Concerns About Long-Term App Sustainability

By most measurements, Apple’s iOS app store has been very successful. We’ve seen a proliferation of quality applications for mobile devices and consumers seem quite willing to pay for said applications. The same can’t be said for the Android Market. But there’s one nagging problem I have with the iOS app store, and it’s a problem that’s only going to get worse.

Apple App Store iconI’d like a way to continue to support my favorite app developers without trickery involved.

The lack of paid application upgrades means that purchasing an app is generally a one-time affair. I pay $4.99 forInstapaper and I’m done. Or the same price for Elements. I purchase Instacast for $1.99. And that’s the end of the transaction… which is fine for most scenarios.

What if I’d like to pay more? What if I find that I am getting a lot of value out of an application, perhaps far more than the small price I paid? There’s not currently any way to fund software on an ongoing basis, and I fear that without some sort of revenue model that allows for additional purchases, developers may abandon or deprioritize some software.

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, added a subscription service to version 4.0 of his application that allowed him to cover the increased costs necessary to provide the search feature in his app. He discovered that Apple’s renewing subscription service doesn’t work for this purpose:

Ultimately, I had to ship Instapaper 4.0 with non-renewing subscriptions, I was able to delete all of the clunky auto-renewing server code, nobody sees that terrible dialog in my app, and I need to ship an update soon that will annoy my best customers with manual-renewal notifications.

This isn’t some hypothetical or philosophical issue, this is a practical one. Full search of all of the content in Instapaper is a new feature which has very tangible server and bandwidth costs for Marco. Since he can’t offer a paid app upgrade, he attempted to setup a subscription, which can’t be auto-renewing due to Apple’s rules and now he needs to force his users to go through clunky steps.

Developers need incentive to continue building and enhancing existing quality apps. While goodwill is nice, goodwill doesn’t pay the mortgage. Apple owes it to its developers and users to provide a simple method for developers to charge for upgrades and enhancements.

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  1. says

    I also agree, albeit working very little with the app store, that there needs to be pricing options around building apps. From a consumer point of view it provides more options of payment (especially for things that may otherwise be a bit expensive) and of course provides the benefits that you’re pointing out.

    What’s the chance we’ll see something like that? Honestly, I’d probably build something in the next few months if I could setup a subscription based app.

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