There is a growing trend sweeping across the Applesphere the past few years and it has me concerned about the future of application development. My experience in the Applesphere dates back to the early days of the Mac, long before Windows, back when applications could not be numbered by the hundreds of thousands.
Apps came in two flavors. Free or commercial and, except for the ones Apple included on a Mac, mostly the latter. The arrival of the public internet in the mid-1990s changed that for the better. More free apps appeared because, as the story was told a couple of decades ago, the internet should be free and so should internet applications.
Clearly, Apple took the trend seriously and launched a long list of Mac apps– Safari, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and many others. Most of us could get by just fine with the free applications that come with every Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
They say that with free you get what you pay for. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the invention of the various app stores for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac have help spur the app industry in a new direction. Yes, apps are still more commercial than not, but we’ve moved well beyond freeware, beyond shareware, leaped over donationware, and software has become part of a subscription model.
Instead of buying an application that you could use forever, or, at least until the next major upgrade came along and gave you more features and a discounted upgrade price, today you have the option to subscribe to applications. Pay monthly, or pay annually, but you pay a subscription price forever.
I understand the need for developers to make money, and an ongoing revenue stream helps to pay for ongoing development, ostensibly, what an app needs to stay around and grow a customer base.
The problem I have with the subscription model is twofold. First, some subscription prices are ludicrous– too expensive. Adobe charges $10 a month for Photoshop and Lightroom. Microsoft charges $10 a month for Office. All of it. That model seems to work for both companies. So, how can a developer get similar value packed into a monthly price tag of $4 to $8 for lesser software.
What got me started on this rant is news about 1Password 7. The beta version. My Mac runs 1Password 6.8.8 so it’s time for version 7.x to come along and that means another upgrade fee. The 1Password Personal & Family plan is $3 a month at $36 a year. The feature list of 1Password 6.8.x is far more than I need and I’m somewhere near the middle of the Mac power user ranks.
As a writer, writing tools are important and the Mac has many. Among my favorites is Ulysses; Mac, iPhone, iPad. You guessed it. Subscription. $5 a month or $40 a month. Five or six subscriptions for valued apps can add up to an ongoing price tag far higher than I paid for shareware or even commercial apps with an upgrade every few years.
The app subscription trend is here. I want it to work well for developers so they can improve their products. But I need to be able to afford subscription apps, and, collectively, the ongoing price tags are becoming onerous.
That leads me to the second issue. If subscriptions increase in number and price, then I won’t experiment with additional applications and that trend isn’t good for Apple’s customers, the App Store, or developers.