Tweetbot 3 is out, the latest version of what is definitely my favourite Twitter client, and certainly one of the very best available for iOS and OSX, but rather than it being a free update in the App Store for existing customers it’s been released as an entirely new app that you have to purchase. Yes, even if you already bought Tweetbot 1, or Tweetbot 2. And yes, even if you bought it the day before Tweetbot 3 came out.
(Okay that last one is a bit unfortunate if that happened to you, but sometimes shit happens. Like the time I bought Borderlands 2 on Steam the week before it was 70% off in a sale. Dammit.)
OMG WTF? i hav 2 like PAY AGAIN?
Yes, you do. And before we go any further let me just say, if you came here with your Whiners Are Winners hat on looking for some moral support you won’t find it here. That post title above lured you here so I can say:
If you like Tweetbot and want Tapbots to be able to keep developing it, support them by paying the tiny price they’re asking for this major new update.
(N.B.: in the originally-published version of this post the above sentence read: BUY IT, YOU CHEAP F*&£$ but I thought that might be a bit argumentative…)
I have no problem with this business model. It’s fair for Tapbots to ask a very small fee to cover months if not years of work not just ‘reskinning for iOS 7’ as many on Twitter inaccurately describe the update, but rebuilding the app from the ground up to take advantage of the oodles of new code going on under the hood of iOS 7. Not to mention that Tweetbot 1 to Tweetbot 2 was a free update as I recall, so the longer you’ve been enjoying Tweetbot the better the deal gets.
If you still don’t think it’s reasonable please make sure you stick around to the end of this post where there’s a short exercise in calculating exactly how much Tweetbot has cost you thus far. It’s an eye-opener.
Here’s what Tapbots had to say on their blog:
Seven months ago, we started working on a big update for Calcbot. We were hoping to release it sometime in the summer. Two months in, Apple announced iOS7 at WWDC. We knew this was a huge change. It would make every single one of our apps look dated so we had to make sure our flagship app was ready for it. All of the design work that went into the Calcbot update was rendered obsolete in one keynote and so we focused our energy on updating Tweetbot for iPhone. Playing with the beta of iOS7 over the next few weeks brought us to the realization that this would not just be a “re-skin”. We really had to just start over with the new foundation and concepts of iOS7.
Major updates like this one take time and effort. Months of hard work rebuilding it with new iOS 7 frameworks, redesigning the interface (there is no convenient ‘Reskin Now!’ button in X-Code that redesigns interfaces by magic, you know), and all the testing and refining that goes with that. Months of work. If they were to give that away for free they’d need to find a way of making the money you spent on the first version cover not just all the work that went into that version you originally bought, but this version too.
But those are the unrealistic customer expectations set up by the App Store practices that have emerged, and it’s not sustainable for many – this is how IAPs gained dominance, screwing up the balance and gameplay of so many otherwise fantastic games.
Meanwhile, on Twitter some Tweetbot fans feel ripped off:
- “It’s just a reskin” or “It’s not a major new version” (it’s a complete rebuild and redesign within the new iOS 7 frameworks and design guidelines)
- “All other apps are updating to iOS 7 for free” (actually, not all)
- “I’m an acid (sic) supporter since day one but I’m not buying it again” (speaks for itself really)
- “They should adapt to the App Store business model of making updates free” (Apple’s suggestion to those wishing to charge for major updates is to release it as a new app – but they don’t allow them to offer upgrade discounting)
- “This is a SCAM and Apple should stop it” (urgh, always with the SCAM)
- “Apple don’t charge for updates to iOS 7, why should I pay to update Tweetbot?” (Apple sells iPhones for hundreds of dollars and can afford to keep you sweet with free iOS updates. Tapbots’s business is selling Tweetbot)
And so on. I replied to a few of these sorts of tweets this morning and asked: do you work for free? At what point do developers start working for free? How much value have you had from the app?
