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BLOG: Apple needs a handle on App Store paid-upgrade problem

Marco Tabini | Sept. 6, 2013
The OmniKeyMaster, which would scour a user's hard drive looking for copies of the company's software purchased from the Mac App Store to give users access to the company's upgrade pricing options, has been shelved.

In late August, The Omni Group, makers of many popular Mac productivity apps and a fixture of the Apple scene from the early days of OS X, announced a tool that would scour a user's hard drive looking for copies of the company's software purchased from the Mac App Store.

This software, dubbed OmniKeyMaster, would then turn Mac App Store receipts into Omni's own licenses, thus giving users access to the company's upgrade pricing options—which are not normally available through Apple's sales channel.

Alas, it now seems that the folks from Cupertino have, at least for now, put a damper on Omni's goals. In a blog post published on Wednesday, Omni CEO Ken Case announced that OmniKeyMaster has been shelved due to complaints from Apple.

Golden gates
Predictably, the news of OmniKeyMaster's demise has been met with a mix of concern and ire by the blogosphere, mostly (but, surprisingly, not entirely) aimed at Apple. Cupertino's restrictions imposed on developers who wish to sell through the App Store has caused all sorts of upheaval in the app development world in recent years, and long-time software makers have been forced to either adapt or face the consequences of foregoing a large market for their products.

My feelings are a bit more mixed. It's always hard to analyze something when you only hear half the story, as is almost always the case with anything related to Apple. And, while it's easy to assign any number of malicious intents to the company, the suggestion that it isn't fan of a tool like OmniKeyMaster really isn't a surprise, given that one of the app's effects would surely be to take customers away from what the tech giant considers the proper, modern way of purchasing and distributing software.

Nor is it hard to understand Omni's motivation for wanting to try and circumvent the App Store's lack of paid upgrades, a practice that has been a staple of software sales for many decades. Omni's tool didn't really do anything nefarious—it was entirely an opt-in experience. Rather than an underhanded attempt at stealing customers away from Apple, it seems to me that Omni was simply trying to strike a balance between the need to generate revenues and keeping its customers happy.

A conflict for the ages
Frankly, I don't think that either Apple's or Omni's motives are the really interesting story here. Instead, what piques my curiosity is the conflict that the App Store has created between Cupertino and the software developer community.

Historically, Apple has attempted to shift the balance of the personal computing market, making customers place a premium on hardware while expecting software to be cheap and plentiful. This plays well to the company's strengths, which are making beautiful and powerful products that command a premium price and are difficult for its competition to replicate. By using a small portion of the money it makes by selling hardware to subsidize its software development, Apple has placed a significant amount of pressure on the rest of the PC industry, where hardware is commoditized and many companies have relied on software to bring in the lion's share of the profits.


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