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Posts tagged with "app store"

David Smith on Changing App Business Models

David Smith is an independent developer who launched his first iOS app in 2008. He's seen a lot of change in the App Store since then, which he chronicles in an insightful post on his blog. Smith examines the revenue his apps have generated since 2012 and the pattern is unmistakable. Around 2013, the majority of his revenue flipped from being primarily from paid sales to advertising.

Looking back, Smith concludes that:

...the change is mostly been in the App Store market, rather than in my own attitudes. In many cases adding advertising to my apps has been something I’ve fought and resisted as long as possible. But in the end the pragmatic answer has been to not swim upstream and instead follow where my customers have moved to.

The market has been pulling me along towards advertising based apps, and I’ve found that the less I fight back with anachronistic ideas about how software “should” be sold, the more sustainable a business I have.

Smith readily acknowledges his experience is just one data point in a large App Store. If you've followed the fortunes of independent app developers over this period though, his conclusion rings true.

Be sure to visit Smith's website to see the charts breaking down the components of his apps' revenue. The short-term impact of app launches on overall revenue is an interesting footnote to the post's main focus.

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Review Guidelines Added for Subscriptions, Stickers, and SiriKit

On the heels of Apple’s announcement of an impending App Store cleanup, it has updated its App Review Guidelines to cover app subscriptions, stickers, and SiriKit apps. Among other guidelines, Section 3.1.2(a) states that:

While the following list is not exhaustive, examples of appropriate subscriptions include: new game levels; episodic content; multi-player support; apps that offer consistent, substantive updates; access to large collections of, or continually updated, media content; software as a service (“SAAS”); and cloud support.

The availability of subscriptions for apps that are ‘continually updated’ provides additional clarity to an issue that was hotly debated and discussed among developers since subscriptions were announced shortly before WWDC.

The App Review Guidelines also include an entire section on stickers.

Whether your app contains a sticker extension or you’re creating free-standing sticker packs, its content shouldn’t offend users, create a negative experience, or violate the law.

Section 4.4.3 includes a link for making infringement claims and states that if you cannot back up your rights to content contained in stickers with documentation, your sticker packs and extensions will be removed from the App Store. Repeat violators risk having their developer accounts revoked.

With respect to SiriKit, section 2.5.11 of the Guidelines provides:

Apps integrating SiriKit should only sign up for intents they can handle without the support of an additional app and that users would expect from the stated functionality. For example, if your app is a meal planning app, you should not incorporate an intent to start a workout, even if the app shares integration with a fitness app.

This guideline seems to be designed to avoid confusion that could be created by an app without clear SiriKit functionality accessing SiriKit.


Apple Announces App Store Cleanup

Apple has announced a plan to clean up the App Store. Apple’s developer site states it plainly:

To make it easier for customers to find great apps that fit their needs, we want to ensure that apps available on the App Store are functional and up-to-date. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated.

Beginning September 7, 2016, the same day as the event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium where Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 7, App Review will begin evaluating all existing apps on the App Store to determine if they are functional and meet App Store guidelines. Some of the highlights:

  • If App Review determines that changes need to be made to an app, the developer will be contacted and given 30 days to update it, after which it will be removed from the App Store;
  • If an app crashes on launch, it will be removed from sale immediately; and
  • Existing customers will still have access to apps removed from the App Store.

In addition, Apple announced in an email to developers that going forward, app names will be limited to 50 characters. Apple explained that long app names, which developers use to try to influence search results, provide no value for customers, particularly because they are too long to display in full on the App Store.

Eight years and over two million apps later, the App Store is long overdue for a cleanup. Abandoned and broken apps create a real discovery problem for customers. We are well past the time when the number of apps served as meaningful bragging rights for Apple keynotes. The directness in tone and relatively short time frame given to developers to make changes to apps sends a clear message – Apple is serious about cleaning up the App Store. Developers with neglected apps had better pay attention if they want to remain on the 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↩︎