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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.

Thus, the price of practically every one of Apple's software products, from OS X to professional tools like Logic, has decreased dramatically over the years, and the App Store has put a significant downwards pressure on the pricing of third-party apps for both the company's desktop and mobile operating systems.

From a user's perspective, this is a compelling reason to buy into Apple's ecosystem: a slightly higher initial investment gets you great hardware and a veritable treasure trove of software at very reasonable prices. Better yet, the entire purchase process is simple, requires little effort, and does away with all the complexities of upgrade pricing (like, say, digging your old license files out of whatever hole they managed to crawl into).

Developers, developers, developers
From a developer's point of view, transitioning to this new model can take considerable effort—particularly if, like Omni, you have been around for many years and cater to a considerable user base. The issue is not necessarily pricing or greed—if anything, Omni could simply do away with upgrade pricing altogether, shrug its corporate shoulders, and blame Apple for the change.

Rather, the issue is that Apple has not offered third-party developers any viable compromise that would allow them to transition from the traditional upgrade model, in which newcomers pay a higher price and then enjoy lower-cost upgrades, to a new world in which everybody pays the same (potentially lower) price for major releases, and minor updates are free.

Thus, developers are stuck catering to two distinct markets: one that expects upgrade pricing, and one that doesn't. Trying to satisfy the needs of both is bound to cause significant conflicts until either the App Store fades into the mists of time or upgrade pricing is no longer the norm outside ... neither of which is likely to happen anytime soon.

In a previous opinion article for Macworld, I argued that, as consumers, we are better off without upgrade pricing. I still think that's the case, and I think that, in the long run, a simpler sales model would benefit developers as well.

In the meantime, however, Apple needs to step up to the plate and lead developers into this new model through a combination of customer education and improved sales tools, instead of simply forcing them to accept the arbitrary reality it wants to impose. Otherwise, some of the most prolific app developers will end up being driven away from the App Store—a scenario that would benefit no-one.


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