Providing the best possible App Store experience

by Ken Case on September 29, 2016

From the dawn of the App Store, it’s always been our goal to provide the best possible App Store experience that we can for our apps. We were there with our apps on the day the store launched, so that you could make your own choice about how you wished to purchase our software. And three years later, we finally solved the problem of offering upgrade discounts to our App Store customers, an offer which started with OmniGraffle 6 and continued through the rest of our product line.

But even with those discounts, the experience of buying our apps on the App Store still had some limitations when compared to buying directly from our own online store:

  • On our store, we offer an upgrade discount on the base price of the app. On the App Store, we had no way to discount the base price—the best we could do was charge that full price again, but offer our Pro upgrade for free.
  • On our store, we offer customers free upgrades to the next version of the app if they’ve purchased within the last 30 days. Since we couldn’t make a similar offer on the App Store, the best we could do was stop selling the app for a while (like we did with OmniPlan last summer) so that customers wouldn’t get stuck with the old app.
  • On our store, we’ve always let you try our apps for free before asking you to decide whether to buy them. On the App Store, you get charged for the app before you can download it.

All of these limitations stem from a single underlying problem: they’re all due to the fixed cost of the original download of the app. If that download didn’t have that fixed price, all of these problems would be within our power to solve.

“Well, that’s sad,” some might say. “But that’s just the way the App Store works, isn’t it? At least you do offer customers a choice to use your own store, so it’s not like they’re forced into that experience if they don’t want it.”

I guess that’s true enough, at least for our Mac apps. But it’s still not ideal. And while customers can choose to buy directly from us on Mac, our iOS customers don’t have that choice. There’s no way for them to ever try our apps before buying them (unless they’re lucky enough to visit an Apple retail store when our apps are being featured). Or to get the price protection that we try to offer all our customers. Or to get upgrade discounts on the non-Pro edition of the app.

We’ve been asking Apple to extend the App Store to support all of these capabilities, of course. And they’ve certainly made changes to the App Store over the years to offer more flexibility in the way people buy software there, even if they haven’t addressed this specific problem.

Or… have they?

The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)

With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.

Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7:

Screenshot of the In-App Purchase screen

The app is now a free download. When you first run the app, you’re asked whether you’d like to start a trial or purchase a license. But before you purchase anything, we also explain that discounted pricing is available to existing Mac App Store customers. If you check for discounts, validating your previous install, we either offer you discounted upgrade pricing (50% off) or—for recent purchasers—a completely free upgrade to the new version.

As a bonus, this free download of the app now also works as a free document viewer. You don’t have to buy anything to use the app as a document viewer; you can just dismiss the licensing dialog—in which case you’ll only be able to open documents in read-only mode. This means that our customers can send OmniGraffle documents to anyone who has a Mac, knowing that they’ll be able to download the latest OmniGraffle for free and view those documents.

This is just one small corner of what we’ve been working on for OmniGraffle 7. But I believe (and hope you’ll agree!) that this change finally lets us provide our customers with the best possible App Store experience.


P.S. — To be clear, we’re starting with OmniGraffle 7 on Mac, but will be bringing free downloads to all our App Store apps on both Mac and iOS. Also, all of our in-app purchases will remain one-time purchases (as they are today); none of them are subscriptions.

(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)