Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The 2016 Panic Report

It’s been an awesome year for Panic — now in their twentieth of business. But there’s a bee in their bonnet, as Cabel Sasser explains:

iOS continues to haunt us. If you remember, 2016 was the year we killed Status Board, our very nice data visualization app. Now, a lot of it was our fault. But it was another blow to our heavy investment in pro-level iOS apps a couple years ago, a decision we’re still feeling the ramifications of today as we revert back to a deep focus on macOS. Trying to do macOS quality work on iOS cost us a lot of time for sadly not much payoff. We love iOS, we love our iPhones, and we love our iPads. But we remain convinced that it’s not — yet? — possible to make a living selling pro software on those platforms. Which is a real bummer!

This is a hard problem, particularly on the iPad. The Pro model is an ideal canvas for highly sophisticated apps that enable the kind of work more typically completed on laptops, but the financial model of the App Store hasn’t been conducive to that.

The solutions available to independent developers, like Panic, seem rather limited. They could make the app available on a subscription basis, or tie the iOS app to an active desktop app license; but, these pricing models have flaws of their own.

The software-as-a-service model doesn’t work for every kind of app, and it really adds up as more apps use it as a pricing model. It’s especially hard to justify for an app you don’t frequently use.

Treating the iOS version of an app as a companion to the desktop version could allow for an easier-to-swallow price hike when buying the Mac version, but it would run afoul of rule 3.1.4 in the App Store Guidelines.1 I’m also skeptical of how much the desktop app’s price could be increased to sufficiently offset the development cost of the iOS app.

There are probably plenty more pricing models than what I’ve written here, but none I’ve seen yet seem capable of addressing the financial viability of this specific software niche. It’s a tricky problem. Without a solution, though, I question the long-term viability of independently-made professional-grade software on iOS.

  1. “Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc.” ↩︎