Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Picking and Choosing

Riccardo Mori:

Here’s the thing — Among the apps I’ve bought over the years, a lot of them are quality apps I love and enjoy using, but I don’t necessarily use them all the time. A classic example: photo apps and image editing apps. I have a lot of them, and I don’t really have a preference. I decide which to use mostly following the mood of the moment (in case of photo apps) or the specific function/effect I’m after (in case of editing apps and even photo apps as well).

With these kinds of apps, I like to have lots of options available, and I haven’t minded paying upfront for each of these apps; I haven’t minded paying the occasional extra for a paid update or for the in-app purchase that unlocked more photo filters or editing features. But in the extreme case that all app developers behind these apps moved to a subscription-based pricing, without offering alternatives, I would be forced into a position I really don’t like: having to decide which app stays on my devices and which one has to go. Will the App Store’s infamous ‘race to the bottom’ become the ‘race to stay in your device’s (home) screen’?

I’ve been thinking about this as well, and my hope is that an app without an active subscription degrades gracefully. But how graceful it may degrade ultimately depends on what the App Store allows. Restricting app updates based on subscription status, for instance, can’t be done because they’re run through the store itself.

Perhaps some developers will get creative with how they distribute updates within the app. For instance, a new set of filters could be made available as a free download provided the user has an active subscription. Bug fixes could be distributed as app updates, but feature updates could be dependent upon a subscription.

These new rules create a somewhat murky new world for developers and users alike. I’m generally optimistic because the apps you love most probably come from developers who respect their users. Developers like Panic, Flexibits, Cultured Code, Tapbots, Sam Oakley, and Ole Zorn — they actually care. And those developers who do not care about their apps’ users will find it very difficult to retain subscribers.