A major factor that drew me to the Apple and OS X (pre-iOS) was the strong community of independent developers. The applications and utilities that were available because of these devs were so far from what I was used to in corporate IT and the Microsoft dominated, locked-in-licensing environment. Making the change in my career was partly due to my desire to pick my own tools.
And so I have always believed in the idea of paying for these wonderful tools made available by 3rd party developers in the Apple community. Paying for great tools is a no brainer, especially in light of the way free web services treat their users (the currency). I am happy to pay for good software. And iOS coming on the scene did not change that.
At least, not at first.
How many versions?
I must admit, I've felt a bit of what I term app fatigue in the past year. What is this? Simply the lack of desire to either a) pay for another version of an app I already own or b) go through the steps required to update this app and become accustomed to the changes.
It could be that this (slight) change of heart on my part arose because of iOS7. Since Apple made the biggest change the operating system since its inception, many developers decided to do the same. And rather than just update their apps and keep them at the current version, they have mostly embraced the opportunity to launch a new version, one that is in line with the conventions of iOS7, and charge for it.
And the developers should not be blamed for this, not in most cases. A few examples of great apps from talented people whom I enjoy supporting are examples of this upgrade: Tweetbot 3, OmniFocus for iPhone, Fantastical, and 1Password4 on OS X.
On the flip side, there were a handful of great apps that were updated but only made the update available to current customers rather than charging for a new version. Day One on the iPhone is a good example here.
For me, the desire to upgrade a tool I use does depend on who is making the offering. I have no trouble spending $2.99 on a new version of Tweetbot. But some companies have shown less regard and proper planning over the years and this keeps me from upgrading and continuing to use their products. The entire history of Littlesnapper/Ember from RealMac software is the freshest example for me.
The cyclical pattern of Apple’s refinement of current products is certainly astounding. Only the most hardcore Apple hating tech pundits with their head in the sand cannot see this. Even if you don't like Apple, you have to appreciate their operational efficiency. And their balance sheet.
But if there's one thing I do not appreciate about Apple, it is their drive – and ability – to promote perceived obsolescence. My Twitter feed is a testament to this during and after each Apple event in the year. People are happily buying a brand new phone every year despite the fact that their current phone should last at least five. At least!
And this cycle has spilled over in to the software side, where indie developers treat each new version as an opportunity to refine their own product up the version number, and charge for it again. Not that this is wrong; in order for them to continue their business, they have to.
But as the consumer, I have to admit I grow tired of paying for the same app three or four times.
Not just coffee
Before you tear in to me hard, please hear me out. There are some apps for which this makes sense. And the cup of coffee argument we have heard so often does stand up to these types of apps. Like Fantistical or Tweetbot … paying $2.99 every year or two is obviously not a big deal.
Where I noticed my fatigue kicking in however, was with OmniFocus. Search through the archives here and you'll see I'm a big fan of OmniGroup. But when I first heard that even though I've already paid over $100 to have a version of OmniFocus on all of my devices, I would have to purchase all three again to keep up to date, I definitely started to question this cycle.
Not everyone is rolling in disposable income. So even with cheap applications, we each have a limit for how many apps we can purchase each month.
One positive from this change in development cycle is that the previous versions of many of these tools work alongside the new version. When Tweetbot 3 was available on the App Store, you could purchase it and have it living beside Tweetbot 2. So if you have no desire to change it, you can just keep using the old version.
Don't use it at all
Another option is to stop using the app, completely. Does that sound foolish? Perhaps. But I'm always looking for opportunities to untie myself from my devices and this is one way to do it. Put a little more pen and paper time back in my life!
Dance with the one that brought you
The best option for me, one I have been moving towards the past couple of years, is to use the tools you already have. I mentioned at the top that the indie dev community was a major factor in my move to using Apple products. But the biggest factor, one that should not be overlooked, is that OS X is the most enjoyable, refined operating system available.
Although OS X was a lot rougher around the edges in 2006, that was still a true statement. And even more so today. Every time I find myself experiencing friction or frustration with a software choice, or notice a lack in my toolset, I start looking for options with Apple's free software that I already have in my possession. This strategy has served me well.
The common refrain is to compare these complaints with coffee purchases … then to stop complaining. And for a $2.99 app, this holds water. But for some cases, not so much. I love OmniFocus, but I have no plans to upgrade the iPhone version anytime soon. It also has me reconsidering how I manage tasks and whether or not OS X (or pen and paper) can meet my needs.
I hold nothing against OmniGroup or other developers for their choices. From the sounds of things, it appears that running a profitable business via Apple's App Stores is getting harder all the time (maybe 7 billion apps available isn't such a good thing after all?).
I'm simply trying to be honest about how I'm feeling as a consumer. The current cycle of software availability and updates has me considering how I can simplify my toolset and use what Apple gives me on my devices. There will always be those holes to fill and I'm still happy to pay for a good tool. But I'm starting to be a little more discerning of where my app dollars will go.