Apple's Great New Developer Program Screws Over Safari Devs

By Chris Mills on at

During the last few days of the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple announced major changes to its developer programs. Gone are the different programs — and different fees — that developers for iOS, OS X, and watch OS previously had to pay. And that’s great! Except, one of the most under-appreciated dev communities has been screwed over.

Developing extensions for Safari isn’t big business. In fact, it’s not business at all: there’s no mechanism for users to pay for Safari extensions; developers have long provided reasonably complex tidbits of software to users, free of charge. Recognising this, Apple has historically provided the tools for developers to make and publish Safari extensions, free of charge.

All that’s changing. As part of a wider reorganisation of the developer program, the Safari dev program is being unified with all the others: thus, pay a $99 yearly fee, and you get access to Safari dev tools, the ability to publish your extension (once vetted) in the upcoming extensions gallery, plus all the tools to develop for iOS, OS X, and Watch OS.

The details were outlined to developers in an email from Apple, shared on Reddit by the developer of Reddit Enhancement Suite:

Dear Developer,

As a creator of Safari Extensions, you’ve helped enrich the browsing experience for Safari users by taking advantage of development resources through the Safari Developer Program. This program is now part of the new Apple Developer Program, which combines everything you need to develop, distribute, and manage your apps on all Apple platforms.

Your existing Safari Developer Program membership will remain active until July 8, 2015 and your Safari extensions will continue to work for existing users.

You can continue building Safari extensions and bring your creativity to other Apple platforms by joining the Apple Developer Program. Join today to provide updates to your current extensions, build new extensions, and submit your extensions to the new Safari Extensions Gallery for OS X El Capitan. You can also learn how to extend your coding skills to create innovative new apps for Apple customers around the world.

Learn more[1]

Reading between the lines (because Apple hasn’t perfectly clarified this yet), it seems that developers will still technically be able to make extensions without forking over $100/year, but in order to be in the extensions gallery, or submit updates to users (both of which are really rather important) devs will need to pay for memberships.

Understandably, people aren’t happy about the new policy, with devs voicing their displeasure on numerous Reddit threads and forums, including Apple’s own dev forum. A general consensus is that while people are happy to donate their time to creating cool software for the community — and making Safari better! — that generosity understandably doesn’t extend to paying $100 per year for the privilege.

This isn’t just a bad move by Apple: it’s a horrible tactical mistake. Chrome isn’t really a good browser any more: it chomps through RAM and battery life with equal disdain, but thanks to the indispensable library of extensions that come with it, I still run Chrome over the faster, more efficient Safari.

Starting with the OS X Yosemite updates last year, Apple has been pushing to change that trend, emphasising Safari’s night-and-day superiority for battery life, and fleshing out functionality to the point where it’s competitive with Chrome or Firefox.

All that hard work making a fantastic browser will be worth exactly diddly squat if Apple kills off the few good browser extensions Safari already has, by driving developers off the platform with what looks like a gratuitous money grab. The people who really care about their browser’s speed and performance are exactly the same ones who will jump ship if the Reddit and adblock extensions vanish from Safari.

The really frustrating thing is, Apple appears to recognise how important extensions are to browsers. That’s what seems to have sparked the change in the first place — OS X El Capitan is going to have an ‘extensions gallery’, a clear nod to the Chrome Web Store (which it costs devs a one-time $5 fee to get extensions into). It will be a place for extensions that are vetted (to some extent) and signed by Apple.

The logic makes sense, to some degree — Apple vets apps for iOS and OS X, sells them in an official store, and in return, developers have to pay $100 a year for the privilege. But unlike those stores, Safari devs don’t make any meaningful money off their code, just the occasional paltry donation. So, if the initial reaction bears out, developers are going to jump ship, taking their extensions with them. In the attempt to make Safari better, Apple’s just gone and made things a whole lot worse.