Thoughts on Budgeting for App Store Subscriptions

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Wow. Some really big news about App Store changes dropped today. The best write ups are actually on The Verge and Daring Fireball. They’re great reads, but the super summarized news is this:

  • Subscriptions are opening up for all classes of apps
  • The App Store is getting paid search: only on the search page, and only for apps relevant to the search
  • App Store review times are down to two days or less 

All of these things are worth talking about, but it’s the subscription news that I’d like to focus on most. I’m of two minds about this: on the one hand, I’m really glad to see this move towards long-term sustainability on the App Store, but I’m also concerned about how I’ll account for these expenditures. I use and test a lot of apps: so in this new vision of the App Store, how many things will I end up subscribing to?

Let’s be clear: I want my favourite apps to thrive so that I can keep seeing awesome updates. There are a number of apps that come to mind that I would gladly pay to continue supporting:

  • 2Do
  • Due
  • Ulysses
  • iA Writer
  • Paper by FiftyThree
  • Reeder
  • Day One
  • Pixelmator

These apps help me get work at my day job and a lot of this site writing done. I love them, and they’re a big part of what keeps me on iOS as a platform. I’d definitely look at their subscriptions if they choose to go that route. It also seems like apps can now offer free trial periods, in the form of free non-renewable subscriptions (or something like that), so that should help provide a free way to try a premium app.

I also read that there are different tiers of subscriptions, with options to pay every one, two, three, six, or twelve months. I think monthly and annual subscriptions are probably the easiest to keep track of, but it’s interesting to see options for other types of updates that might reflect development schedules (and therefore released updates) a bit better.

Buy and Forget

On the other hand, I think I will miss the simplicity of just owning a copy of an app after I’ve paid for it. I like that an app purchase having very simple consequences on my budget: I will have $5–10 less to spend this month, but once I account for that cost, it’s over and done with. I can write the expenditure off. Subscriptions are something I have been thinking about and trying to cut down on, if only to make sure I’m not spending too much money each month. I am trying OneNote out in lieu of Evernote, and I recently cancelled my Dropbox Pro subscription because I wasn’t really taking advantage of all of that extra space.

I acknowledge that subscriptions are a good way of incentivizing continued development, but I am a little concerned with tracking multiple apps with different subscription models. I already have a number of monthly and bi-monthly alerts for utilities, rent, cellphone bills, and Internet. I’m a little nervous about adding even more. I named eight apps earlier on in this post that I’d consider paying for; if they charge a dollar per month (which could be a conservative estimate), that’s another $8 + tax per month, or $96 + tax per year. That’s not a ton for software that I love, but those are just 8 out of the 70+ apps I have installed on my iOS devices.

Before even seeing how pricing will even out over time, I’d predict that my own preference would be to pay $5–10 per app for an annual subscription. That would still let me pick and choose a number of apps, but also simplify the billing process for me because I could account for those expenditures in one shot each year. Yes, there’d still be bills to keep track of, but it’s a bit less of a hassle than a monthly cycle. 


The coverage from The Verge and Daring Fireball didn’t explicitly state it (maybe because it hasn’t been spelled out yet), but I’m assuming that unsubscribing from an app will mean that I won’t be able to use it after the subscription is over. So not a subscription in the magazine sense (where you keep your old copies but don’t get new ones), but rather subscriptions in the Netflix sense (where being a paying customer grants you access to the service). If that’s the case, then ceasing to pay for a subscription of 2Do, for example, will probably mean I won’t be able to continue using the copy that I have (or the last update that was released). I am a little worried about this, but it will probably make me even more decisive about the apps I truly need in the everyday.

However, I’ll wait for more word from Apple about this before I activate Worrying Mode, and it may be the case that only a specific set of apps truly make the leap towards subscription pricing. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that I thought I’d be using apps on my wrist…and it’s now been twelve months and I barely ever use apps on the Apple Watch.

The App Store has been quite the bubble these past eight years, with developers providing months or years of free updates for pennies on the dollar — although this isn’t precisely the way that I (as a consumer) would have burst it, I still think today’s news is pretty good news overall.

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One thought on “Thoughts on Budgeting for App Store Subscriptions”

  1. I have the same thoughts and my feeling is that under a subscription model your access to (usage of) the app will cease if you don’t renew.

    I don’t think as many apps will have success with this model as they think and I believe the subscription economy is ripe for a correction as people scrutinize amounts they’re being asked to pay regularly for apps and other monthly expenses.

    For me, I see this as an opportunity to greatly weed out apps that made it to my phone which I rarely or never use. In most cases I prefer a paid upgrade vs subscription because the upgrade gives the developer incentive to work hard to improve and maintain their app.

    I think I’m already subscribed to some of the most important ones and most of these are deeper apps which have some web or desktop component which synchronizes with mobile.

    Apps which are in a very crowded market:

    – note taking
    – weather
    – photos
    – games

    Are ripe for consolidation and/or abandonment

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