App Stores and Major Versions

Not too long ago (actually, still) when the next version of Photoshop, VMWare, Final Cut Pro, or something came out you’d have to buy it (possibly at a discount for existing customers) or hope the old version continues working alongside other software updates.

Today, Pixelmator 2.0 announced it’s App Store release, as a free upgrade to Pixelmator (using the same App Store ID). BBEdit similarly moved from version 9 to 10 on the App Store. This begs a very interesting question: is the increased exposure and convenience of the App Store enough to offset the lack of additional funds from existing users? Does any other industry do this?

  • When you buy a Ford or Toyota, at some point you’ll need a new car and based on your experiences there’s a certain chance it’ll be another Ford or Toyota.
  • When you need a new iPhone, you buy a new iPhone.
  • When you finish your Soda/Latte/Beer you buy another one
  • etc

Since software isn’t a “real” good it seems obvious that you don’t need to pay for it more than once, as it’s not “expendable”.

I’m particularly worried about this because the App Stores tend to have a limited refund policy. In other words, there’s no incentive to make loyal customers, just buyers. They’re only going to give you $1 or $10 or $100 once so does it matter how badly you screw them? The amount of nonsense apps in the iOS App Store confirm my conspiracy.

One might suggest having “My App 2.0” as a separate app possibly and a removal of “My App 1.0” from sale (though redownloadable via iCloud). The only problem with this method is clutter and possibly confusion. iTunes Connect (our backend to the App Store) has an interface that looks pretty awkward after you have 4 iOS and 4 Mac Apps. Once this becomes a trend and apps start reaching their 3.0 versions, >50% of app IDs could be “developer removed from sale” – not a stat Apple would brag about.

I expect Final Cut Pro 11, Motion 6, Compressor 5 will all be free updates on the App store, but being forced to follow this rule may keep notoriously difficult Adobe from acquiescing to a one time $999 for all future versions of Photoshop Extended. If you’ve been using each new CS for a while you’ll notice that each time the installer adds apps, and nothing is replaced. Before I updated to Lion my Mac Pro at work had CS3, CS4, and CS5 versions of Photoshop and other Adobe products (FYI I manually deleted them). At least the Microsoft Office installer asks if you’d like to delete old versions.

Apple letting developers set upgrade pricing might be a suitable compromise. But that might be more complicated than Apple likes to do things. Consider this scenario: User buys your 1.0 app, you release 2.0, they buy a new machine and go to redownload from the “Purchased” Tab. What happens then? Should Apple keep your 1.9.9 binary around for them to redownload for free? Should they just be presented with the upgrade price? Probably the second one, so unless they still have 1.9.9 downloaded somewhere they can copy from they’re going to pay for the upgrade. I can see this as part of the Windows 8 App Store, but Apple’s mass users are probably the type to “I’ll just stick with 1.9.9”.

In the case where versions are more like sequels, having different apps is perfectly acceptable. But this only really applies to operating systems and games where there are legitimate reasons for wanting older versions. I noticed Adobe has Photoshop Elements listed under “Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 Editor” so they’ll probably be among the first to try to release “Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 Editor” as a new purchase and we’ll see how users react.

As a greedy user, I want free upgrades to everything. As a developer, I have little reason to support you other than alleged word of mouth. Maybe the middle ground isn’t upgrade prices in the app store but In App Purchases. When games add new levels (but keep the same engine) charging another $0.99 for those levels actually seems to have gone over well with users.