The Clear Kerfuffle

The iOS development world is up in arms over the backlash to Realmac Software's Clear update. Many users complained about having to pay for an update, and then many developers and bloggers scolded the complainers. Joseph Keller wrote in iMore,

"It's important to remember that developers don't do this for fun. They do this to make a living. Making an app takes time, and making a good app takes even more. That's time they're not spending doing another job. To suggest that you should receive continual updates, no matter how substantial they are, after paying a small amount once, is to devalue the hard work that developers do."

Stephen Hackett at 512 Pixels said,

"The bottom line is this: developers should be able to work on their product in a sustainable way. Realmac are some of the good guys, and to have to backtrack on a business decision is a damn shame, especially in a world where people pour money into IAP-based games day and night."

The typically blunt Marco Arment simply tweeted,

"Upset about @realmacsoftware asking for another 3 dollars for a big update to Clear and going universal? You should be ashamed of yourself."

That last one hit home because I'm a huge fan of Arment's work, I'm a huge fan of software in general, I fully support developers charging for updates, and yet I was one of the people annoyed by Realmac's upgrade strategy.

The reason? There was virtually no sign that they had actually updated the iPhone app. Take a look at the video below for a comparison.

Almost every other app that got updated at least changed their design, their functionality, their something. Those that made substantial changes (i.e. Omnifocus) rightfully charged for their updates. An article in the Verge says the Clear update utilizes new "UI Dynamics." But if the user can't see those new dynamics (I can't see anything in the video above), and doesn't see value in that, you can't expect them to understand why it costs more. The one substantial change to the app was making it universal, but again, does the app do anything substantially new on the iPad that it didn't already do on the phone just as well? And how many users were clamoring for an iPad version?

I don't envy Realmac's situation. The fact is, they were on the cutting edge of the flat design that the software world is now catching up with, and they made (in my opinion) possibly the best app in the world for simple todo lists. Maybe the reason they didn't change it much for the update is that it's nearly perfect as is. But customers will only tolerate paying for updates if they see the value in those updates.

Some folks are now criticizing Realmac for caving in the face of pressure. Matt Gemmel tweeted,

"So, poor form, Realmac. Not helping at all. Price complainers aren’t ever going away, and giving in makes it harder for everybody."

I think they've made exactly the right decision. Charge for the iPad version, which is definitely new but may not appeal to all users, and charge for updates when and only when you can clearly communicate how you've added new value for your customers.