Out of a couple of dozen who replied, some did laugh it off and agree that yes, put like that it was fair enough. The rest argued with me. Whether they worked for free was irrelevant, and Tapbots needed to find a better way to make money. One said that even though he “loves” Tweetbot he’s stopped using Tweetbot 2 simply because Tapbots dared to charge for Tweetbot 3, and is considering buying Twitteriffic or Echofon instead.
Mind = blown.
Apple is the problem; could IAPs be the solution?
The frustrating reality is that App Store customers are now used to ‘pay once, get free updates forever’ but this model came about not because it’s good business sense (because on the face of it it’s not) but because Apple decided not to allow traditional upgrade pricing in the App Stores, presumably in keeping with it’s policy of making things as simple as possible for the average user. In Apple’s opinion too many price-points = confusion. Just look at Microsoft’s Windows pricing levels.
I am not the average user. I’m used to a world where ‘point release’ software updates (mostly bug fixes) tend to be free but major release updates are paid. That is: version 2.3.2 to version 2.4 I would expect for free. But version 2.4 to version 3.0 I would expect to pay for. So while I certainly don’t complain about this ‘free updates’ thing that’s happened to the App Store, I’ve always wondered how sustainable that is.
Just guessing, but I reckon most serious App Store developers, especially those with a ‘utility’ app as opposed to a game, would prefer to adopt upgrade discounting, would Apple let them. I base that guess on articles around the web about how developers have struggled with Apple’s update pricing policy. Recently a major developer called Omnigroup tried to overcome Apple’s limitations with inventive and seemingly fair workarounds, only to have Apple shut their attempt down.
For an app that offers all updates for free, major or minor, IAPs offer the only real alternative revenue stream to fund ongoing development in the absence of a sales spike: either with expendable ‘currency’, most often used in casual games to speed up hatefully slow timers that restrict progress; or with extra content packs such as the extra filters in Hipstamatic, or extra gameplay chapters in The Walking Dead. Unfortunately the former is far more frequently used (and abused) than the latter, and the satisfaction of paying a fair price (i.e. over £4.99 at least) for a good game and not being nickel-and-dimed to play without interruptions is rare these days – although XCOM may have turned that tide.
Somewhere in the IAP system there lies the germ of a solution to upgrade pricing, whereby an app costs full price the first time you buy it but major upgrades are made available as IAPs at a cheaper rate, thereby offering existing users an upgrade discount. It seems like that could work but presumably there is some kind of issue with completely overwriting an app with an entirely recoded version as an IAP or it would already be happening.
How to rationalise it
If you still have a problem with developers maintaining a sustainable business by charging for the considerable efforts involved in major updates to their apps, and still believe that all updates should be free and that developers should find some magical beans or something to finance their work, here is an exercise that may help you at least rationalise the expense:
Q: When did you first buy Tweetbot?
A: (I bought Tweetbot 1 the week it launched in April 2011 – Tweetbot 2 was a free update, ironically)
Q: How many weeks is that?
A: (I’ve owned it 130 weeks)
Q: What price did you pay?
A: (I paid £2 I believe)
Q: Therefore, how much have you paid per week to own and use Tweetbot?
A: (£2 divided by 130 = £0.0153 = 1.5 UK pennies per week)
One and a half UK pennies per week. That’s what I paid to have both version 1 and version 2 of Tweetbot on my phone. And in fact after Apple’s cut I’ve only paid Tapbots £0.0107, barely a hair over one penny per week, to sustain their efforts not just maintaining the app with bug fixes but also rolling out an entirely new version 2.0 of the app.
So a whole new third version, entirely rewritten and redesigned for the new iOS 7 UI and frameworks, for just £2*?! I feel bad for them that it’s so cheap, frankly, and as I fully intend to continue using their app, I have no issue paying them for the hard work they put into it.
The last word
I was told on Twitter that Tapbots are lucky to have customers like me. What, I replied, you mean customers that understand why they’re asked to pay for their products? Fortunately, I think there’s more than enough people perfectly happy to pay way below the deserving rate for an awesome app for Tapbots to do just fine, but the miserliness of strangers continues to drive me up the wall.
* The price I’m quoting for Tapbots 3 is their discounted Launch Pricing.