Posts tagged with "app store"

Exploring the App Store’s Top Grossing Chart

A word cloud of the names of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts

A word cloud of the names of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts

You have probably noticed that there are a lot of free apps, apps with In-App Purchases, and games in the Top Grossing charts. I did too, so today I decided to survey the US App Store's Top 200 Grossing iPhone apps and create some charts to visualize various data points and trends. Included in this article is an analysis which examines the upfront price, In-App Purchases, category, and other details of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts.

The rankings will change from day to day, and country by country, but I think the results in this article provide interesting observations from a general perspective, even if some of the exact details may differ depending on the day.

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Understanding the New Territory Pricing and Expanded Subscription Price Tiers

Apple yesterday announced a slew of changes to the App Store including an overhaul of subscription pricing policies, paid search ads, faster App Store review times, and more. Amongst the changes to subscription prices was one particular change that I think is really significant, but hasn't yet got much attention: territory pricing and more pricing tiers.

Apple is saying that starting this Fall, developers will be able to price their in-app subscriptions at different levels depending on the territory of the customer. Currently, apart from a minor exception, developers must set a price by selecting a single "tier" which results in a price that is effectively the same across the world. Here's how Apple describes the change:

Starting this fall, apps with auto-renewable subscriptions will be able to offer territory-specific prices and will have access to 200 price points across all currencies. You will be able to set the prices you think are suitable for subscribers in different markets, and you will have the flexibility to price your subscriptions at parity if they’re available elsewhere. A new iTunes Connect pricing tool will help you manage pricing based on current exchange rates. If there is a tax increase or currency adjustment in a particular region, the price of subscriptions will generally not be affected unless you decide to pass the adjustment on to your users.

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“A Lot of Maintenance”

Lauren Goode, writing for The Verge, on Phil Schiller's subscription comments:

Schiller imagines scenarios where many kinds of apps that were previously single-time purchases could move to the model. Games that have an ongoing subscription-like program, ones that have a massive online playing world that require upgrades of game worlds, might make sense. He suggests many enterprise apps could move to subscription, and that professional apps that require "a lot of maintenance of new features and versions" would be a good fit.

Taking Schiller's comment at face value, it does sound like developers of productivity apps will be able to experiment with subscriptions. "A lot of maintenance" applies to most of the apps I have on my devices, which use the classic paid-up-front model.

Also from the article, this semi-hidden note on a new subscription management UI coming to the App Store:

The App Store will also have a revamped interface to make it "even easier for users to manage subscriptions," he adds.

I've been saving a "finally" for these buttons that are still around in iOS 9.

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Sketch Changes Direction on Pricing

Today, Bohemian Coding, the maker of Sketch, a popular vector design program, announced a new licensing program that has some interesting parallels to the app subscription pricing announced several hours later by Apple. Instead of a paid-up-front model with paid upgrades limited to major releases, Sketch customers will pay an annual license fee to receive upgrades for a year, regardless of how big the updates are during that period.

Sketch’s business model has changed a lot since late last year when Bohemian Coding pulled it from the Mac App Store. Among the reasons cited at the time were:

App Review continues to take at least a week, there are technical limitations imposed by the Mac App Store guidelines (sandboxing and so on) that limit some of the features we want to bring to Sketch, and upgrade pricing remains unavailable.

Previously, Sketch was sold for an up-front fee of $99. Like many other developers, when Bohemian Coding launched a major update to Sketch, it was released as a paid upgrade for existing customers, but between major releases, updates and bug fixes were free.

Under the new licensing scheme, paying $99 annually will entitle customers to one year of all upgrades at no additional charge. Bohemian Coding carefully avoids using the term ‘subscription’ to describe its licensing, presumably to avoid confusion with products like Adobe’s Creative Suite, which can no longer be used if a customer cancels their subscription. In contrast, Sketch will continue to work if your do not pay the annual fee, but updates will not be available.

Looking back at the reasons that Sketch left the Mac App Store, I can’t help but wonder whether Sketch may come back to the store someday, which is exactly what Federico and Stephen Hackett speculated about during episode 94 of Connected. After all, review times are substantially improved and the new subscription model announced seems to be designed to achieve many of the same things that Sketch’s new pricing model is intended to accomplish.

