Tag Archives: inapp

App maintenance and subscription rejections

Jason Snell closed his first take on App Store subscriptions with a question about iPhone app maintenance vs. web services maintenance:

Whether Apple would actually reject a subscription-based app that doesn’t offer any functionality outside of itself, I don’t know. It sure wouldn’t be the first time there was a baffling App Store rejection. But does Apple really want to take the position that ongoing maintenance of a web service has value, but ongoing maintenance and development of an app does not? I don’t think it does.

As I wrote about in my post yesterday, users can more easily see the hosting costs for a web service. They’ve been trained by a decade of paying for web subscriptions. Maintenance for the app itself has some differences.

Think about how costs scale if an app becomes popular. A web service becomes expensive to run, often thousands of dollars each month. You could say that a developer’s time for app maintenance is also thousands of dollars, but it’s essentially fixed. Outside of customer support costs, the incremental cost to a developer for an app doesn’t increase in the same way it does for scaling a backend service.

I hate that Apple has the power to reject our business model for a potential app. I’m now leaning more to the idea that Apple should approve nearly everything and let customers decide on the value. But there is a difference between maintenance of an app vs. a web service, and the services that are clearly appropriate for subscriptions will be the most successful apps using this new model.

Core Intuition 236 and app subscriptions

We published Core Intuition episode 236 today, discussing the recent App Store announcements and a listener question about offices. We wrap up with plans for WWDC.

There has been a lot of great blog posts and podcast episodes already on the App Store subscription change. I listened to Under the Radar 31 and the Release Notes special edition today and recommend both. The most confusion seems to be around what kind of apps are appropriate for subscriptions, where by “appropriate” I mean “what Apple will approve”.

John Gruber also follows up at Daring Fireball on this question:

Professional apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” don’t fit either of those categories. Would Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific qualify for subscription pricing? After talking to Schiller yesterday, I thought so. Now, I don’t know.

As I mention on Core Intuition, apps that have a backend service with obvious hosting and maintenance costs — a music streaming service, an invoicing web app, or a blogging platform, for example — are easier for users to understand as needing to be subscriptions. Twitter apps are an interesting example because some are pure clients to Twitter’s backend, but many increasingly have their own app-specific services like timeline syncing or push notifications.

For years Apple has allowed apps to use auto-renewing subscriptions. I had an iPhone app and companion web service that was approved by Apple for auto-renewing subscriptions, after I made the case for the service as a “cloud” archive. From section 11.15 of the App Store review guidelines:

Apps may only use auto-renewing subscriptions for periodicals (newspapers, magazines), business Apps (enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage), and media Apps (video, audio, voice), or the App will be rejected

From my experience and listening to other developers, I’ve had the impression for a while that Apple would essentially reject most auto-renewing app submissions by default. While we still don’t know what “all categories” means in the new announcement, I expect it means that there will no longer be a kind of blanket rejection. Apple will still reject many apps as poorly suited for subscriptions, though, and maybe that’s okay for now.

(I’m conflicted on this point. John Gruber’s suggestion to approve everything and let the market decide is compelling and fits better with my instinct that the control should be in developers’ hands.)

“Subscription fatigue” is a real thing that I’ll occasionally hear from customers about. No one wants to pay $1/month to 40 different apps and services; it feels like a burden in a way that paying the same total price to just two apps at $20/month does not. Nevertheless, subscriptions are very powerful. Everything I’ve done over the last few years is to position myself to eventually have a recurring-revenue success.

Neven Mrgan on Apple’s focus

I hadn’t yet read “Neven Mrgan’s post”:http://mrgan.tumblr.com/post/3451376797/30 when I wrote “my own”:http://www.manton.org/2011/02/30_of_the.html yesterday, but he strikes one of the same themes I closed with:

“But with this 30% thing, the 30% I’m really interested in is, will Apple eventually see 30% of its revenue come from various cuts, percentages, deals, and obligations? If so, that means a different focus for the company — a focus on things and people farther removed from me and you. And that makes me a bit bummed out.”

Of course, neither of us is filling in for Steve Jobs, and Apple can do anything they want within the law. But what Neven captures so well here is that many of us hold Apple to a higher standard because Apple has a history of creating great things. This 30% business model doesn’t seem to have any place in that history.

In-app purchase changes

With the recent release of “The Daily”:http://www.thedaily.com/ and the news of “Sony’s e-book app rejection”:http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/02/change-in-apple-policy-has-e-book-fans-worried-about-their-apps.ars, there’s speculation that Apple will change the rules around iOS in-app purchases. The 30% cut makes it difficult for some businesses to move to the App Store without passing a cost increase on to customers.

Other than “no change”, I’ve only heard two possible solutions:

Special deals for the big guys. Amazon and other retailers could negotiate lower rates. But as Marco mentioned on “Build and Analyze”:http://5by5.tv/buildanalyze/11, the App Store treats large and small developers as equals. It’s a real strength that a 2-person game company can compete with Electronic Arts. I hope we never lose that.

Lower percentage for everyone. Not going to happen. Take an app like Twitterrific. I consider it a $5 app, but to the store it’s actually a free app with a $5 in-app upgrade. Lowering the in-app cut would encourage many previously paid apps to convert to free and pay less to Apple.

This is why I believe the only option is for Apple to distinguish between in-app content and features. Content purchases, such as e-books or virtual game items, would be in one class of payment. Feature upgrades, such as unlocking core functionality in the app, would continue to be 30%, same as paid downloads.

Is it confusing for developers? Is it totally subjective and up to the judgement of the review team? Yes. Welcome to the App Store.