Developers Making Mac App Store Decisions Tough

Developers are starting to make life difficult for OS X users. Applications like TextExpander, MarsEdit, OmniFocus and Delicious Library are currently living double lives. All of them, and many other apps, are available both in the Mac App Store as well as directly from the developer. And while this may be designed to give consumers “options,” it’s also starting to get confusing.

Pixelmator took some flack several weeks ago for declaring they would be moving the sale of their application exclusively to the Mac App Store, then telling existing users they should re-buy the existing version of Pixelmator from the Mac App Store for about half price, with Pixelmator’s word that version 2.0 will be a free Mac App Store upgrade. As angry as some people were, this was actually a good move for consumers, because it gave some sense of certainty.

Apps like the TextExpander, MarsEdit, OmniFocus and Delicious Library are putting potential buyers in a tough position. Do I buy from the Mac App Store and hope that either Apple implements upgrade pricing or the developer gives away updates for free? Or do I buy directly from the developer so I can get upgrade pricing discounts?

The assumption is that Apple will not implement upgrade pricing. They are very hit or miss on adding features later just because there is user outrage. So for the moment we will assume that upgrade pricing isn’t going to happen. Therefore the approach that developers take for major upgrades in the Mac App Store will be interesting. It’s possible that developers will give away major updates for free, but I think that’s unlikely. That would be a drastic change to the current model most software companies have adopted. More than likely, most companies will release their software as a completely new entity in the Mac App Store, like OmniFocus 2 for example. I am completely OK with this approach. It isn’t too confusing and consumers will know what they are getting themselves into. And in theory, the old version will continue to work for the time being so users won’t be forced to upgrade.

If developers chose to charge full price for major upgrades within the Mac App Store, what will they do for people who purchased software outside of the Mac App Store? Will they charge full price for consistency’s sake or will they charge less? It’s likely that Apple’s rules dictate that software sold within the Mac App Store and outside of it must be sold for the same amount of money, but I am unsure if that’s true. Even if it is true though, would that apply to upgrade pricing as well?

The downside for consumers is that if they purchase software outside of the Mac App Store they are trusting that the developers will keep up both versions Mac App Store and non-Mac App Store, because if they don’t the user would be forced to re-buy the software to get updates. I don’t see most developers doing this but clearly there is some trust involved.

The best case scenario would be for developers to state their intentions going forward. I suspect that the decision to maintain both a Mac App Store version and a non-Mac App Store version is both a courtesy to users and a way to not give Apple a 30% cut on every sale. Developers could give users piece of mind by just letting users know that they plan to maintain both versions until some identifiable point in the future, like a specific date or a particular release, or by only selling their software in one place. In the meantime, every time I buy software sold in two places, I have to think about my decision first.