littleshopofhorrorsI am officially done with buying phone and tablet apps from obscure developers. I should qualify that—I am done buying one-off apps. Sorry, indie app-preneurs: you have ruined it for me. I may still buy an app from a reputable company, but the app marketplace is changing, and I am not sure that its new direction is very consumer-friendly.

Let me explain. When I first started using the iTunes app store, your phone or device had to be connected to your computer via iTunes in order to work. That is not the case anymore, and I am glad for it. Backing up every app I owned onto my computer took up a lot of hard drive space! It’s so much easier to just download it from the cloud.

But, as I have learned over the years, the Cloud can give but also take away. When I recently lost my phone to a tragic accident (my niece and nephew stepped on it) I was dismayed to find that when I booted up the app store on my new phone, some of the apps were gone. One was a word game I especially liked. I am sad to see it go.

But here was the part that irked me almost more than the lost ones: some of them had been replaced, and I was expected to pay again if I wanted to use the ‘new’ version. This feels under-handed to me. There was an app I used—which I had paid for—which was called Cloud Outliner, and one of its best features was that it could synchronize with Evernote. It had a folder in the Evernote app, and when you created a bullet note in there, it would sync automatically. I used it for my internet passwords; the app booted up more quickly than Evernote did and had less content to wade through. It was useful to me.

So I was dismayed to find that the app was not in my Cloud anymore. When I went looking for it on the general app store itself, I found that it was no longer there—but the same developer had a pair of apps called ‘Cloud Outliner 2.’ There was a free one, which lacked the Evernote feature. And there was a paid one which included it. If I wanted to keep using this lovely app, I had to pay again! A friend says this is a little like Audrey, Jr., the carnivorous plant in The Little Shop of Horrors, the one that keeps saying, “Feed me.”

I don’t think the developers should be allowed to do an Audrey act. I think I understand the rationale for the new app. I am finding in my explorations of the Android store that those folks are extremely reluctant to pay for things, so the trend there seems to be a free basic version with pay features. I think this developer might be trying to bring his ecosystem in line with that philosophy. But I don’t see why that means people who paid already should have to pay again. I know that with e-books, the Smashwords people won’t let you take a book away from someone. You can stop selling it to new customers. But a customer who has bought it already can re-download it anytime they want to. That’s fair to me.

And there were some other things. A few apps I used were one-shot deals. They got abandoned by their developers, never got updated, and don’t work on the new OS. There’s money gone. And there were some others I looked for Android versions of. I may have been willing to pay a buck or two again, even though I’d bought the iOS version already. But the Android ones were all priced higher, possibly to compensate for the lower sales since the Android folks won’t pay. No thanks!

I know that people say all the time that with digital media, you have to accept that you never really own it anyway. I think I have finally accepted that. But I guess my question is, if the app is going to be a flash in the pan that I can’t own anyway, why should I pay for it? Why not just use the free version and suffer through the ads? Then, when it disappears from my Cloud one day, I won’t be out actual money.

If you are a reputable company—I like the Donut Games people, for instance, and they update regularly and seem well-established—you may get a buck or two from me from time to time. But the days of upgrading every app I had so I could enjoy the ad-free version are over. If it’s going to be a passing phase, the ads won’t have a lifetime to annoy me. So I will suffer through them, and then when my content gets taken away, at least I won’t be out money.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. Everyone wants something for nothing and so the people who are trying to turn a profit have to find clever, often times underhanded ways of skirting this problem. It’s the same reason why you can go to the Kindle store and find a “series” of 3 eBooks less than 30 pages each being sold for 99 cents apiece – people aren’t willing to spend $3 on a 90 page book, but psychologically it seems more reasonable to pay 99 cents three times for the same content.

  2. I don’t think most(!) of these developers want to go out of business and not update their apps.

    Every so often an app stops getting developed and they come out with a NewApp 2.0 and want more money. That happens with desktop software all the time, or it just doesn’t work with the next desktop OS update (this happens more than on iOS). I didn’t really think that 99 cents for $4.99 was going to last me the rest of my life for updates, but many times it has. Sometimes I like the app and am willing to give them more money, it was a bargain at 99 cents and now it has even more features!

    Apple needs a way to REQUIRE old apps to stay the store for re-downloading (like in your example) AS LONG AS THEY STILL WORK but not have them still for sale; but at some point they will stop working because there are no more updates). Microsoft doesn’t support Office 2001 any more and it doesn’t allow you to download it any more either (yes, you could have kept copies but you could have backed up your apps too).

    Apple has this mechanism right now, in the past I’ve purchased “Counting with the very hungry caterpillar” and while you cannot purchase it now (searching the iTunes store) but if I go the apps store (on my iPhone) and look in my already purchased apps, I can search and see it’s available for me to redownload. (It appears I can’t pull down the info page or reviews any more).

    But because I’m afraid of this, I back up my apps at least once a month to my computer, my dozen crucial apps get pulled every so often so that I have long term backups. And if I notice an app gets discontinued, I keep multiple copies!


  3. I believe the iTunes app store now has a mechanism for keeping older versions of the same app (same name) so that when it stops working with iOS 4, the latest version can continue to be downloaded by previous purchasers, but (again) that’s going to stop working eventually (the interface to some other program [twitter/dropbox/etc] is going to change and it just won’t work and they’re not going to keep updating the old versions forever.

    I think apps that are constantly being updated to stay up with the times should just go to a subscription of 99 cents a year (99 cents for the app gets you the first year). If it’s a great app and I keep using it, they’ll make way more off me in the long run. Then they don’t have to charge me $4.99 or $9.99 for the amazing app that they swear will do everything for me, they’ll need to keep making it do everything to keep getting my annual tribute.

  4. It is especially annoying when you try to open an app (Lumin) and get an error message. This is a magnifying and flashlight app. So I deleted the app and went to download it again which often solves a problem. iTunes store said it would cost 99 cents, so I thought it was a new version. Paid the 99 cents, downloaded it and it gave me the exact same error message. I felt that I had been taken for a fool.

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