Apple Is Pushing Developers Toward Subscriptions

No, because I only paid “a lot” upfront if what the dev had at the time met my needs. I only update or pay for an update if it still meets my needs. There’s no confusion here. It’s just a cheap excuse for devs who prefer to get paid perpetually rather than be forced to innovate so they keep getting paid. I get it. I like free money like the next guy. But don’t go trying to tell me that locking me in and forcing me to pay regardless of what the dev does is in my interest.

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Ideally, sure. But quite a lot of time, it’s impossible to find all the bugs or feature lacks before buying a piece of software. And that’s not to mention when the software becomes incompatible with an operating system update. In both those cases, having to wait years for a major update (or not getting one at all if the developer has disappeared or lost interest) is a giant pain.

In what alternate universe do people have to wait for years? If a lot of happy customers are waiting for an update because of incompatibility with OS update that means a lot of potential gains. Exactly the right motivation. And in a free market system the thing that leads to dev effort.

Let’s stop acting as if subscriptions made software any better or more reliable. Software was just fine. What happened was people got greedy and wanted to make an easy buck without putting in the effort. Some chose to try to get rich by selling others’ privacy. Others by trying to lock them in. Both are bullshit and will be rightly met by resistance.

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I know about the one time purchase because it was mentioned here. It’s not like MS does anything to facilitate discovery of one time purchases; I’m sure a significant % of potential one time buyers are not likely to find out that they are available.

What happened was that Steve Jobs started giving software, updates and services away for free, backing the competition into corners. Even the music and entertainment industries were changed. Hasta la vista Blockbuster and Tower Records.

Even more of a reason for folks like @jweil to speak up in opposition to subscription models.

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No alternate universe – this one. The immediate example is Aperture, which was 32-bit and thus not able to run in Catalina. Apple decided not to update it a while back, and so current users are, as I noted, not getting a new version because “the developer has lost interest.”


How is that relevant? Apple has never pushed Aperture or a replacement as subscription. They lost interest (as Apple has been known to do) and obviously subscriptions did nothing to change that loss of interest.

But that’s really a tangent.

The actual matter at hand is really quite simple: if enough customers/users resist subscriptions, they will go away. If we don’t resist this now, we will one day have no choice.

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You made a clear assertion about how the ‘free market’ system would make developers update things because of user interest. It didn’t in the case of Aperture. Whether the subscription model is better is another question, but the “pay big” and wait wasn’t so great, either.


I have to disagree with Simon here. The crucial question is whether there is another app or set of apps that substitute for the app in question. If so, you are not locked in. On the other hand, if there is no such app, you are locked in. This can happen whether the app is a subscription app or a one-time payment app.

The world does not stand still. If a developer loses interest in keeping up with the world, and you can’t transition to an app that is keeping up, you are then stuck at that same level. This is true no matter what financial model supports the app. However, if the app is working with data in a popular format (or the data can be transparently exported into a common format), the actions of a particular developer are of little concern. It may take some work on the user’s part and the user may need to adjust their working habits, but user should be able to continue working and not lose their archive.

Let me make this more specific with an example from my own experience:

From the early 1990’s until the early 2010’s, I used Quicken as my personal financial package. However, when Apple abandoned PowerPC emulation, it was not apparent that Quicken (for various internal reasons) was going to be able to support current and future MacOS versions. During that period, I tried out several competing packages, with one, in particular, able to read my Quicken data and support the features I used. It required some minor contributions of my part to make that transition, but, in the end, it was quite successful. For me, that application was Moneydance.

However, I look at my current situation and ask, if I were to find Moneydance inadequate for some reason, could I make the same transition to another app? Unfortunately, the answer is currently no. I do not know of another app that can deal with Moneydance’s native data (either in flat or backup form). This means looking at the the export formats provided in the app (.qif and tab-delimited, and raw JSON output). While other apps can handle .qif and tab-delimited files, the export in those formats does not capture all the data needed to reconstruct my files (in particular, investment accounts), and I don’t know of any app that can handle the remaining export format.

The payment model for Moneydance is the traditional pay once initially with upgrade fees for major upgrades rather than being a subscription model. However that makes no difference as to whether or not I am a captive of the app; the inability to transparently export the application’s data is what locks me in.


I disagree. Tidbits is a service and does not store or potentially lock up your data. I am a subscriber and am fine with that. If I choose not to subscribe the only thing in jeopardy is news and information.


