The App Store has improved in many ways in the two-and-a-half years since Byline was first released. Back then there were only five-hundred apps, and though the road to the hundreds of thousands of apps you see today has been bumpy at times, Apple has done a good job of improving the nuts and bolts of the store for developers by shortening review times, clarifying approval criteria, and extending the control we have over how and when our apps appear in the store.
But some shortcomings of the App Store have become entrenched. The lack of support for paid updates is a particularly insidious example, and combined with the rise of the iPad it has the potential to cause real harm to the relationship between developers and our users.
Bringing an iPhone app to the iPad presents developers with a dilemma: either make the app universal and forget about charging existing users for that big new feature, or release a separate iPad version and sell it at a single price for new and old users alike.
The first option — one universal app — is very generous, and over the short term it makes nearly everyone happy. Apple is happy, because the App Store remains neat and easy to use. The users are happy, because their purchase turns out to be even better value for money than they thought it was, especially if there have been other juicy free updates in the interim. The developer, however, is probably somewhat unhappy, because giving away the fruits of hard work to a large group of people who are willing to pay for it is no way to run a business, and people who run unsuccessful businesses don’t tend to be happy. Over the long-term, apps are abandoned because continuing to improve them isn’t economically viable, and everyone loses out.
The second option — separate iPhone and iPad apps — is more-or-less fair, but pleases nobody for any length of time at all. Apple doesn’t like it, because it forces users to micromanage their purchases based on which devices they have. The users don’t like it, because even if they didn’t expect iPad support when they bought the app, they’d like to get some recognition for their loyalty. The developer doesn’t like it either, because they wish they didn’t have to risk offending their users with such a blunt tool of an upgrade mechanism.
Most developers seem to have opted for the second option, as the lesser of two evils, but I say: meh.
Byline is currently available in two versions: one paid, the other free with the same features plus advertising. Here’s the magic:
• The free version of Byline will become universal (for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad). It’ll show ads out of the box, but you can upgrade in-app to remove the ads. Once purchased, you can restore the upgrade on all your devices — no need to pay more than once. The kicker: existing users get to purchase the upgrade half price.
• The paid version of Byline will remain in the store for iPhone and iPod touch only. Aside from the lack of iPad support, it’ll be updated with all the same new features and improvements as the universal version, so for this release at least there’ll be no difference at all between the two versions an iPhone or iPod touch.
How does it work?
The discount is shown and applied automatically. It’s that simple. The only exception is if the paid version of Byline has never been used on the device with which you’re making the purchase. If you’ve bought Byline but aren’t offered the discount, just reinstall the app from iTunes or download a fresh copy and open it once on the device before upgrading.
This technique isn’t perfect: developers still have to juggle two versions of the app, though new users only need to download one. Nonetheless, in the absence of built-in support for paid updates, this is the best we can do. If someone else is already doing this kind of thing, I’ve yet to hear of it; and if not, why not? It’s easy, elegant, and above all totally legitimate. Interested developers need only take a close look at the Keychain documentation to see how it’s done.
So Byline is finally, actually coming to the iPad?
Yes, it is! Sorry for the long wait. Look out for it 1st March. (Pending approval, of course.)