[Digital Simplicity] How much can we pay for subscription based apps?


When I watched the dispute unfold this week over a popular note-taking app for Apple’s mobile operating system iOS, I couldn’t help but think about what the mobile apps really mean. for my digital life besieged by a steadily increasing total cost.

App developer Ginger Labs announced Monday that it will introduce a subscription pricing model for its popular mobile note-taking app Notability. The announcement itself is not surprising, as app developers often switch from a one-time purchase model to a monthly or yearly subscription model in the name of offering continuous updates and adding additional features. As in other similar cases favoring subscription plans, the change in Notability was not well received. In fact, it sparked a storm of complaints, protests and criticism from existing users on social media.

The reason was because the developer was trying to force current users to go for a monthly subscription of $ 14.99 by November 1 of next year, or use a seriously limited “free” version like everyone else. . The free downloadable version, primarily for those who want to try out the basic functions of the app, does not support the crucial iCloud sync and surprisingly does not allow users to edit their notes as often as they do. wish. Limits on the number of edits – a fairly new and significant type of restriction for a note-taking app – mean that users should always be aware of how often they edit your notes, a psychological burden that isn’t lighter than by signing up for a subscription.

The crippling restrictions on Notability’s syncing and editing functions could be accepted by new users who later opt for a subscription, but they were by no means acceptable among current users who have already paid for the app. and now face some kind of tough sell. at the cost of their initial investment.

After suffering a torrent of user attacks, Ginger Labs made a new announcement on Wednesday, claiming that existing users who purchased the app would have “lifetime access to all existing features,” including iCloud sync. and unlimited edition.

The developer’s change of mind came after many users filed complaints with Apple, pointing out that the change violated App Store review guidelines to read: “If you change your existing app to one subscription-based business model, you shouldn’t take away from the core functionality that existing users have already paid for.

The developer’s plan to remove Notability’s core functionality from users after a one-year grace period is, in theory, a violation of guidelines, although Apple has not taken any formal position on the dispute.

The controversy surrounding Notability, one of the most popular apps of its kind on Apple’s App Store, raises some questions from app developers as well as paid users.

First, it’s not clear whether note-taking apps can justify a monthly subscription in the first place, as updates and new feature additions aren’t that frequent or crucial from the perspective of ordinary users. Of course, many applications become useless after several (or even a few) years, unless developers update their applications to meet the standards and protocols of new mobile operating systems. But this is primarily a relatively long term stability update to keep the app compatible with the latest OS, not new features on a monthly basis.

Second, the ‘pay as you go’ model behind the growing subscription pricing cases may work for professionals making money using top-notch software developed by giant developers such as the Adobe suite, but a monthly payment may not be suitable. cash-strapped students who want to use affordable note-taking apps in the classroom.

Before the Notability app was thrown into litigation, users had already seen how other popular iOS titles like Day One and Ulysses handled the move to subscription pricing.

Day One, a leading journaling app, launched in 2011 as a paid app. In mid-2017, its developer made the upgraded version of the app, Day One 2, a free download and offered a premium subscription option. The original version called Day One Classic was kept as a working app for a while, but has since been officially retired, meaning users need to migrate to the subscription plan or find an alternative.

Ulysses, a writing app, switched to a subscription model in 2017, but the original app is still usable by existing buyers, as long as they’re running the software on older Apple operating systems.

For developers of small applications, charging a monthly or annual fee clearly helps establish a sustainable foundation through a steady stream of income. But for users, especially those already paying a fee to use a growing list of popular apps like Netflix, Spotify, and Adobe, their budget for other apps is bound to be limited – a harsh reality for small developers. who are considering switching to the subscription model.

By Yang Sung-jin ([email protected])

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Yang Sung-jin is a senior writer at the Korea Herald. – Ed.


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