The reality is that in the real world, this will not happen. People like subscription services. It’s why Apple paid $3 billion for Beats when iTunes sales were flattening and streaming took off:

Estimates suggest that Apple Music had 68 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2019, up by eight million from June that year.

And why Apple rushed streaming video out into the wild:

In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix had 69.97 million U.S. subscribers:

Apple’s revenue from its subscription services exceeds Mac’s, and services keep growing:

It’s also why Unilever paid $1 billion for what was then an unprofitable Dollar Shave Club (which my husband loves):

No matter how many TidBITS readers decide to dump MS Ofice subscriptions or never sign up (like me), Microsoft will give weight to sales results such as this:


I must not live in the real world. I don’t have people buying the latest and greatest tech for me. I can’t bill “clients” for my expenses. This all comes out of my pocket.

I guess if people like subscription services, that’s why there’s no complaining about cable tv services and box rentals, phone carrier lock-ins, devices that can’t be repaired by the user without a contract, or countless other things that can’t be purchased, only rented.

And they don’t mind if years later, after paying over time much more than an initial purchase price would have been for a product that met their needs for those years (with no guarantee of any upgrades, BTW), when they stop paying, the product won’t work at all, forever.

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No one is saying subscriptions are perfect. I think, as I’ve said before, that there’s a real problem with needing too many subscriptions—at some point, the monthly cost will be too high. Though I suppose that’s no different than people not being able to afford expensive apps in the old days—you just did without if you couldn’t afford it.

But the fact that there are all sorts of subscriptions that people don’t like but still keep paying for is indication that subscriptions aren’t going away.

The main reason most developers move to a subscription model is because they have to stay in business. It’s not good for users when the developers they rely on go bankrupt and stop development.


??? Straw man. Nobody said free markets would guarantee apps stay around forever. Fact of the matter is there were competitors to Aperture that offered competing products without a subscription model. And they’re still doing just fine. Aperture is totally unrelated to this discussion.

Oh spare me. Nobody is talking about music or video. The discussion has from the very beginning been about software. A tool to perform a task. Not content, not TidBITS, not music, not video (both of which BTW Apple stills sells as one off). Has this pandemic somehow impaired folks’ ability to read? C’mon.


Asking it to last longer than 9 years is hardly forever.


Someone having to move all of their data and knowledge to a competitor hardly seems an argument in your favor.

as this pandemic somehow impaired folks’ ability to read ? C’mon.

It would be nice to have this conversation without you throwing verbal jabs at people.


Well, what I hear some people saying is, stop resisting, this is happening, resistance is futile, submit. And my answer to that is, get lost. If it’s subscription software I’m not buying. And I support everybody who stands up against this crap. Fortunately, there’s more than enough vendors (believe it or not, even MS) who are still offering a choice and we will vote with our money (or feet).

And I’d argue it’s even worse for users when devs stop innovating as they get cozy with a steady stream of easy money coming in from folks who have been locked in.

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I really don’t feel like a loser. Just as an example, the cost of an MS Office subscription is cheaper than a subscription to Dropbox, but the Office subscription gives me a 1 TB online sync service (half of Dropbox but I still don’t fill it) as well as the office apps (and it’s still cheaper if I get the professional version that lets me share it with up to 5 more people. You can’t do that with a stand-alone license). It would be trivial to switch to a different app(s) that support Office’s file formats. 1Password could be purchased one-time with fewer features than the subscription offers me, but I can export my data to another format at any time. (In fact, I did just that when I switched from Lastpass - also a subscription - to 1Password a few years ago.)

If you don’t like subscriptions, don’t buy them. For some applications, I like them, so I’ll keep buying the ones that I feel are valuable to me, so I’m not sure I want people trying to stop them from happening. Some apps I do buy still and pay for upgrades later rather than subscribe, but for me it depends on the app and the value to me.


The discussion quickly evolved, as most discussions do, to include subscription software vs. one shot purchases. Music and Netflix are subscription services, and Apple has been very vocal about the growing importance of paid subscribers for its various services, including TV+ video, Music, iCloud and now games, to its status as the world’s most valuable company.

Personally, I’m running a version of MS Office that’s from at least 2009. When I finally do upgrade my ancient MBP, I will making a one shot purchase of MS Office only because my antique version won’t run on it. I realize that I am in what is probably a vast minority of Office users, and expect that sometime in the next few years MS might give up on one shots.

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