Each time Apple updates iLife or iWork, I always try to take a look at the updates’ usage of the OS X Sandbox. Apple is of course free to do whatever it wants (after all it’s Apple’s platform), and in the past Apple has simply used temporary entitlements to effectively escape the sandbox. However the lack of visible dog-fooding of the sandbox on Apple’s part to date has provided little reassurance to developers who may still be working to adopt the technology themselves.
Visual inspection of sandbox entitlements is a useful check, especially if you’re curious about what other apps are doing, and after reading this post by Michael Tsai there’s a very simple way to do this using Terminal:
As you can see, there’s still some Apple private entitlements in use, and GarageBand escapes the sandbox entirely by using an absolute read-write path for not just your hard-drive but any external drives too:
For all the gripes about using these private entitlements (or in the case of GarageBand, an entitlement strictly not available for developers to use) it’s great to see that the iWork apps sandboxed for the first time and as someone who’s still working with the migration to sandboxing it’s reassuring to see Apple start walking the walk.
Another common gripe I didn’t touch on in Monday’s article is Apple making its iWork apps available free to new iOS device owners. (As a side-note, I think it would be fair to assume the same will be true of any new Macs that are on the horizon. Remember: one of Apple’s yet-to-be-played cards from WWDC is “awesome new releases for both Mac and iOS [iWork] suites” - but I digress).
Lots of folks posited that as a result of iWork going free, the bar for apps to prove their value has been raised - particularly those paid-for upfront.
I think there’s certainly an element of truth there, particularly in an App Store that expects apps for Free*. After all “If Apple can make their world-class productivity and creative apps free, why can’t you?”.
However, I firmly believe that the risk of devaluing apps isn’t as important to Apple as ensuring the platform continues to extend its reach. Apple’s job is to act in the best interests of the iOS (and OS X) platforms, ensuring the platform and its devices remain best-in-class. Remember how the Surface was marketed as the “only tablet with Office”?
Making the iApps free is an important strategic play - and it’s more important than any implication for paid apps - apps which Christina points out are possibly on life support at this point anyway (at least in certain categories on iOS). iLife has worked wonders to attract people to the Mac. The depth and full-featured-ness of the iApps echoed across each Apple device you buy is a force to be reckoned with - and a force of attraction for the platform that developers should consider to be in their longer-term best interests.
If you’re going to build a paid app, now would be a good hone your marketing plan. There’s still a market - a smaller market, perhaps, but a market nonetheless. The market “just” needs to know more about you, and the app you’ve been building.
“Offers In-App Purchases”. That’s a phrase that’s become more and more common on the iOS App Store in the last year - and starting with iOS 7 you’ll likely see even more frequently as there’s some interesting new additions to the world of In-App Purchase that will further change how developers monetise their apps.
Before I begin, I would reiterate “freemium” apps aren’t for every market. However it certainly feels as though mainstream apps, in a busy App Store genre, are going to have to adapt to the changing purchasing preferences of millions of iOS users.
Migrating to Freemium
Historically, moving to “freemium” (i.e. free up front, IAP later) was something of a minefield, with two possible ways to do it:
Add a mechanism allowing existing customers to keep their paid-for content, ahead of the app going free.
A new version of the app, freemium from the get-go.
There’s obviously considerations for the existing user base - folks who’d complain about the fact that they paid, and it’s now Free* (that is, Free with In-App Purchases). And the fact that any mechanism wasn’t 100% reliable in ensuring that existing customers got their content.
iOS 7 introduces a seemingly small, but very significant, addition to the IAP world - a digital receipt in every app (free or otherwise) that includes the version number when the customer originally bought the app.
With this new addition, for the first time it’s possible to move an app from paid-for to freemium (or lower-cost-with-IAP), whilst reliably ensuring the customer is able to access the features they originally bought. The receipt - something Mac developers already deal with on the Mac App Store - always returns the original version the customer purchased, even in the event of a reinstall.
It goes without saying that there are more considerations than just setting an app free with IAP. Having the right feature-set or perhaps “feature modularity” and arguably the right type of app are also important. However, with a single addition to the SDK Apple has highlighted the path they think best serves the platform, and the millions of customers who’re using it.
As my colleague Ted also pointed out one lunchtime as I sounded out ideas for this post, it offers the ability for developers to experiment with what works for them - if freemium doesn’t work then you can consider switching back. The only downsides being you need to manage version number logic and retain the IAP for the app, and the fact that even though you’re no-longer selling IAPs your app will remain advertised as offering them. For some, that may be a negative connotation (though how strong, or moot, a connotation is up for discussion).
The Proving of Value
The expectations of the mass-market have very obviously changed, as has the way developers balance the proving of value with running a (hopefully viable) business. Whilst before many apps worked on proving value prior to download / purchase, the mainstream app is facing a new challenge:
“Prove your value to me, and then I may spend my money”
That’s not to say that higher-priced apps aren’t feasible, just that it requires careful consideration as to whether an app would be better served by having a greater-than-$5 price [you have no idea how heavily my heart sank when writing that].
