Video-game maker Sony has been making a big push for independent developers lately, both on its handheld PS Vita system and on its upcoming PlayStation 4 console, and yesterday, the company took another big step. Sony has decided to waive its usual US$99 fee for PlayStation Mobile developers, meaning that anyone can join the developer network and publish games on its platforms for free. That's a big move, and while it might not mean a boost in PlayStation Mobile publishing (there are other hiccups, such as the difficulty of game creation and the limited size of the market), it does show just how open Sony is to independent software developers.
So here's a question: Would Apple ever do the same thing? Ever since the App Store opened, Apple has charged $99 a year for a developer account to publish apps on its platforms. Anyone can download and use Xcode to make apps, but to publish them, you've had to pay that fee, and the price has never changed.
If Apple did lower the price or remove it, there would be some benefits: There'd be more apps on the App Store, and thus more potential profit for Apple and its developers. The developer community would be more open, which would lead to better documentation and communication in general. And while, yes, there would probably be even more low-quality apps, there would also be more potential for great or terrific apps that focus on a relatively niche market.
However, Apple would lose all the money it makes from the developer fee, money that probably goes into maintaining the developer network and its services. And Apple likely doesn't want the dev network to be a complete free for all. It still uses that network to beta test new software and operating systems, and there is still (technically) a non-disclosure agreement that binds anyone who signs up for the program.
Plus, it's not like Apple needs more developers. Those numbers are growing every day, even with the fee in place. So it seems unlikely that Apple will drop or even change that fee anytime soon: It's a very low barrier to development, but for Apple, it's better than no barrier at all.