This week Apple has announced a big push into subscriptions across their App Stores. It is exhilarating to see efforts to help developers better monetize their work. I have wondered what Apple is hoping to spur with this change. As I have thought about subscription based apps the thought of a dozen or more apps on my phone charging me monthly to continue using them seems like a step backwards. I doubt Apple wants to annoy its customers with lots of little recurring charges for every day apps.

However, there is software that for which I already pay subscriptions.1 I use them on my Mac and they are all productivity software; development software, design software, office software, online business admin services. Averaged out I probably pay somewhere around $200 a month for productivity software subscriptions and regular upgrades. This seems like a lot of money, but I am happy to pay it because it is how I make my living. In fact, compared to the cost of materials in many pre-computer industries I have it pretty easy.

This is exactly the kind of software that I think Apple is hoping to encourage with subscriptions, especially on iOS. Despite the great work that has been done in the iOS app ecosystem, the types of software that people have traditionally based their livelihood on are very difficult to build sustainably on mobile devices. There are some impressively deep apps on iOS, but they are often unprofitable, and simply compliment software that companies sell on the desktop. If I had to compare the average utility of productivity software on the Mac vs iOS, iOS comes up short. The most significant difference I see is the ability to charge sustainable prices on the Mac, and the lack thereof on iOS.

If developers see subscriptions as an opportunity to charge subscriptions for the average iOS app they’ve made in the past I think they will face disappointment. However, if developers see subscriptions as an opportunity to step up the caliber, depth, and productive utility of their software I think subscriptions could change the game for them.2 I love my iPad Pro for the new capabilities it provides, perhaps subscription pricing will allow for third party apps that fulfill its potential. So what does Apple want out of subscriptions? I think they want a revitalized iPad centered app ecosystem that is friendly to productivity software. I’d like that too.

  1. I include here software that do not offer subscriptions, but through regular paid upgrades effectively equal an annual or semiannual subscription. 

  2. As I think about my own iOS app, Mind Vault, I don’t see subscription pricing as appropriate in its current state. On the other hand, there are more in depth possible apps that seem more attractive to me after these announcements.