Opinion: I’d rather pay upfront for my apps than rent them

By , Jun 9, 2016

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Apple has argued that its new App Store rules, which extend subscriptions to literally every app category, would help create a new business model in which people would warm up to the idea of subscribing to apps rather than paying for them upfront.

I’m not so sure that subscriptions are the right answer to what the market is calling “app fatigue”, but I can tell you right now that I’d rather continue paying upfront for fine, quality apps than use them on a subscription basis, here’s why.

In-App Subscription eligibility

As Apple stated itself, the subscription business model is not appropriate for every app. Specifically, apps that will be eligible to offer In-App Purchases for auto-renewable subscriptions must offer services or content:

  • Content—Provide paid access to content that is updated or delivered on a regular basis, such as newspapers, educational courses, or audio or video libraries.
  • Services—Provide paid access to an ongoing service within your app, such as cloud storage or massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

Apps must provide “ongoing value worth the recurring payment for an auto-renewable subscription to make sense”. According to the company, many enterprise apps that require “a lot of maintenance of new features and versions” are a good fit.

Following Apple’s App Store announcement yesterday, many developers initially expressed sentiment toward trying out the subscription model even though Apple will screen subscription apps.

The problem with apps as subscriptions

From Apple’s wording, it is perfectly clear that not every app will be allowed to use subscriptions. Subscriptions don’t seem to really solve the upgrade pricing problem because you’re essentially always paying for the upgrade. The problem is, when your subscription ends or you cancel it, the app may stop working for you altogether.

Denys Zhadanov, VP of Marketing at Readdle, says there’s a very clear bias against renting software among people, especially in consumer space.

“For example, photo editing app will have a hard time charging users $2/month once there are others at $0-$5 one time fee,” he wrote. “Apps that do not have recurring usage patterns should not be subscription-based from user perspective too.”

Zhadanov clearly knows what he’s talking about: Readdle has been on the App Store since its inception and to this date has amassed over 50 million downloads worldwide.

Readdle managed to build a sustainable business creating great productivity apps that people were happy to pay for. But would people continue paying for them if Readdle made them free to download with subscriptions to continue using them?

That’s a million dollar question.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. On the other hand, you have someone like  Six to Start CEO Adrian Hon who has some sound advice to share when it comes to switching from single-time purchases to subscriptions.

After switching to the subscription model for their popular Zombies, Run! iPhone game, he said it’s up to developers to ensure that they offer enough perks to entice consumers to subscribe to apps:

So you need to do everything you can to reassure your users that you’re in this for the long haul. That means regular, consistent updates and bug fixes. You don’t need to release a new build every two weeks like Facebook, but you need to demonstrate commitment to _maintaining _a stable and reliable app — one that adopts useful new features (e.g. HealthKit, Apple Watch) in a reasonably timely manner.

This is the opposite of a big bang release once a year, laden with new features and new bugs. Frankly, it’s a much more sustainable, relaxed, and considered mode of development. It means you can justify the time to achieve 99.9% crash-free sessions, as we’ve done.

Does that mean that subscriptions are doomed to fail? In a word, no.

In the past, subscriptions did make a lot of sense for video apps like HBO Now, Netflix, as well as for magazine and news apps. If you ask me, they’ll continue to do even better now that Apple has allowed them across all app categories.

That being said, I don’t think subscriptions are the right answer to the app fatigue problem that the industry has been facing amid declining smartphone sales.

My two cents

From my vantage point—and I say this from the perspective of a big iTunes spender—I’d rather pay upfront than subscribe to an app and risk losing its functionality down the road.

Or, as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber put it:

If an app is deemed qualified to use subscription pricing, must it be functional in some limited way without a subscription? Apps that use in-app purchases must be functional without the IAP. Is that true for subscription-based apps too?

Developers on Twitter seem to be confused by Apple’a new rules for subscription pricing so we’ll have to wait a little longer until WWDC to learn more about the new App Store subscription structure.

Is the subscription-based app model sustainable, do you think?

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  • Ditto. I don’t mind streaming music, but renting apps?? Heeeeeeeellllll, no!

  • I refuse to ‘rent’ apps. I’ll switch operating systems if that happens.

    • CAIO MARIZ®

      Play store will be the same, today news

      • igorsky

        People are funny. “I’ll switch operating systems if Apple drops the 3.5 jack”…ps, all the other OEMs will be doing the same withing a year or two.

