22 July 2013

gedblog: “Watershed Moment”

Perhaps a better way to answer the question might be, how willing would you be to re-purchase your favorite apps if they are optimized for iOS 7? Look at your device’s home screen and go down the list of apps you use most and ask yourself if you could live without it once you upgrade. I think that most users (at least those that matter to developers) would answer that they would gladly pay again if it means having the latest and greatest version of their favorite apps, at least I would hope so. Gedeon Maheux

For me, the answer is pretty easy: no way! In one-and-a-half years since buying an iPhone, I purchased a grand total of two apps: SkyView, which shouldn’t be affected by the OS redesign since it has a custom interface, and Celsius, which can be easily replaced with another weather app. I’m not even sure if I will upgrade to iOS7 anytime soon.

The overall problem is much more complex. It’s pretty ironic if you think about it: you get a free OS upgrade from Apple, but you need to pay to update apps to be compatible – and if you use a lot of them it can easily add up. Users will be reluctant to pay again if the new app doesn’t add new features. Some may even reconsider their choice of ecosystem: instead of giving money for the same apps all over again, they could choose to switch to Android and rebuild their app collection there – although I think most of the money locked into Apple’s ecosystem are in music/media purchases rather than apps.

I can understand developers wanting to monetize their work, especially since the migration to iOS7 will be more difficult than changing resolution or proportion to fit a new screen. But if a developer starts charging for upgrades while others with similar apps don’t, many users will probably switch to the free apps or with free upgrades. Some may choose to continue using the old app, which raises the problem of fragmentation and support – how long should the developer support an obsolete app that doesn’t bring any revenue anymore? The problems actually trace back to the limitations of the App Store: ‘upgrade pricing’ is not allowed, which would allow developers to collect a small fee for major updates of their apps; nor are trial versions, which would make it easier for users to test paid apps before committing to a purchase. For some apps, a subscription-based payment (even yearly) could probably be a better solution than a straight-up purchase – but Apple collects 30% commission on those…

As much as the radical redesign was seen as an opportunity for Apple to further differentiate from ‘copycats’, it could also be a breaking point where many, both users and developers, will stop and think about their ecosystem choice and if they can get the same value elsewhere.

I like it when other people think along the same lines:

There is so much more Apple (and the other platform owners) could be doing to improve this situation; paid updates and app-store supported subscriptions (beyond Newsstand) would be great places to start.

Moreover, it’s something Apple should be investing in. The App Store remains the largest moat around iOS; apps like Paper simply don’t exist on Android. Perhaps FiftyThree planned to go in this direction all along, and if so, good for them. But if they originally wanted to make a living on the App Store, and can’t, then their future probably includes more platforms than just iOS (a loss for Apple) and a chance of outright failure (a terrible loss indeed).

Ben Thompson

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