OmniKeyMaster: The Omni Group’s Answer to the App Store’s Lack of Upgrade Pricing

The App Store’s arrival on the Mac is hard to classify as anything other than a good thing. It’s made great indie Mac apps more discoverable for new Mac users, helped spur the transition of many apps from the iPad back to the Mac, lowered the price of Apple’s pro apps, and even made installing updates for OS X and apps a simple process — one that gets even simpler in Mavericks. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on Mac App Store apps, and there’s every indicator that I’ll spend hundreds more over the coming decades.

And yet, it’s not perfect. Its sandbox restrictions have prevented apps like TextExpander from releasing their newest versions in the App Store, and the review process is slow enough that you’ll have to wait days after updates are ready to get them in your apps. But worst of all, there’s no way to offer upgrade pricing for new versions of apps. Instead, developers have to either release new versions as a free update for those who have purchased their apps already, or just make a “new” app for the new version, perhaps with a launch-day special price as an overture to those who owned the previous version.

For developers like the Omni Group, that just wouldn’t work out.

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To the App Store, and Back

The Omni Group has a long history with OS X — indeed, a history that dates back to the time before OS X existed. Rather than being an original Mac Classic development team, the Omni team cut their teeth writing software for the OS made by Steve Jobs’ post-Apple venture, NeXT. They transitioned to the Mac, then to iOS, releasing award-winning software on each platform. If anything, they’ve been quicker than most established companies to adopt new Apple technologies and platforms, and publicly embraced the idea of a Mac App Store before it was launched. It wasn’t any surprise, then, that even after decades of selling their own apps, they had their Mac apps available in the Mac App Store on launch day.

Even before that, though, the Omni Group had already had some trouble with the App Store’s default policies. They had always offered a 30 day money back guarantee on their software, something that’s not technically offered on the App Store, but they made the tough call to go ahead and extend that offer to their App Store customers even though it’d cost them 30% on refunded sales. They never went the iCloud sync route, which would have required switching to only selling apps on the App Store, but instead built their own OmniPresence sync alternate. And while they never directly said you should choose their own store over the App Store for purchases, they did recommend that it might be best for existing customers — and expressed the hope that Apple would add upgrade pricing to the App Store before they released a major upgrade to one of their apps.

The latter, indeed, hasn’t happened. So today, the Omni team released a new tool, OmniKeyMaster, to help Mac App Store customers transition back to the original Omni Store licenses, in preparation for releasing the hotly anticipated new versions of OmniFocus and OmniOutliner in the upcoming months. It’s a simple little tool: run it, and it’ll detect your App Store licensed Omni apps, ask for your name and email address, then generate a Omni Store license key and email you a backup copy as well.

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You really don’t even need to do anything more than run the app from the DMG download, save the licenses, then delete the download. Then, you can immediately switch to using your license on today’s versions of the Omni apps downloaded directly from them, or stick with your App Store copy until there’s a major new version released. It’s an elegant way to do the right thing by their current App Store customers and still get the revenue they need from new versions of their software.

The App Store Purchasing Conundrum

The App Store is still a great place, and I’ll continue to make it my first choice when purchasing new software simply because having all the apps you own in one place is really, really nice. I never have to think about my credit card info when buying a new app, and never have to worry about backing up license keys and transferring them to a new Mac in the future. The App Store makes it all seamless.

But that convenience comes at a cost of flexibility, one that’s been highlighted by the Omni Group’s plight so far. It works great for smaller apps, but when you get into the realm of professional software, the App Store can complicate things rather than simplify them. You can, for instance, make a basic and pro version of your app, but you can’t offer upgrade pricing to the pro version for your basic customers on the App Store, just like you can’t offer upgrade pricing on new versions or a discount for purchasing more than one of your team’s apps. All of these are sales options we’re used to with traditional software, and the App Store has taken them away. It simplifies things, but also keeps the pros wary of Apple’s one-size-fits-all store. And, if anything, it’s made it easier to nickel-and-dime customers in freemium games with in-app purchases.

Mavericks brings automatic update installs, update history, and a couple other tiny tweaks to the App Store, but it’s not the overhaul that pro apps need from the App Store. But then, maybe the App Store is best as it is: a simple marketplace that helps new developers get discovered and the rest of us get simple app installs. For the rest, it seems that we’re increasingly forced to turn to monthly subscriptions with Creative Cloud, Office 365, and even Billings — and in that backlight, the Omni Group’s switch back to focusing on sales from their own store with upgrade discounts seems a refreshing return to the good old days.

I, for one, am looking forward to purchasing an OmniFocus 2 upgrade on the Omni store, after getting started with my OmniFocus 1 purchase on the App Store.