No matter how much developers and users alike have hoped Apple would bring traditional upgrade pricing to the App Store, it’s not going to happen. Traditional upgrades — where you get a discount on version 2 if you already own version 1 — have been deemed too complex. In a world where simplicity rules and everyone is supposed to be treated the same, that’s one confusion too many for Apple.
So, they’ve opted to slash the prices on their own apps — all the way to free for most of their consumer products — and charge full price for new versions. 3rd party developers have been left to do the same, making the App Store the place where apps like Pixelmator get seemingly endless upgrades for free while other apps get full-priced new versions as we’ve seen with so many iOS 7 apps this year.
But that might not be the only way. The Omni Group has been the most bold at trying to find ways to offer traditional upgrade pricing with their OmniKeyMaster, a short-lived attempt to offer App Store customers upgrade pricing on their own store. And now they’re fighting again, with the most brilliant use of in-app purchases yet.
Using In-App Purchases for Good
The likes of Candy Crush and practically every other freemium game on the top of the App Store have given many of us a distaste for in-app purchases. I personably consider consumable in-app purchases (say, paying for extra time in a game or to clear a level) as rather scammy, since few would seriously pay money for such things if they stepped away and honestly thought about it.
And yet, in-app purchases don’t have to be bad, something I expounded on further earlier this year. The best example on the Mac so far this year was Byword 2, a free update to the paid app Byword that added publishing posts to WordPress and more as an in-app purchase. Essentially, you get an updated version of the core features you originally paid for in v.1 for free, but can choose to pay extra for new features. That’s something that Paper for iPad had already successfully embraced, and I happen to think it’d be cool if more apps could be cheaper with base functionality and then let you pay for more features. In-app purchases are perfect for that.
But that’s not nearly as clever as what the Omni Group has done with OmniGraffle 6. After their original idea to offer upgrade pricing to App Store customers on their own store was thwarted, they turned to in-app purchases to recreate traditional upgrade pricing on the App Store — and amazingly it worked. If you owned the previous version of OmniGraffle, you can purchase OmniGraffle 6 Standard from the App Store and then verify your original purchase in the app to unlock a free or discounted upgrade to OmniGraffle 6 Pro in the app.
It’s almost surprising Apple allowed this — and equally surprising that no one else has done it before — but it works perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, it’d almost be surprising if more apps don’t take advantage of that in the future — and we can almost assume we’ll see something similar in the anticipated OmniFocus 2 and OmniOutliner 4. It’s a move that’s made Apple geeks like Thomas Brand and myself feel safe making large pro app purchases on the App Store again.
Perhaps We Should Begin Again
But then, sometimes what’s really needed isn’t a new version of an app — it’s a new app. Adding new features and tweaking the old ones can be great, but there’s also a place for disrupting your own app and starting anew before your market’s taken over by younger, fresh apps.
That’s the strategy that many developers — Apple included — have taken this year, one that’s proved as controversial as the lack of upgrade pricing itself. We’ve seen the Realmac Software team scrap LittleSnapper in favor of the brand-new Ember, and The Soulmen start fresh on their Ulysses app with Ulysses III, a remake that shares the older version’s name but starts its own version numbering over at v1.0. Bohemian Coding has done it twice, with the new Fonts app replacing Fontcase, and Sketch being rebooted in Sketch 2. The latter upgrade removed functionality and change the UI but laid a better foundation for the future that’s made Sketch a buzzword in design this year, and they’ve promised that Fonts is a similar new start.
Evernote’s done the same thing twice as well, making their namesake app drastically different in Evernote 5, a reboot that made many of us love Evernote again, and turning the beloved original Skitch into something that was universally hated until they, too, added back features to the rebooted app. And now Apple’s done the same thing with its new iWork Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, starting over from scratch but then promising to add features back soon — and they actually started the remake-instead-of-upgrade trend with Final Cut Pro X.
It’s not a bad trend, per se — sometimes a new start is the best thing, and paying a lower full-price for each version isn’t terrible in the long run either. And maybe it’s a trend that’s easier to accept if the old app is killed in name, too, and the new app is marketed as a brand new app — though the comments on our first review of Ember would say otherwise. Change is tough, and reboots even tougher — if we wanted to learn to use a new app, we might as well go try out the competition.
And yet, change is good. You could still use Office ’97 on an aging PC — it would still get stuff done — but you’d likely be more efficient with modern tools, ones likely not made by the Office team. Someone else was innovative, tried something new, and made brilliant apps like Scrivener and iA Writer, Keynote and Prezi, MailMate and Sparrow, Google Docs Spreadsheets and Soulver and Calca. That’s why there’s an indie alternate to everything in Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Here’s to the Next.
Disrupt, or be disrupted. Apple and a ton of developers have decided to take the first route instead of waiting for someone else to disrupt their apps — and that route doesn’t always look like new versions of the same old app. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board, and perhaps the App Store’s lack of upgrade pricing has prompted more people to think of new ways to solve a problem through software instead of just adding patches and features to increasingly bloated apps.
Even if in name the app is unchanged, if new versions of apps — or reboots of the original idea — aren’t really new, there’s nothing to really pay for. The Omni Group is solving the paying part through ingenious in-app purchase upgrades, while still reinventing their apps in the latest versions. Others are making fully new apps. Either way, the App Store’s restrictions seem to have pushed developers to think different in a very good way.
If, perhaps, some of the new apps could manage to pull off what the Omni Group has done with upgrade pricing for OmniGraffle 6, we might have the perfect thing to counter every argument against rebooted apps. And hey: if you still happened to love the old version and aren’t willing to change yet, the new-app-instead-of-updated-app model makes it easier than ever to use what you’re used to while you’re waiting for the new app to become full-featured.
Now, here’s to the updates that build on the promises held by this year’s rebooted apps. That’s the excitement 2014 will hold.