Omnigroup launched Omnigraffle 3 for iOS today, and it looks like a fantastic update to the diagramming, chart-making, flow-chart-creating app. But that’s not nearly the most important thing about this release, because Omni may have changed the way paid software works on iOS, and may be making it possible for “expensive” pro-level apps to be viable on the cheap-o app store at last.
Shareware for iOS
Shareware, says the dictionary, is software distributed free, for evaluation purposes. After a trial period, a fee may be charged to keep using it. Most Mac software was sold this way — even big suites like Photoshop and Office have had free trial versions. Then came the App Store, with no formal way to give anyone a free, time-limited trial. Developers could offer a free version in addition to the paid version, but that meant maintaining two separate apps. Worse, a user could stick with the free version forever, with no incentive to upgrade.
This is a terrible environment for good software. After all, who is going to pay $50 for an app without trying it first? I’ve bought super well-reviewed apps for big money before, and found that they don’t fit the way I work. Maybe an app looks great in pictures, but is sluggish under the fingers when you use it. If you don’t like the app, you’re out $50. And forget trying out a range of pro-priced apps to see which fits your purposes best.
Faced with this setup, app developers have little incentive to put in the time and resources to build a true pro-class app, because the risks are too high. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing apps on the store. They’re just rare.
Omni reinvents shareware
Now, Omni has managed to change everything. Its newest iOS app, Omnigraffle 3, is a free download. Once installed, it will function as a viewer for Omnigraffle files, forever. To use it as intended, though, you need to pay either $50 for the standard version, or $100 for the pro version, via in-app purchase. So far, nothing new. But there’s a third option — a free two-week trial, which has to be activated.
Once you activate the trial, which is done in the manner of a free in-app purchase, you can use all the app’s features for two weeks, which should be enough time to evaluate a tool. Then, at any time, you can buy the standard or pro upgrades, which are permanent.
Not only that, but if you purchased a previous version of Omnigraffle, all the way back to version 1, then you will get a discount on the upgrade price. You just need to have the old version installed your iDevice while you make your upgrade purchase, so the new Omnigraffle can check you have it. This is another great trick, because it allows a developer to charge money for upgrades, while still leaving the old version intact for those who are happy to keep using it. Nobody is forced to upgrade, loyal users get a discount, and the developer has a sustainable business model where they can charge for updates.
A model to rescue the App Store?
Can this new model revitalize the App Store, in terms of pro apps at least? Maybe. The market for pro apps is very different than that for free games and cheap apps. Many folks are willing to pay for proper, well-supported software, but the lack of a time-limited trial stops them from buying them — it’s just too risky. Likewise, with app developers being able to charge proper money to customers, suddenly they can afford to keep updating an app, just like on the Mac.
Hopefully more developers will use this method, instead of opting for the alternative: subscriptions. We might be happy paying a monthly sub for something like Spotify, or Dropbox, but who wants to be nickel-and-dimed every month for their note-taking app? Not me, and I love paying for software.
Omni already makes amazing software that sets an example for other to follow. Perhaps it has now done the same for App Store pricing. Wouldn’t that be something?