How much is the app in the window?

I’m a sucker for a new app.

Over on Threads recently there was a short spell of people sharing their home screens, and I reveled in it; I love seeing screenshots of peoples phones/computers to see what else is out there. Whilst I rarely intentionally seek out new apps these days – the apps I currently use are good enough for my needs – I’m always happy to try new ones when I spot them, after all you never know when something ‘better’ might come along.

When it comes to paying for apps though, it’s fair to say that that can be a tougher decision to make. Not because I want everything for free but because with so much of my daily life boiled down into a few apps on my phone, the app needs to work the way I want it to and if doesn’t fit into my workflow/usage, then I’ll look for an alternative.

For example; I was an early convert to Evernote, it’s clipping functionality was super useful, it had a nice clean interface, and it’s quick syncing across platforms was flawless; I used it heavily for several years until they started focusing on getting ‘Business Users’ (companies) involved and for a few releases the app got bloated and the UI got cluttered and it eventually it got to the point that using the app was a mental chore with features I didn’t need or want getting in my way every time I used it. So I looked for something simpler and, with some serendipitous timing, Apple had finally updated their own Notes app to the point of being useful enough for my needs, bye bye Evernote.

I was happy to pay for Evernote and would’ve continued to do so but at some point the barrier of usage, for me, stopped offsetting the price value (in my simple view, admittedly). I tried some other paid alternatives before deciding on Notes (Bear was another one that ended up just not quite what I wanted to use, the UI is a little overbearing for me, no pun intended!).

Over the past few years there has also been a shift, rightfully in my mind, to a yearly subscription option for apps. Previously apps were given a single purchase price and you could happily use it for a few years until, inevitably, a big redevelopment/improvement was made and the developer(s) realised they deserved to be paid for the time they’d put into said new version and made it chargeable. Ohhh the uproar when a developer says ‘version 2 of my app, the app you’ve been using for the last 3 years at version 1, will now cost you money if you want to upgrade’ was horrifyingly fascinating to watch.

Sidenote: I have a few apps I have paid one-off fees for, most notably Tot, but they are far and away starting to be the exception.

Maybe my understanding of paying for software is because I work in software development. I know how hard it is to build and maintain an application, even a simple one. What looks easy on the surface is usually only that way because of a myriad of build/test iterations to hone one feature, repeated many many times, all of which take time and cost money. Some apps will have an underlying infrastructure to build and support as well; keeping content files backed up and in sync, for example, requires storage which costs money, even if the files are small (and a popular app could have thousands of users with millions of files to manage). No wonder developers want to charge for all of this.

I have also found an additional benefit of apps moving to a subscription model, it’s causing me to pause and consider how often I use an app, and how much “value” I garner from it and sometimes that has me looking for and finding alternatives.

For example, I most recently I stopped using Todoist. It’s a product I’ve mentioned here before in glowing terms, but due to some changes in my own circumstances I wasn’t using it the same way to the value I was getting had dropped.

When I discovered Todoist I’d already tried many different To Do apps (ahhh Remember the Milk was almost the one…) and Todoist stuck with me because it let me customise it just enough for what I needed, worked across multi-OSes, and had very little functionality that I didn’t need. Alas a job move meant I could no longer use it for work purposes and my home use requirements weren’t as grand so… hello Apple Reminders! I have a few different lists in there, it handles reminders and recurring tasks well and does everything I need and, it’s built into iOS so in that sense it’s “free”, renewing Todoist would cost me £47.99 a year.

Ditching Todoist was a simple enough value equation in that instance, and I’ve found that after brief comparison that same value equation held true with a few others apps that I used to use, so much so that the number of subscriptions I currently have is down to 6 – one of those is Apple TV+, one is the free 1 year membership of Balance (more on meditation apps later!) which I’ve not really enjoyed so won’t take forward, and one is for a Tour Tracker app for following cycling events in real time (at £2.99 I didn’t mind a one off ‘purchase’ to try it in full but I won’t renew this one either).

Which means, for apps that I will continue to use for the foreseeable future, I currently only pay subscriptions for:
– Carrot Weather – largely for the Apple Watch complications – £2.29
– Day One – my journaling app of choice* – £31.99
– Overcast – my podcast app of choice – £8.99

Ohhh and we pay for a Spotify Family sub as well because we both use it.

I do like that a lot of apps these days come with free trials, with a few days to use the app before the subscription price is charged, so I can happily try them out – although I do wish they’d let me have more than a week, sometimes I barely get near my phone as it is, so I can’t prioritise trying a new app I MIGHT use in the future in that limited amount of time. Gimme a month then charge me?

I know for many people there is a view that apps should be free/cheap and that is why subscription models charging upwards of £40-50 a year cause some people to baulk (and then complain loudly) and even though I value the time and effort that goes into making good software, these prices do make me swither, even though I know they really shouldn’t.

I’m not sure how to get past that initial reaction and maybe I never will; growing up in a world where shareware was the most popular way of getting new apps (for “free” thanks to relying on the honour system of ‘pay if you like it/use it’) meant that software has never been something to which I attach a large monetary value. And of course it doesn’t help that these days an operating system isn’t just a platform but a plethora of free apps, even if you don’t want to use them they are still there to remind you, hey you got this for free (I know, I’m paying for these apps just by having an iPhone).

Hmmmmm, I wonder what would happen if Apple started charging for each app; Ohh you want a messages app, that’ll be £20 a month thanks, a phone app you say, another £10 a month, a camera app will be £15 a month…. I know it’ll never happen but I can’t help wondering if there was a unique cost on every single app, no matter who provided it.

As ever, writing these posts is enlightening for me. Turns out my thoughts and approach to purchasing software is not fixed and, like many people, I have a definite ‘grudge’ when it comes to paying money for apps. What I’m starting to realise is that it is my own sense of value – in terms of how often I use an app, how useful I find it, and how well it works with the way I think – that drives me towards a decision on parting with money for it, or not.

I feel a little sorry for app developers, finding that sweet spot of user experience, usability, utility, and price is a hard one. Yet some have managed it and, as I continue to discover and try new apps, I’ve no doubt what I pay for and what I use will continue to evolve. Ohh yes, we users are nothing if not fickle.

So here is my current homescreen, mostly for my own reference. If you want to know any details, hit me up in the comments (do we still ‘hit people up’??).

My iPhone homescreen as at 13/11/23

* I know that Apple are about to release their own Journal app but having seen the previews I don’t think it’s a good fit for my needs just yet. However, as with their Notes app, I’ve no doubt they’ll enhance it and in a year or two I’ll be re-considering it.

Written By

Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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