When we talk innovation we tend to think only of hardware. Yet Apple’s App Store concept has changed the face of computing, mobile and desktop, perhaps more than any other single development. The app stores have been a runaway success and, by and large, the control exerted by Apple is beneficial for the vast majority of consumers, particularly those who struggled previously with downloads, installations and licence management.
That said, the controlled eco-system is not without its problems and the lack of a software upgrade policy is one of the most obvious. In the old days when we bought our applications direct from developers it was commonplace to be offered a discounted upgrade whenever a major new version was introduced. This cannot happen in Apple’s walled garden and everyone has to pay full price for upgraded software. When the package cost is modest, a few pounds or dollars, there is little to complain about. But if you have paid, say, £50 last year and are asked for another fifty for the upgrade it is infuriating and totally unfair. Even worse if you buy this week and then find the upgrade arrives next week.
Last week OmniGroup, publishers of, among others, the successful OmniFocus project management system, thought they had a way round the impasse. They produced a quick OSX utility, OmniKeyMaster, which would scan systems for existing purchases and then make it possible to obtain discounts on upgrades from the Group’s online shop. It was a good idea but it lasted for only a day or two before Apple squeezed the pips. Omni had to withdraw the helpful little app. This means that if you purchased OmniFocus from the App Store (current price £54.99) you will be faced with another big bill when you want to upgrade to the new version which will be released later this year. In my case, I bought direct from OmniGroup so I will be eligible for an upgrade price. If I had been foolish enough to have bought it from Apple the upgrade would be at full cost, just like buying a new product.
Ken Case, CEO of OmniGroup had to apologise to customers following the rap over the knuckles from Cupertino:
I’m afraid we will not be able to offer upgrade pricing to our Mac App Store customers after all. So long as we continue to sell our apps through the Mac App Store, we are not allowed to distribute updates through other channels to apps which were purchased from the App Store. We still feel upgrade pricing is important for customers purchasing serious productivity software, since the initial value received from purchasing an app like OmniGraffle or OmniPlan is much different from the incremental value of upgrading that app from version 5.0 to version 6.0. We will continue to ask Apple to support upgrade pricing in the App Store, and I would encourage others to do the same—but until that happens, upgrade pricing will only be available to customers who buy our apps direct from our online store.
Apple is being bloody minded about App Store upgrades and I believe the company will have to reconsider sooner or later. Apple takes a commission on every sale through the store but will lose income if buyers of higher-priced packages realise the pitfalls. As far as I can see there is currently absolutely no advantage in buying OmniFocus or similar premium packages from Apple. Buy from the developer instead and look forward to a hefty upgrade discount price when version two appears. Perhaps, if enough of us do this, Apple will get the message.