Developers are resourceful people, and when presented with a problem that seems unsolvable they'll work even harder to find a solution. That's exactly what The Omni Group did to overcome the lack of upgrade pricing on Apple's Mac App Store. Their new tool, called OmniKeyMaster, lets users who buy Omni apps through the Mac App Store take advantage of upgrade pricing, but there is a tradeoff, and it also shows Apple still has some work to do before the Mac App Store is a perfect solution for developers.
No upgrade pricing limits developer options at the Mac App Store
If you purchase an Omni app, such as OmniFocus, OmniGraffle or OmniOutliner, through the Mac App Store, your updates are tracked and managed through Apple. It's easy and doesn't require extra trips to websites to find and download your updates. When it's time for a major app upgrade, however, Apple doesn't offer a way for developers to give current customers a discount when buying the new app version.
The Omni Group's solution is OmniKeyMaster. The app finds the already installed Omni apps you purchased through the Mac App Store, and then generates an out-of-App-Store license code you can use to buy your upgrades through the Omni website. The upside is that you can take advantage of upgrade pricing. The downside is that Apple's App Store app on your Mac won't handle future updates for you.
Losing out on Apple's centralized app update system isn't a huge issue since each Omni app can auto-check for updates on its own, and handles the download and install process. It also means that if you ever want the App Store version of your favorite Omni apps again, you'll need to repurchase them at full price. Apps that aren't purchased through the App Store lose out on the one-stop-shop system built into OS X for app updates, and losing that convenience may turn some people off to the idea of going back to the old each-app-updates-itself system.
It's a clever way to work around a big App Store limitation, but it also underscores a problem developers deal with every day: Apple has its own style and hasn't been willing to work with developers to find a solution to this problem. Apple apparently doesn't see the need for upgrade pricing, therefore it isn't an option available to developers.
Upgrade pricing has been a standard practice in the software industry for years, and not just for The Omni Group. It's a way for companies to help build customer loyalty while generating revenue on new app versions, and it's a nice gesture to show that developers aren't trying to screw customers out of every penny they can.
Apple has worked to make the Mac and iOS App Stores more friendly for developers and customers, but there are still some big omissions that need to be addressed, like upgrade pricing. Some developers will sell new apps at a discount on the Mac App Store as a workaround for upgrade pricing, which works, but still doesn't address the underlying problem: upgrade pricing is an industry standard, and it's a glaring omission at the Mac App Store.
Apple doesn't seem concerned about catering to developer's need for upgrade pricing options, and it's possible that the Mac and iOS App Stores weren't designed to support that feature. Depending on how the stores were coded, it may be a major undertaking that Apple doesn't want to deal with. Since Apple offered upgrade pricing on its software products for years, I'm guessing it was a conscious decision the company made when designing the App Store to forego upgrade pricing.
Since developers don't have a key app selling feature they've relied on for years, they need other compelling reasons to sell through the Mac App Store, and those are certainly there. A single app shopping place for users to find the apps they need is a strong sell, as is the fact that accessing the Mac App Store requires only a couple mouse clicks. The intimidation factor new users face when trying to find apps is cut down, too, since they don't have to wander around the Internet hoping to stumble on what they need.
Much like the App Store for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, the Mac App Store gives customers a single place to find all of the software they want. That's compelling for end users, and frustrating, too since they pay more for new app versions than they otherwise would have to -- or developers have to take their losses on building major upgrades by not charging for the new version and hoping to make up the difference in extra sales, or deal with angry customers that don't want to pay full price for apps they previously purchased.
Right or wrong, app buyers often feel like developers are nickel and diming them with paid upgrades, even when those developers don't have other options when releasing new app versions. Apple's decision to not allow upgrade pricing options takes control from developers, but leaves them saddled with the accountability. Customers don't want to hear "It's out of our control," but that's exactly what developers are left to say.
Overall, the Mac App Store is great, but it's time for a change. Bring on the upgrade pricing.