To Subscribe or Not Subscribe? That’s the App Question

Apple is releasing iPad versions of its Pro apps, Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro this week. For the uninitiated “Pro” is typically code for an expenisve, full featured app for professional users. Final Cut Pro for the Mac runs you $300. Logic Pro will set you back $200. It’s an investment.


Users have wished, requested, and even demanded that Apple release iPad versions of these two apps for Apple’s top of the line iPad Pro line. Heck, many even point to the lack of native iPad versions of these apps as proof of Apple’s lack of committment to the iPad. So, on May 9th when Apple announced that these two apps would be available for iPad Pro users on May 23 there was a rush of excitement about the release and also a hesitant holding of breath while examining the pricing.

That pricing, while lower than the Mac versions, ushered in a new era for Apple’s own apps: Subscription pricing. That raised some grumbles of discontent that Apple was releasing these two long awaited apps and for the first time using subscription pricing. Each app will be available for $4.99 a month or $49 a year. There’s also a one-month free trial.

The grumbles come from a lot of folks who don’t like the app subscription model. Some are quite vehement about it. For that crowd paying an annual or monthly price to use an app seems a bit too far. And since subscription pricing became more and more predominant there have been complaints from many users who don’t like to see an existing app that may have once been free, or purchased for a one-time cost go down this path. There are arguments aplenty on all sides of this issue. I’m not going to rehash any of those here.

Admittedly when subscription pricing for apps began to take hold I went back and forth on whether this was a good thing or not. But then after a few apps I use religiously chose this path I began to reframe how I thought about subscription pricing.

Where my thinkng landed rested on two points.

First, the value proposition: If I’m paying $X.XX a month for an app does it provide value to me? If yes, subscribing was no big deal. If not, it was easy enough to not subscribe or cancel.

Second: If this was a new app that looked promising, Apple’s App Store policies make it easy enough to try out the app and then cancel the subscription if it doesn’t offer enough value to reside in my toolbox.

Along the App-ian way of subscription pricing we’re starting to see some apps offer a free trial period. Typically they aren’t as lengthy as Apple’s one-month trial for these two apps, but generally they provide ample time to avoid committing if you’re unsure. Even so, signing up to test a new app for a month isn’t going to break my bank. Your bank balance may vary.

Extending these thoughts a bit, there’s another advantage to subscription pricing. That comes in measuring the success and potential future of an app for the developer. If enough users subscribe in the initial rush on a per-month basis and then choose to unsubscribe after the first month or so, the developer of that app should have a pretty good idea of the marketplace for the app going forward. Some users won’t try the app out until later, but I would think that after six months or so a developer should know whether or not to continue to commit resources to an app or not. It’s like up or down voting on an app but using your dollars to do the voting.

Of course using dollars is an important choice for users. Subscription fatigue is a real thing. So are budgets. And in the case of trying out new apps there are some things to think about.

1. Don’t sign on for an annual subscription, even though there is typically a discount for doing so. Use the month to month option if you’re trying things out. Sure it costs you a little more per month, but you maintain your flexibility.

2. Just know that app subscription pricing like any other type of subscription (streaming services in particular) or other monthly services (utilities, etc…) the price is eventually going to increase. It’s like taxes and death. It’s a given. When you hear of a price increase, it’s a good time to reexamine the value you’re getting out of the app.

3. Don’t wait until the end of a subscription period to cancel the app subscription. Once you’re sure the app won’t be something you want to keep paying for, cancel the subscription. If you’re unsure but leaning against keeping the subscription you’ll still have a portion of the month you subscribed in to test out the app.

4. Just like with media streaming services if you need an app for a specific job or not you can subscribe and then cancel. No one is going to turn your money down if you need to resubscribe in the future.

The bottom line for me is I’m not hesitant to try out apps with subscriptions if they are on the App Store.

There’s an interesting thread running on Mastodon started by Matt Birchler and picked up by John Gruber, Jason Snell and others if you roam with the Mastodons and have more thoughts on this.

Author: Warner Crocker

I stumble through life as a theatre director and playwright as well as a gadget geek...commenting along the way. Every day I learn something new is a good day, so I share what I find exciting, new, stupid and often worthwhile.

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