn’t actually do anything yet, and SpringBoard extensions and even theming were twinkles in the eyes of many ambitious jailbreakers.

When 2.0 hit the streets, it was gobbled up quickly, and users found that favorite Tap Tap Revenge (formerly Tap Tap Revolution) made a big splash at the top of the iTunes charts. Many said that this was a sign that jailbreaking was more important than previously thought and that jailbreakers would always stay one step ahead of those at Apple. But beyond that, it also signified that there was a definitive move from the jailbroken platform to the wider market of the App Store. Applications like Twinkle, Twitterrific, Tap Tap Revenge, and Raging Thunder were huge hits on the App Store.

When did things go wrong? Hit the jump to find out.

But I want to take a moment to focus on one specific company: Tapulous. Tapulous, the developer behind the hugely successful Tap Tap Revenge series, was one of the most experienced developing teams at the launch of the iPhone App Store. They had inherited talented ‘homebrew’ developers like Nate True (Dock, Tap Tap Revenge) and Sean Heber (iAppADay, Ramp Champ) and the acclaimed designer Louie Mantia (Iconfactory). Before they were even Tapulous (Gogo Apps), they had an impressive resumé of Twinkle, Streetflow, iFlickr, and Wallpaper, with assistance from Polar Bear Farm developer Layton Duncan.

Success hit them straight in the nose. Tapulous had pumped out an incredible array of fun and successful applications from the get-go of the App Store: Tap Tap Revenge, Twinkle, Friendbook, and Collage. A fantastically inventive rhythm game, the first App Store twitter client, face dialing and business card exchange, and a fun little photo sharing application. The company not only stayed true to their slogan (social apps for iPhone) but had created the most successful and polished applications to hit the App Store. Shortly after, they released Fortune and Tweetsville.

Fast forward to early 2010.

Soon after the company started enjoying remarkable success, designer Louie Mantia and Sean Heber left for the Iconfactory. Mike Lee, developer and co-founder, was forced out of the company and created United Lemur. Tristan O’Tierney, another developer opted to do freelance work on iPhone development rather than work for Tapulous. Something was dramatically wrong with Tapulous. Four of the key people in this already tiny iPhone startup had left the company.

The world waited in silence for Tapulous to do something. They first emerged with a Nine Inch Nails themed version of their popular music game. Then came Tap Tap Dance and 9 other sequels to the original game. Tap Tap Revenge 2 was strikingly ugly and condemned for it by former employee Louie Mantia. Nonetheless, Tapulous is making $1,000,000 per month from purchases of their applications, in-application purchases, and the payments record companies are no doubt paying them to promote their artists through these applications.

Where does quality meet business? Is there a proper way to balance the two? There are companies that are producing much higher quality applications but making much less money like Polar Bear Farm, Iconfactory, and RogueSheep. Rather than rehashes of an application created by a man when he was just learning Objective-C, these companies are creating fun and exciting new things. Ramp Champ, Frenzic, Face Match, Showtime, and Postage are all incredible applications. Two of the companies have won Apple Design Awards.

But back to Tapulous. The Tapulous exodus was not coincidentally timed or without reason. Mike Lee was forced from the company. TechCrunch reports that, “Lee… was planning to create the type of full featured and well designed app… Conversely, he says that CEO Bart Decrem is trying to steer the company’s apps into… a large number of flashy and fun apps that aren’t particularly useful.” It’s no wonder that 2 developers and a fantastic designer left the company shortly thereafter.

There was a complete abandonment of quality and sticking true to the company’s founding principles. Where Mike Lee wanted to stick true to the “indie” and “social apps for the iPhone” idea, Bart Decrem turned Tapulous into a money-making behemoth. Perhaps he made the right decision. Perhaps it’s better that Tapulous is not floundering like other development studios. Perhaps it is better that humble jailbroken applications have made their way to the top of the store.

But perhaps Tapulous embodies everything that is wrong with the App Store.

When Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple by John Sculley, the quality of their products dramatically declined. There was no spark or innovation in their product and customers began to treat them as just another computer company. They began to slowly die.

Perhaps the Tapulous (and the iPhone platform) will too.

Post a response / What do you think?