Slide listing App Store issues discussed by Pieter Omvlee at Release Notes.

Slide listing App Store issues discussed by Pieter Omvlee at Release Notes.

But having attended Pieter Omvlee’s talk1 at the Release Notes conference last Fall, I’m not sure the changes made so far are sufficient to bring Bohemian Coding back to the Mac App Store. Sandboxing and the lack of a direct connection with customers were among the many factors that resulted in Sketch being pulled from the Mac App Store. There are also major questions that remain unanswered by Apple, like which kinds apps will be able to implement subscriptions. Regardless of how Apple’s announcements today impact Sketch, it will be fascinating to watch Bohemian Coding and other app developers use subscriptions and other pricing tactics to adapt to the economics of the modern app economy.


  1. I highly recommend all the presentations from Release Notes↩︎

An App Store Subscription Success

Adrian Hon is the CEO of Six to Start, makers of the popular Zombies, Run! app for iPhone. They switched to a subscription model last year, and he has some words of advice for developers considering the option today:

So you need to do everything you can to reassure your users that you’re in this for the long haul. That means regular, consistent updates and bug fixes. You don’t need to release a new build every two weeks like Facebook, but you need to demonstrate commitment to _maintaining _a stable and reliable app — one that adopts useful new features (e.g. Healthkit, Apple Watch) in a reasonably timely manner.

This is the opposite of a big bang release once a year, laden with new features and new bugs. Frankly, it’s a much more sustainable, relaxed, and consdered mode of development. It means you can justify the time to achieve 99.9% crash-free sessions, as we’ve done.

With more subscription-based apps, faster review times are a necessity. Users expect continuous improvements to a service they're subscribed to.

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Apps as Services

John Gruber, writing on the App Store changes Apple announced earlier today, makes a good point about app sustainability:

Developers have been asking for a way to do free trials and to sustain long-term ongoing development ever since the App Store opened in 2008. This is Apple’s answer. I think all serious productivity apps in the App Store should and will switch to subscription pricing.

You might argue that people don’t want to subscribe to a slew of different apps. But the truth is most people don’t want to pay for apps, period. Nothing will change that. But for those people willing to pay for high quality apps, subscriptions make sustainable-for-developer pricing more palatable, and more predictable.

The ideal scenario after Apple's new subscription APIs: users will be able to try out different apps for free thanks to subscription trials, see which one suits their needs, and then subscribe, optionally choosing from different subscription levels. The best app wins. Developers don't have to worry about new versions of apps to sell users on a major upgrade, and customers can keep using the app they like.

The problem, as I see it today, is that Apple is being (intentionally?) vague about which kinds of apps will be able to adopt this new pricing model. On their new Subscriptions webpage, Apple refers to "successful auto-renewable subscription apps" as the ones that offer content or "services". They also mention that apps will soon be "eligible" for subscriptions – a wording that might suggest increased scrutiny on Apple's part to see whether an app can implement a subscription or not.

Today's changes have been reported as Apple's answer to the requests of developers who have been asking for paid upgrade pricing, but, as far as I can see, nothing on Apple's website indicates that any type of app – regardless of its functionality – will be able to switch to subscription pricing. As with most App Store changes, it's probably best to take a wait-and-see approach here – there will be sessions at WWDC to clarify many of the aforementioned questions.

Subscription pricing is not for everyone or every app. I don't see myself "subscribing" to an image cropping app that I might need once a year – and Apple is saying as much, too. But I also wouldn't mind becoming a paid subscriber of the apps that I rely on to get work done on my iOS devices, even if they don't offer a service in the traditional sense. Apps like Workflow, Ulysses, or Copied save me time every day. Their continued development is the service for me – I want them and need them to exist, no matter Apple's classification of their "service". I'm willing to pay a subscription to keep using the best tools for me, and I don't think I'm alone.

I'm optimistic about subscription pricing for App Store apps. Not every app is a good fit for a subscription, but increasingly more of them are.1 Apple's new subscription tools should help developers sell their software to their best customers on a regular basis, and I'm curious to see how the indie developer community will react. It's great to see excitement around the App Store again.


  1. Case in point, Sketch↩︎

Major App Store Changes Announced

Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, sat down with The Loop and The Verge to announce sweeping changes to the App Store, including changes to App Review, business models, and app discovery.