      • CAIO MARIZ®

        Exactly 😉

      • Agneev Mukherjee

        It’s hard to believe, considering the rumors that Apple will ditch the 3.5MM jack which has been an iconic symbol of the company ever since the introduction of the iPod in 2001.

  • askep3

    Just depends on the app. If it’s like the IDB app where it’s to remove ads (primarily) it makes total sense since the lost ad revenue has to be made up somewhere. But if it’s for an expansion pack in a game it makes no sense at all. Of course if the subscription would give you all future expansions to the game that’s reasonable.

  • John Smith

    If it’s a pay up front app, or in-app purchase, I’ll support the developer. If they suddenly decide a subscription service, I’ll either pirate or avoid them all together.

  • Ds

    I will gladly pay for a app up front if I want to or I will download a free app and purchase a IAP to remove ads. I will not download an app that requires me to pay monthly or yearly to use said app.


  • Blip dude

    I will gladly pay for an app upfront. Or in the case of Monument Valley, I was able to legally get the app for free and paided for 2 IAP’s, and I’ll be willing to pay for 3rd IAP because I am satisfied with the app, but that would be the limit as I did my part to support the developer. Anything that makes it worst than this freemium crap I’ll pass. Not to mention some developers tend to abandon their products as well. I have plenty of apps that haven’t been updated since iPhone OS 3.1.2 and tell myself “I can’t believe I wasted my money on this.”

  • Wait, iDB doesn’t like subscriptions? Doesn’t the iDB app have a subscription right now? Little hypocritical much.

    • Three things:

      1. This post is not written by iDB. It’s written by Christian, and clearly labeled as an opinion piece. His opinion in this case.

      2. You can use the iDB app without paying anything at all. You will be able to access exactly the same content, regardless of whether you pay or not. In contrast, the subscription model described in this post suggests you would have to pay a recurring fee to keep using the app. Once you stop paying, the app doesn’t work anymore. You can not pay, or stop paying for the iDB app anytime, and the app will keep working. So gain, two different animals.

      3. In-app purchase in iDB app is not auto-renewed, so it is not a subscription-based system similar to the one described in this post.

      • Anthony

        Very well said!!

  • siddique

    Good bye to IOS if that happens

  • :D

    If it’s something I use a lot like whatsapp then I might not mind

  • I agree, I want to keep my apps and don’t need a subscrption for them. However! Just like paying a monthly fee to stream music (which I’ll never do), depending on the application it may work as a subscription. One can only hope that applications that attempt to do a subscription are heavily monitored by Apple, well after their original approval. If Apple doesn’t have a system like that in place, then a lot of people will take advantage of “hey look I made an application that uses subscriptions and I make money every month.. but never update it!!!” Which I can see being a good portion of small time application developers.

  • AnoNymouz


  • Agneev Mukherjee

    Can anybody tell me if I have to pay a subscription for all the apps I use?

    • No, not at all, don’t worry. This will be a decision developers will have to make for their apps. Some will believe a subscription-based system is better suited to their apps. Other will stick to the current model.

  • Ed

    Nope, not gonna happen. Not gonna subscribe.

  • James

    Agreed. I have a feeling I’m gunna be ditching a couple of my main apps in the future because bull crap. The Reddit app I use (submarine) was a couple bucks and I like it definitely but the dev tweeted the other day that he loves this subscription service and is going to switch to it. I just thought “nope.”

    Devs need to be careful because you got to think how much is your service/app/product really worth to people. Will I pay a couple bucks for a cool Reddit app that I like more than the default one? Sure. But will a pay a few bucks a month for that? Nah I’ll just use the default app.

  • Phil Randle

    For the good apps I wouldn’t mind. The problem is people use to many apps. There are only a few apps that come to mind that I would warrant paying for a subscription – Facetune is one (this would also mean they would be pressured into regular updates – as stated in Apple’s AppStore 2.0 guidelines)

    Apps that I rely on that are paid are around 6-7, the rest are free company apps and stock apps. The subscription service won’t suit every app, but there are apps that people use every day and most would happily pay and support the developer.

  • Howell Selburn

    I think it depends on the App. Am I going to do it for say a game? Maybe. But for a flight tracker or Waze or Splashtop? Hell No. I already spend too much on Apps.

  • Guy

    I can see it now Tweetbot 5 subscription base $99.00 a year.