Thoughts on paid upgrades

This week one of my most used apps, Tweetbot, was updated for iOS 7. It wasn’t just updated but launched as a brand-new app with a price-tag of $2.99. In the absence of a system for offering upgraded apps to existing customers at a discounted price, deemed upgrade-pricing, this is a route a lot of developers are taking. So did Clear when it was updated for iOS 7 and offered as a universal binary. So did 1Password 4. So did Screens.

When Clear was updated, it brought on a furor of criticism for the developers, Realmac Software, a small indie shop. So much so that they retracted and decided to continue developing the older app while offering the new universal app under a different name, Clear+. This was hailed as a specimen of collective shame on the part of AppStore customers. However, I believe that the Clear scene was more about Clear itself than about the “shameful resistance of users in supporting an indie developer”. Here is Clear for iPhone before (left) and after (right) the update.

clear

Here are the release notes for the update from Macrumors.

List Peek – Pull down with two fingers to preview a list in the sidebar.
Easily move tasks between lists
Even easier-to-find Settings – just swipe from the left edge of the screen!
Clear for iPhone also now shows you the list name when you’re viewing a set of tasks.

This update was, by most counts, quite minor. Here is a look at Tweetbot before and after the update for iOS 7. (Image from Viticci’s extensive review over at Macstories).

twwetbot

Here are the release notes from the update:

Completely redesigned from the ground up for iOS7.
Native Push Notifications.
Mute filters lets you block messages from users without unfollowing them. Mute services, hashtags, people, and even keywords (regex included).
Sync timeline position, direct message read statuses and mute filters between iPhone, iPad, and the Mac via iCloud or Tweetmarker.
Customizable Navigation. The last 2 tabs are customizable and unused tabs are easily accessible.
Support for multiple services like Pocket, Instapaper, Readability, CloudApp, Droplr, and more.
Save drafts, add locations and POI’s, attach photos/videos, manage your lists, and much more.

Tweetbot wasn’t just fixed for iOS 7. It was rethought, redesigned, redone into a much nicer an experience and a much faster an app. Similar magnitude of delta was involved with 1Password and Screens updates. While Clear was made universal in the new update, it also meant that the users who paid $1.99 for the iPhone app (probably not too long ago) and do not own an iPad were expected to buy another app just to get fixes and enhancements. While in an ideal world, it’s not too outrageous to spend a couple of dollars to support apps which we use everyday, multiple times, in reality one can understand why reviews like these will be written:

ClearReviews

A less controversial way for Realmac would have been to update the iPhone app for iOS 7 and launch a new one for the iPad. While realizing that there can be months of work put into making the app more functional, it might seem pretty shallow to say that unless there is a significant visual change, upgrade pricing will be backlashed at. However, the reality of the ecosystem is that iOS users have a very heavy visual bias, more so than others. This is a design-inspired platform and users’ expectations are set accordingly. Further, it is not so unfair on users’ part to expect functional and design overhaul when paying again for an app that still works.

While there will always be customers who would despise a developer for not supporting a ¢99 app perpetually and for wanting to pay her bills, I believe that most users are a bit more reasonable than that. However, when seemingly taken for a fool, there will be backlash. While I have heard some whining on Twitter about Tweetbot’s upgrade-pricing, the overwhelming response has been of great satisfaction and delight. So much so that Tweetbot 3 became the top paid app in 35 countries. Rightly so, Matthew Panzarino notes at the end of his Tweetbot 3 review over at Tech Crunch:

I want to pay Tapbots for their hard work getting this thing in the shape that it’s in, which is fantastic. And paying for all of those months of work is the least that most of us can do for as much utility as Twitter power players get out of the app.

Tweetbot 3 very well goes on to establish that paid-upgrades is a viable model of doing business in the AppStore. However, one has to be mindful that there must be significant marginal value for the users in the upgrade and their choice to not do so is respected and not dismissed with a cheap-shot.