Some iOS and OS X Developers Just Found a Way to Offer Upgrade Pricing on the App Store

Upgrade pricing has been around long enough that it had virtually become standard practice by the time Apple's App Stores came along. Since neither the iOS nor Mac App Stores offer upgrade pricing, it's been tricky to release a new version of an existing app. Options aren't that attractive for developers: Release new features as part of the current version, create a new version and release it at the same price, release a new version at a discount, or find some other option that satisfies both customers and Apple. But as it turns out, Apple may have inadvertently provided an upgrade path via App Store Bundles.

Bundles debuted as part of the App Store improvements in iOS 8, offering developers a way to group apps together and offer a discount to customers for purchasing all of them. Apple further allows developers to discount the price of a bundle for users who have previously purchased the exact same version of one of a bundle's included apps, similar to how "Complete My Album" works on the iTunes Store.


Now companies like Smile and Good.iWare (makers of GoodReader) are using this bundle discount to their advantage. From the GoodReader Upgrade Bundle description:

This bundle allows existing customers of the old "GoodReader for iPad" app to upgrade to our latest and most advanced "GoodReader" app with a considerable discount. If you previously bought the older "GoodReader for iPad" app, the amount you paid for it will be deducted from the price of this bundle, resulting in purchasing the new "GoodReader" app for less money than its full price. This is our way of offering an upgrade discount to existing customers.

So far the bundles from Smile and GoodReader don't appear to have ruffled any feathers at Apple, so hopefully this is at least one way that upgrade pricing is possible. This is good news after seeing other upgrade methods pretty thoroughly smacked down.

This has given some developers hope for future plans. Liz Marley, Product Manager at OmniGroup, spoke with TMO about how this apparant loophole might affect OmniGroup's app releases. There hasn't been a new release from OmniGroup since the advent of bundles, but this is certainly something they will be investigating since they have been asking Apple to implement a better customer experience for upgrades since the beginning of the App Stores.

Dave Howell, CEO of Avatron Software, told TMO that seeing this new process play out in the iOS and Mac App Stores has encouraged his company to look at a bundle as an upgrade option. He also explained it's likely their next release will be offered in this fashion. Since the bundles have remained available, he is taking that as a good sign.

Smile Software representative Maia Olson expressed that Apple and developers still have work to do in explaining bundles in general to customers, telling us that the company has frequently heard from customers confused about variable pricing. As mentioned earlier, some bundles are discounted if a user already owns one of the included apps. But if a user initially purchased that app at a discounted price -- for example, a $4.99 app on a limited time sale for $1.99 -- the user will only get the discount for the price they paid, not the app's current price. While this seems fair, many customers don't remember what price they paid for an app six months ago, and there's no clear indication when viewing a bundle of why the owned app is not fully discounted from the bundle price.

Nobody but Apple can say if bundles were intended as a concession to upgrade pricing or if this is yet another creative idea from developers who are simply looking for ways to make their customers happy. Hopefully this doesn't turn out to be yet another issue where Apple decides to conservatively enforce an unclear policy only to have to reverse that decision after it draws unwanted attention.