When it comes to software, there’s really no better deal on the planet than smartphone apps. I seldom pay for popular software, and when I do, the cost is minimal – the average price for an app is just 19 cents. And while buying the latest and greatest iPhone every other year (or sooner with a trade-in plan like Verizon Edge) is expensive, I have never had to re-purchase apps. I buy them once and own them (and get updates) for life.
That model is terrific for us members of the public, but as it turns out, it’s terrible for app developers. Most paid productivity apps, organization apps, and games are created by smaller studios, often employing no more than five people. Runaway multi-million dollar hits like Angry Birds are the exception rather than the rule.
But could the buy-it-once-own-it-forever software model be changing? That’s precisely what Gedeon Maheux, co-founder of the company behind the popular Twitterrific app, is advocating in an entry on his personal blog.
Maheux notes that the release of a new iPhone later this fall – and the release of the accompanying iOS 7 – will offer software houses plenty of new customers. “But there’s another opportunity here for developers,” he explains, “one that’s been largely ignored up until now – paid upgrades. To be more precise, all new, iOS 7 paid versions of existing applications.”
Maheux actually makes a number of terrific points in his blog entry. Updating a popular app for a new operating system requires a ton of work – hundreds of man-hours that largely go unrewarded. New features are often built in too. And given the bold graphic redesign of Apple’s new mobile operating system, app makers will be pressured to spend money on design updates to match the new, modernist Apple style.
In short, there are so many changes coming with iOS 7 that it’s only natural for developers to use the occasion to relaunch older apps as paid upgrades. That’s precisely what Maheux plans to do with his company’s popular apps – xScope and Twitterrific require paid upgrades once every 18 months. Other companies are testing the waters, too: Just this week, messaging app Whatsapp announced a switch to a 99-cents-per-year subscription model.
But can developers get us to buy the cow with iOS7 after years of letting us get the milk for free? It may be a tough sell, but Maheux frames it well: “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.”
Personally, I would be willing to pay a minimal amount to upgrade some of my favorite apps, so long as money actually goes to pay development costs and implement new features. It’s hard to get outraged over paying out 99 cents to make something I love even better, especially as I’m sitting in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, drinking a glass of iced tea I just paid $2.49 for.
What do you think? Would you be willing to pay to upgrade your favorite apps? Or are these app makers violating an unwritten, unspoken contract with the public?