We seem to go through this every few months in the world of App Stores: developers get together and start discussing how the lack of iOS App Store options such as upgrades means that developers can’t make a living. This kicked off again last week when David Smith mentioned that the lack of upgrade pricing for the $200 Logic Pro X app from Apple meant that upgrades weren’t going to happen. The guys on the Accidental Tech Podcast picked it up and had a long conversation about it as well .
First thing I recommend is a marketing 101 class then we can discuss this again.
The problem with app pricing has almost nothing to do with pricing. (Surprise!) The problem is distribution. And this also happens to be one aspect of the iOS ecosystem that everyone loves.
In the iOS world, there is only one place to buy apps: the App Store. Because there is only one place to buy apps, everyone goes there to find them. Because everyone goes there to find them and the contents are exactly the same for every app (a description, some keywords and a few pictures), it is nearly impossible to differentiate your product.
Saturday I walked in the grocery store looking for mustard. When I got to that shelf I found 10 different varieties from 7 different companies. Which did I buy? The cheapest one. Why? Because none of the brands were differentiated to me.
For 99% of us, there is no differentiation in the App Store. One company’s calculator is just like another company’s calculator. Sure, there are reviews to read and maybe you heard about a product on a blog somewhere, but most haven’t.
This is a vicious cycle. The lack of differentiation means the price drops, which means the money available to market an app drops, which means it is harder to differentiate.
What could help? Trials could help. That would allow someone to download an app and see the difference first hand, not just trust a screenshot. Apple has been clear, though. They prefer freemium. Getting out of the App Store itself can help. Building enough value to charge a subscription could help.
Productivity apps can’t survive and bring the long-term value customers demand at $2.99 or $4.99. At the end of the day, though, the app stores, whether Apple, Google or the like, are not going to solve our problem . The only thing that will is rethinking the products so we can get out of the app stores and differentiate.
 Listening to Marco Arment talk about this problem is frustrating. The guy has an incredible personal brand, like Loren Brichter, and the things he touch get instant echo in the iOS chamber. Would The Magazine had been such a success if I had built it? No way. His personal echo chamber made that happen. (Note that I am not complaining in the least about his ability to do this. If anything I’m a little jealous.) [My apologies to Loren for misspelling his name in the original footnote.]
Update: I want to clarify that I meant it helps Marco’s app get initial interest, not that it guarantees success over the long-term.
 Are there App Store problems? Of course, and things Apple can do to fix them.