Paid Upgrades. Ish.
Sat in Session 308 at WWDC, it instantly became clear that this is how Apple believes consumer apps will evolve. Buy or download an app, use the features you bought and over time developers should monetise new features based on the new SDK addition.
It’s not paid upgrades in their current form – of course, there’s an argument to be made that the current form of upgrade pricing is being requested “because it’s how it’s always been done”. However this is quite clearly the paid-upgrade-of-sorts from Cupertino - and the option that serves Apple’s goals and customer base better.
In The End, It’s About the Platform
So what’s the part of the platform vendor in all of this? Whilst Apple’s not going to dictate how businesses bring in revenue, it’s very clear that IAP is the way that Apple foresees that mainstream apps should generate revenue. After all, nothing serves Apple’s platform (and Apple’s customers) better than thousands of high quality apps becoming thousands of high quality Free* apps.
A Final Thought
Throughout all of this, the (let’s say old-school, independent) developer community has found itself repeating an old adage (and I’m loosely paraphrasing):
I can’t believe that people with an $800 phone are complaining about dropping $3 on an app they use every day.
I think it’s time we retired this quip, along with paid upgrade gripes because – if I’m entirely honest – it reveals a lack of understanding for how a vast number of people actually purchase an iPhone, and how they might perceive the value of an iPhone somewhat differently.
The majority of customers, I’d argue, see the iPhone a bit like this: the iPhone is a device with little-to-no up-front cost, with payment made for the services that provide value. That sounds familiar…
As one of the many people grandfathered into iCloud from a paid .Mac/MobileMe account created many moons ago, today’s email reminder from Apple about the end of my free storage extension struck a chord:
As a thank you for being a former MobileMe member, you received a 20 GB complimentary storage upgrade when you moved to iCloud. Your upgrade expires on September 30, 2013.
When it expires, your iCloud storage will be automatically adjusted to the free 5 GB plan. Note that you are currently using 5.26 GB of storage. If you exceed your storage plan on September 30, 2013, iCloud Backup, Documents in the Cloud, and iCloud Mail will temporarily stop working.
To continue using these iCloud features without interruption, reduce the amount of iCloud storage you are using or purchase a storage plan by September 30, 2013.
After this reminder, I opened Settings and took a look at what’s eating up my storage space. Top of the list: Backups, using 4.2 GB of storage (up from 3.6 GB according to my last screenshot of System Preferences a few weeks back). Now, it should be noted that the figure includes backups of both my iPhone and iPad.
Don’t mistake this as a rant for the fact that come September 30th I’ll be paying for iCloud storage - my iCloud Documents and Data usage will be skyrocketing in the coming months I sense - and yes, you can manually tweak your backup to exclude apps should you wish. However, with 88 apps on my iPhone - and a 100MB Camera Roll explicitly excluded - unticking apps that use under 100MB to exclude them from backup is a time consuming process, and not one that the average user should need to do. At the end of the day, what’s more meaningful to the average user: “Your iPhone is backed up” or “Your iPhone backup takes up 2.3 GB”?
Much as Apple is offering free versions of iWork with a new iOS device, it’s time to stop tying backups to a storage quota and simply say: “We’ve got this. Your iOS device - no matter how much you’ve got on it - will be backed up”. iCloud Backup likely started people automatically backing up their devices for the first time - a great achievement in and of itself. It’s time to make these backups invisible, “just” a part of the service and reflect Apple’s multi-device ecosystem.
It’s been a hell of a long time since I last showed this blog some affection. It’s been even longer since I set aside some time (or perhaps found some time and energy) to put some thoughts together. However with a project that’s consumed a vast amount of energy finally shipping, I decided one weekend to start making amends for that.
Own Your Content
Finding an acceptable compromise in terms of how posts were published has always proved difficult. I’ve used Tumblr for years, and still love the service. But I could never escape the gripes at the back of my mind: namely, owning your content. Publishing it yourself.
Which is exactly what I’m doing. No Medium, Svtble or other platform. Just HTML, and low maintenance.
I’m sure that some folks will scream murder at the previous Tumblr history being purged (sorry, Jeremy). I’ve got a fairly-complete backup of the content right up to the point where the Tumblr backup app stopped working, but I wanted a fresh start. So here it is.
Reset In Progress
I’ve still got a lot more to do. No doubt I’ll continue to be fickle over the CMS over the coming months. But right now, I’ve hit the goals for this reset:
More flexibility than Tumblr
Publish the site myself
Markdown for as much as humanly possible
Functional, though admittedly minimal design
Live, and publishing content.
Only articles. You can follow along on Twitter: @nikfdotorg.