We have already seen the effect of the changes to App Review. According to Schiller, as a result of changes to the review process, Apple is reviewing 50% of apps within 24 hours and 90% within 48 hours and reviewing over 100,000 apps per week in aggregate.

Apple is also opening up subscriptions to all app types. Participants in the program will be able to offer auto-renewable subscriptions to services and content using in-app purchases. Under the new subscription models Apple will split subscription revenue 70/30 with developers for the first year a customer is subscribed to an app. For customers that subscribe for more than a year, the split with Apple will increase to 85/15 in favor of the developer. Subscriptions will be available world-wide at over 200 price points. Developers will not be able to increase a subscription price without existing customers’ authorization, but will be able to charge new customers an increased price.

We wrote about app discovery just last week and made a laundry list of suggestions about how it could be improved. The app filtering that was first noticed on the Apple TV App Store last week will be rolled out to all the app stores so apps that are already installed on your iOS device will be hidden, ensuring that visitors to the App Store only see new apps. Apple is also adding access to the share sheet via 3D Touch so users can share apps with others from their Home screens.

In addition, as rumored by Bloomberg in April, Apple will soon begin accepting search ads from developers. At the time the possibility of search ads was raised by Bloomberg, many developers were unhappy. Schiller in his interview with The Loop, said that:

Our store is not for sale—that’s not how we handle things,” said Schiller. “We are only going to do this if we can, first and foremost, respect the user and be fair to developers, especially small developers.

Schiller elaborated that there will only be one ad per search that will be clearly marked and contain the same App Store content returned by unpaid search results. Apple also stated that it would not collect analytics about click rates or share any such data with developers. Search ads will be launched through a beta program later this summer.

As we concluded in our story on app discovery last week:

There is no silver bullet that will improve discovery overnight – it’s a problem that needs to be attacked on multiple fronts simultaneously.

That statement holds true not just for app discovery, but the whole of the App Store. There is much more that Apple can and should do to improve the App Store, but the initiatives announced today are a good start. With this sort of major change being announced shortly before WWDC, I can’t help but wonder what Apple has in store for the WWDC keynote.


“Where’s the App for That?” – Fixing App Store Discovery

When the iPhone debuted in 2007, it was by no means a forgone conclusion that there would ever be an App Store. Steve Jobs reportedly resisted the idea over concerns that it would ‘mess up’ the iPhone,1 yet about one year later, the App Store debuted with around 500 third-party apps.

The App Store grew like wildfire. By January 2009, there were about 15,000 apps. Though modest by today's standards, 15,000 was already enough apps that it felt like there was one to fulfill every possible need you might have. Apple celebrated the success of the App Store the next month by launching a TV ad campaign featuring the catchphrase ‘There’s an app for that.’

Fast-forward to today and the scope of the App Store of 2009 feels quaint by comparison. There are now approximately 1.5 million apps in the App Store – a 100-fold increase in just seven years. But while the App Store has been an undeniable success for Apple by almost any measure, that success has come at a cost. With so many apps in the App Store, discovery has become such a serious problem that today’s version of Apple’s 2009 catchphrase may as well be ‘Where’s the app for that?’

The good news is that change is afoot in the App Store. Last December, Phil Schiller took over responsibility for the App Store. In April, Apple launched a site dedicated to helping developers build their businesses, which includes a way for developers to contact the App Store team directly about promoting their apps. In mid-May, app review times dropped dramatically, from around a week to under two days, instantly changing the launch cycle for developers. Then, just in the last week or two, Apple quietly started hiding Apple TV apps from its Featured pages and top charts that customers have already downloaded, making room to display more new apps.

According to rumors Apple has about 100 people working on changes to the App Store. With WWDC just around the corner, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how Apple could improve App Store discovery and gathering ideas from other developers. I’m optimistic that meaningful progress can be made to make developers’ apps more discoverable, but these are hard problems. There is no silver bullet that will improve discovery overnight – it’s a problem that needs to be attacked on multiple fronts simultaneously.

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Apple Shortening App Review Times

Apple appears to be shortening review times for new app and update submissions to the App Store. According to data collected by independent app review tracking website AppReviewTimes and as reported by Bloomberg today, review times have approached 2 days as opposed to the 7-10 days it took Apple to review apps in the past.

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