While Apple fans and tech enthusiasts alike have looked with interest on Apple’s launch of the giant new iPad Pro, the latest addition to Apple’s lineup has a problem. Lauren Goode reports for The Verge that most of Apple’s marketing for the device has zeroed in on its ability to run professional-grade software and a wide array of creativity apps. But app developers, especially the smaller outfits, who create that professional-grade software aren’t thrilled about the iPad Pro.
That’s because despite its capabilities, the iPad Pro still runs on mobile software. As The Cheat Sheet’s Chris Reed reported recently, the iPad Pro is a cool device that somehow, no one really wants. Though Apple markets the super-sized tablet as a laptop replacement, it runs on Cupertino’s mobile software, iOS, instead of OS X, the operating system that powers the company’s laptops and desktops. Consequently, the iPad Pro has a lot of limitations, and most reviewers agree that while it couldn’t replace a PC for them, it could theoretically replace a PC for someone else. But gadget reviewers aren’t the only ones who just aren’t sure of what to do with the iPad Pro.
Developers are concerned that if they sell a version of their software in the iOS App Store, they won’t be able to charge users the same amount that they normally would for the version of their software that runs on desktop. The problem of how to deal with the iPad Pro is giving developers pause as they try to figure out which platforms to prioritize, a question that’s increasingly relevant as features of tablets and PCs converge.
Developers who spoke to The Verge are concerned that they can’t offer free trials for their apps as part of the App Store download process or issue paid upgrades to loyal users. Others say that the App Store serves as a barrier between the developer and the customer when the customer has issues with the software. And the iPad Pro is forcing developers to rethink the monetization strategies that have worked for them so far.
Bohemian Coding co-founders Pieter Omvlee and Emanuel Sa have created a Mac app called Sketch for professional graphic designers. They tell The Verge that they have no plans to release an iPad Pro app. “Apps on iOS sell for unsustainably low prices due to the lack of trials,” Sa explains. “We cannot port Sketch to the iPad if we have no reasonable expectation of earning back on our investment.”
A trial enables a consumer to download a free version of the software before committing to a purchase, and the practice is fairly standard for heavy or expensive software. “Sketch on the Mac costs $99, and we wouldn’t dare ask someone to pay $99 without having seen or tried it first,” Omvlee told the publication. “So to be sold through the App Store, we would have to dramatically lower the price, and then, since we’re a niche app, we wouldn’t have the volume to make up for it.”
Jared Sinclair, an iOS engineer at a digital agency called Black Pixel, cites what he characterizes as a “stubborn refusal” on Apple’s part to let “pro iOS apps to flourish.” He says that App Store policies, not engineering problems, are the major hurdle standing in the way of turning pro software into iPad Pro apps. “There’s no way to issue a refund if someone decides they didn’t like it,” Sinclair notes. “Or, people have a frustration, they go to the App Store, they leave a one-star review and you can’t respond or find out why they’re dissatisfied.”
Chris Liscio, creator of the popular music instruction and production app Capo, notes that iOS developers also can’t offer paid upgrades to longtime users through the App Store, and says that “what a lot of people are worried about is the lack of upgrade pricing for those of us who want to keep incrementing these apps over the years.” Liscio is optimistic about the iPad Pro and has an app for it in the works. But he notes that as desktop and mobile platforms converge, “that’s when the mobile pricing structures will have to be different.”
The situation is different for software giants like Adobe or Microsoft, companies that both appeared onstage when Apple unveiled the iPad Pro and have optimized a variety of apps for the new device. Neither company has to worry about the number of downloads they’ll get for those apps, which are free, lightweight versions of their core software. Both companies make money by getting users purchase subscriptions to their cloud services.
But the payoff is less sure for smaller app developers, who have to give Apple 30% of any paid download or app subscription fee. The majority of the most popular apps in the iOS App Store are free to download. In-app purchases are expected to drive 41% of app store revenue in 2016, and apps that cost between $0.99 and $2.99 are expected to account for the majority of paid downloads by 2016. Developers note that charging even $0.99 for an app reduces demand for it, which leaves few attractive options for developers of pro software weighing whether or not it’s worth the trouble to test out a new economic model for the iPad Pro.