Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Apple Video Recommends App Subscriptions

Apple (via Apple Developer News):

The developers behind Elevate, Dropbox, Calm, and Bumble share how they create great customer experiences by continuing to provide value throughout the subscription lifecycle.

Juli Clover:

“The value for a user is that you’re not just buying this one thing at this one point in time, you’re actually buying something that’s evolving,” said Elevate developer Jesse Germinario.

“If you’re a subscription business, your incentives are actually perfectly aligned with your customers, because they need to continue to get value out of the product in order to keep subscribing, which means that you have to continue making the app better,” said Calm developer Tyler Sheaffer.

Ben Lovejoy (tweet):

The appeal for developers is obvious: subscriptions generate the holy grail of tech businesses, recurring income. But users appear less convinced.

Mark Munz:

Apple wants developers to move to subscriptions. Three problems that I see right away:

1) implementation of subscriptions is A LOT OF WORK… esp. for indie developers.

2) based on feedback, most customers DON’T want it

3) it doesn’t make sense for all kinds of apps.

Colin Cornaby:

I think the thing people underestimate about subscription apps is the significantly higher hurdle they create for getting them purchased in a corporate environment.

There’s this weird disparity where subscription software that every last person in the org needs (like Office) is easy. Software that only a few people need? A nightmare.

I don’t think subscriptions are a good fit for all apps. But since subscriptions are the only sustainable business model that the App Store offers, why make them so difficult to adopt? Even putting the substantial implementation work aside, it’s a big risk because Apple doesn’t let customers keep what they’ve already bought:

Previously: 2 Years of App Subscriptions 2.0, IAPKit.

Update (2018-09-13): Damien Petrilli:

The way Apple is trying to push subscription feels exactly like their design: dismissing user feedbacks.

Users are against it but whatever, they don’t know what they want.

Luc Vandal:

Really don’t know what to think about subscriptions. I find them more appealing as we see some developers having some success with them but still not convinced it’s the answer for all apps.


Unless your paid product has zero ads and couldn’t possibly work without an online backend (not for ever dynamic interface changes but literally to exchange content with other users or to pull/push content from my phone) - I do not want this.

Ryan Jones:

“Only iPhone.”

Most apps are free."


6 Comments RSS · Twitter

Not to mention auto-renewable subscriptions require the app provide "ongoing value", and feature improvements apparently don't meet that standard from what Apple told me. So there's a bizarre arbitrary limitation to a "non-renewing" subscription, which is confusing.

"But since subscriptions are the only sustainable business model that the App Store offers"

Serif doesn't seem to think so. They're building a pretty significant business around their Affinity suite, with "no subscriptions" as one of their primary marketing messages. But then again, Serif are based in Europe, where socialised healthcare is the norm, and an indy developer doesn't have to worry that she'll be bankrupted by pregnancy or falling off a bike.

Of course, Serif can always leave the App Store without any real disruption to their customers, and like nearly all "Pro" app developers in the content creation space, they've abandoned being "Mac Only" to offer Windows versions, so realistically, Apple has no leverage to speak of, at least in the content creation space.

The entire subscription app mindset requires convincing people that their tools are services, and the simple reality is that most people don't see things that way.

"But you get updates and bugfixes"
So you sold me a faulty product, and you expect me to pay you more money to make it fit for purpose?

The solution for the customer isn't subscriptions - it's breaking apps into separately unlockable modules, with each feature being an IAP. When a customer buys a set of functions, they should expect to have that set of functions working indefinitely, regardless of operating system version. Then, when the developer comes up with new things for the app to do, customers can buy them. THAT solves a customer problem. Subscription solves a developer problem, something customers shouldn't care about.

I'm not sure I agree with the part about incentives being "perfectly aligned" when your customers subscribe to your app. Aside from the fact that anyone who sells software is incentivized to, you know, make things people want to pay for, I think embedded in this statement is the assumption that software is never "done." Because most software should eventually be done. No more major bugs to fix, no more "performance improvements," no more UI redesigns, no more features no one really asked for, no more busywork to justify customers continuing to pay for something that doesn't need any more polishing.

"Subscriptions are not a good fit for all apps." I can't think of a simpler way to put something so intuitively obvious.

From a production standpoint it's as twee and saccherine as all of Apple's other videos which is why I generally don't watch them.

The most disappointing aspect of the video is that it's being misrepresented as a "developer insight". It's singularly lacking in any practical, actionable, content. Talking to developers who've been pulling their hair out trying to shoe-horn apps that don't frame a service into a subscription model, although arguably more useful, would not actually satisfy the real reason for the video: to market subscriptions.

As far as Apple's obsessional framing of apps as content goes, I think I can't do any better than paraphrase the Pictish chieftain Calgacus when he rebuffed the Romans at Mons Graumpius:

"Apple creates a desert & calls it civilisation"

@matt It’s great marketing for Serif now since their competition uses subscriptions and they are selling new products into a huge market. Lots of developers thought a one-time 99c payment was fine in the early days of the App Store, but that doesn’t work forever. Serif will eventually need to add a subscription or replace their app with a new SKU to get people to pay again.

@Moonlight Even when the important features are all implemented, there is still a lot of ongoing work to support the changing operating system and environment (services and apps that connect to your app), plus customer support. In a way, maybe a low-priced subscription is a good fit for apps that are in maintenance mode, whereas the paid-upgrade model incentivizes the developer to make big changes that no one is really asking for.

@Chris That was my reaction as well. It has no awareness of the challenges that apply to most developers.

Anybody else feel that was not a particularly compelling video?

Can't tell who the audience was, but it didn't feel like it was directed towards developers or companies on the subscription fence.

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