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Posts tagged with "app store"

The Omni Group Is Moving to Free Downloads with In-App Purchases

Ken Case, writing on The Omni Group's blog, has announced a notable change for the company's download model on the App Store:

The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)

With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.

Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7.

You don't get a better sign of the times than this. The Omni Group was the poster child of finding success on the iOS App Store with paid upfront pro software priced like desktop apps. But as Case argues, most apps in the Top Grossing charts have switched to a "free with In-App Purchases" model. That seems to be the clear path forward for developers who want to build sustainable software while also ensuring users can properly test their apps and take advantage of discounted upgrades.

It doesn't surprise me that The Omni Group – unlike other developers who keep hoping Apple retrofits the App Store for purchase mechanisms of a decade ago – went ahead and took a fresh approach to figure this out. The new policy isn't limited to the upcoming OmniGraffle 7: every Omni app for Mac and iOS will move to a free download with one-time In-App Purchases to buy the full feature set.

Omni's solution seems elegant and straightforward. The apps are free to download and they can be used as viewers when unlicensed; the free trial is an In-App Purchase set at Tier 0 that counts down 14 days; the full apps are unlocked with Standard and Pro levels of In-App Purchases. The only negative aspect I can think of is that In-App Purchases aren't available to Family Sharing, but that's on Apple to fix.

If Omni's approach works well in practice (and I can't imagine why it wouldn't), I can see a lot of developers following their model.

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Apple Starts Selling App Store Search Ads, Launching October 5th

First announced at WWDC in June and beta-tested over the Summer, Apple launched Search Ads for iOS apps today. The ads will appear at the top of App Store customers’ search results based on a combination of search relevancy and bidding. According to Apple, the program is designed to be a simple way for developers to get their apps in front of potential customers. Developers can sign up today and schedule campaigns, but ads won’t go live until October 5, 2016.

In an email to developers Apple says:

Search Ads was designed to be effortless for small and independent developers. Invest as much or as little time as you have and still get results. We create your ads and match them to relevant searches. You can refine who sees your ad with optional keyword, audience and location features, and you only pay when a customer taps on your ad.

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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↩︎