Developing software is time consuming and challenging no matter how big or small the application. When the iPhone SDK arrived developers rejoiced. Not only did we get a great SDK, we also got the App Store. Sure, the rules were a bit arcane, but as an Indie developer you didn’t have to create and manage your own store and Apple guaranteed a safe distribution mechanism. It’s still a great thing to this day, but it could use some improvement.
I’m going to focus this post on upgrade pricing because it may be the single biggest improvement we could get from Apple.
There are a lot of things to like about the Apple App Store as a user. Once you find an application it’s easy to install and keep updated. Most of the time applications updates are free. It just works. As a developer, however, there have been a couple horrible expectations set during the early years. In a race to the bottom apps became extremely cheap and updates were expected to be free for the lifetime of the application. Free forever. Think about that for a minute.
A lot of applications in the App Store are native clients to a service. It’s clear services are the best way to create a viable, long term, product, but there are a lot of applications that run native and don’t use a service, don’t understand the value of their own service, or are clients to a third-party service.
One such client is Tweetbot, from the fine folks at Tapbots. It’s a very popular iOS and Mac client for Twitter. If you visit the Tapbots homepage you’ll discover the company is not operated by robots, it’s operated by three human beings. I know, crazy, right?
The reason I bring up Tapbots is the recent release of Tweetbot 4.0. This is where that whole it has to be free for life expectation comes into play.
Say hello to Tweetbot 4.
â€” Tapbots (@tapbots) October 1, 2015
Tapbots has managed to create another beautiful and functional version of Tweetbot. This release introduces some new features as well as being a Universal Application. I’ll let MacWorld and MacStories give you the feature lowdown.
The flip side is a bit ugly. A lot of Tapbots own customers turned on them, over the price. That’s right, Tapbots is charging $10 for their venerable Twitter client, but for a limited time you can get it for %50 off that price.
I got a lot of laughs out of the outrage over the price. It’s completely ridiculous to believe a company that sells you a quality piece of software will continue to support it for absolutely nothing.
â€” Justin St. Louis (@jstlouis) October 1, 2015
@tapbots really you’re having us pay again for this? And it’s normally $10? Great way to get rid of customers…
â€” John (@VaekuPlays) October 1, 2015
@tapbots that’s a dang expensive app, considering I’ve already bought 2 previous versions. Have fun with that
â€” Jeri Lynn (@geojlc) October 1, 2015
This one is particularly great. How dare the Tapbots crew charge for their software! It’s a plot to generate revenue! The nerve!
Hate this revenue generation model of publishing a new app instead of update.
â€” cat boy (@zzap) October 2, 2015
How about the awful behavior displayed by Tapbots?
â€” bernd (@_le_bernd) October 1, 2015
How about a little disgust over paying for an upgrade?
@camflan I already paid for it. So everytime it’s updated (ands lets face it, not that much of a big deal) we should pay for it?
â€” Samet Kohen (@inactivebit) October 1, 2015
The upside to all of this is Tapbots will weed out an entire set of folks that don’t really care about the survival of the Independent Developer and add customers that do care. That’s a good thing.
A couple things to keep in mind as you, the customers we so desperately need, purchase our products. While Apple has given us all a great App Store it doesn’t provide a great way to offer upgrade pricing to our valued customers. It’s something I hope they change in the future. The App Store is ever evolving so I hope we’ll see this at some point.
As for Tapbots. I think they will be fine, but they do have another noose around their collective necks; Twitter. Believe it or not, Twitter limits third-party developers to 100,000 application tokens (I am aware Iconfactory and Tapbots were given more than 100,000 based on a rule that grandfathered their apps.) That said, there will be an end point in the lifetime of Tweetbot and all other third-part clients driven by that limit. Once their token limits are hit, the app should no longer be sold, and it will stop being a source of revenue for these companies. They will have to adapt.
Some parting tweets for you. The first from John Gruber that shows how customers attempt to hold App Developers hostage with horrible ratings because of certain features they â€” the customer â€” believe they’re entitled to.
The top review for Tweetbot 4 is a complaint that it doesnâ€™t support 3D Touch. 3-stars.
â€” John Gruber (@gruber) October 4, 2015
Don’t hold developers hostage. It’s dumb. Remember, this is a brand new release, developed over the past 8-months. The latest version of iOS has been out for a couple weeks. Give these guys some time. They’ll give you a bunch of 3D touch love, as a free upgrade. The point is, reach out to the developer and request your favorite feature, don’t hold them hostage with a crappy review.
A few Tweets from Mark Jardine, a Tapbots co-founder, and the man that gives Tweetbot Apps their unique look and feel.
When people hope itâ€™s going to be a free update, basically they are hoping Tapbots dies as a company and we go find separate day jobs.
â€” Mark Jardine (@markjardine) September 17, 2015
How about the classic comparison to a cup of coffee. Yes, their app is only $5.
This took them 5 min of work and will last me 10 min. Todayâ€™s app update took ~8 months of work and will last years. pic.twitter.com/msQVpYwJwL
â€” Mark Jardine (@markjardine) October 1, 2015
Oh, and one from Paul Haddad, the other co-founder and the guy that brings Mark’s designs to life. This is a classic. A “celebrity” asking for a free copy of a $5 product. Nice.
Favorite email of the week. The â€œcelebrityâ€ that had his PR person email in and ask for a promo code. Surely that mustâ€™ve cost > $5.
â€” Paul Haddad (@tapbot_paul) October 4, 2015
You can expect free forever from VC backed companies or companies that offer services for a fee, but don’t expect everything to be free for life. People have to make a living.