Why app subscriptions are taking over (and how to cope) [Video]

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You can subscribe to just about anything these days ... but why?
You can subscribe to just about anything these days ... but why?
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Over the last couple years, tons of iOS apps switched from one-time purchases to monthly or annual subscriptions. As a user, this can seem frustrating — or annoying even — but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The rise of app subscriptions brings benefits to users, developers and the app ecosystem as a whole. Whether you’re subscribing to your favorite weather app, task manager or podcast player, the subscription model offers perks that never existed in the one-time-purchase world of apps.

Subscriptions are better for everyone

For users, subscriptions typically offer the ability to try out an app without dropping any money up front. With most apps offering a free trial period or a feature-limited free tier, some of the most powerful and useful apps are more accessible to the largest audience.

For developers, utilizing a subscription in their app allows for a more consistent, longer-lasting revenue stream. Instead of only making money from their app with each purchase, the subscription model allows them to earn on a monthly or yearly basis. This can help fund future development of the app, as well as cover the long-term costs of their app or service back-end.

For the app market, subscriptions help combat the massive plunge in app prices. Before the App Store, software was typically expensive. Many “old” apps used to cost $50 or more (and come on a CD).

When the App Store launched, the price of ownership tanked. Most users couldn’t justify spending $5 on an app, let alone $50 or more. This led to most apps being free. Sure, some higher-end apps went for $5, $10 or even $20. But the market for those apps was incredibly small and specialized.

Subscriptions let users get an app and only spend a few bucks — it just so happens that you’re spending those few bucks every month. It’s a lot easier to swallow spending $5 every month than it is to spend $60 in one shot. It’s even more beneficial when users don’t need the app all the time.

With so many apps and services switching to this subscription model, it’s more important than ever for users to know how to manage them. Apple’s implementation of subscriptions makes it easy to get started, but knowing how to change or cancel your subscriptions proves a little more confusing.

Dealing with iOS subscriptions

Managing your iOS subscriptions isn't hard if you know where to look.
Managing your iOS subscriptions isn’t hard if you know where to look.
Screenshots: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Apple offers a great support article on how to view, change or cancel app subscriptions on various devices. On iOS, modifying or canceling your subscriptions can be done in a few ways.

The first method is through the Settings app, and goes like this:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap your Apple ID banner at the top.
  3. Inside your profile settings, tap iTunes & App Store.
  4. Tap your Apple ID at the top.
  5. On the pop-up box, tap View Apple ID.
  6. Scroll down and tap “Subscriptions.
  7. Tap into whatever subscriptions you want to manage.

From there, you can change a subscription setting to a different billing option, or hit cancel to end a subscription after the current billing period. This is also a great way to see when things are coming up for renewal.

The App Store makes managing subscriptions much faster
The App Store makes managing subscriptions much faster.
Screenshots: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

The second method for managing your subscriptions is much easier, and is new as of iOS 12.1.4.

  1. Open the App Store on your iOS device.
  2. Tap your profile icon in the top right corner (on the Today, Games, Apps or Updates tabs).
  3. Tap Manage Subscriptions.

This will take you to the same view you saw before, allowing you to update any current or expired subscriptions or cancel subscriptions made through your Apple ID.

If both of those seem too fussy, or you want a more “power user” method, you also can use an iOS Shortcut to jump straight to your subscriptions. (Click the image below to download the shortcut.)

Manage subscriptions shortcut button

App subscriptions: Everbody wins

App subscriptions can leave you feeling frustrated or discouraged about trying new things. But in the end, they can be great for everyone.

Apple created a very solid system for developers to make incredibly powerful apps a sustainable market. The company also made it easier for users to experiment with apps and only pay for what they truly want. All it takes is a few seconds to be sure you’re only subscribing to apps you desire.