First Click: Is Apple’s App Store subscription pricing good for consumers?

June 10th, 2016

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By now you’ve read about Apple’s App Store 2.0, right? Good, so what do you think about subscription-based pricing being made available to all app types, not just those that streamed media like periodicals, video, and audio?

Developers like it, of course, because it creates a steady revenue stream that should, in principle, fund continuous development. But what about people like you and me, the consumers of App Store apps?

While it clearly makes sense to pay a subscription for an app like Spotify which gives me unlimited access to most of the world’s music, should I also pay a subscription to Tweetbot to access all those wonderfully supportive and open-minded tweets? Or what about my 1Password password manager — must I pay a subscription fee to have my own content synced across my own devices? And what happens when an app gets abandoned — must I continue to pay for perpetuity? And what about when I stop paying — can I continue to use my app with the understanding that I will no longer receive updates?

And what about gaming? Must I constantly delete games after I’m tired of playing them, or will I end up paying hundreds of dollars for casual games like Crossy Road (freemium) or Alto’s Adventure ($3.99) because my kids never seem to tire of them? Will I be stressed out by my desire to finish a game quickly, or at least before the next payment date just to save a buck?

As the argument goes, the guarantee of future revenue is exactly what developers need to spur creation of new, more sophisticated apps. Apps that could unleash a torrent of productivity tools for the iPad Pro, for example.

I do worry about subscriptions contributing to feature creep, though. MS Office suffered from bloatware for years. Microsoft added feature after feature that helped sell upgrades to corporate IT departments, but were of little value to the vast majority of PowerPointers. I paid $10 for the minimalistic iA Writer for my iPad back in 2010. In 2013 the company launched its $20 Pro version with lots of new features… that I didn’t and still don’t need. Nevertheless, last week I finally updated my app to the latest version even though the old app worked fine. Not because I needed the features, but because I wanted to support the developer that makes an app I find "mission critical" to my daily work.

Apple says that for subscription pricing to make sense, the app experience "must provide ongoing value worth the recurring payment." Question is, who gets to decide that? Apple, the developer, or the consumer? As John Gruber notes at Daring Fireball, "We don’t have all the answers we need yet. But Apple is aware of the questions."

Right now, I’m torn. On one hand, I don’t want to manage dozens of subscriptions for all the apps I use. I also don’t want to pay more for the promise of features to come, that may not even be useful. On the other hand, I want to pay a fair amount to the developers who make, maintain, and enhance my favorite apps. I also want to see more sophisticated apps, so Tom Warren, The Verge’s Senior Microsoft Editor, will finally shut up about the iPad not being suitable for "real work."

What about you?

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