Paying for apps and upgrades is about sustaining developers as much as enjoying quality products

Paying for apps and upgrades is about sustaining developers as much as enjoying quality products

Tweetbot 3 for iPhone finally arrived today. Most people who owned the previous version of the app are already well aware of this, and in-depth looks at the new incarnation have been published — see TechCrunch and Macstories for more — so this isn’t a late-to-the-party review.

Instead I’m going to rake up a traditional topic that is playing out alongside the launch of Tweetbot 3: the price of apps. Or more specifically, consumer reluctance to pay for them.

There are plenty of narratives which explain that paid-apps are living on borrowed time — Marco Arment makes the point comprehensively here. That isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing for some apps and companies, but it is different for indie developers and even the release of Tweetbot, a service with a loyal following, highlights some of the tensions around the issue.

Regardless of whether you are a first-time user or someone who owned the iOS 6-optimized Tweetbot, you are required to part with $2.99 (the discounted launch price before it increases to $4.99) for the newer version of the app.

This is by all accounts (and my personal opinion) an excellent deal but not everyone seems to feel that way.

Think of it as a thank you

Tweetbot is sitting atop of the US App Store’s paid-for chart, but it seems that the prospect of a paid-for upgrade doesn’t sit well with some people — in spite of the fact that, at just $3, it’s comparable to the price of a cup of coffee.


There’s a strong argument for paying since Tweetbot has gotten an extensive overhaul, which is testament to just how much work the two-man team (yes, just two people) put into its development.

It’s perhaps more helpful to think of it as a way to express gratitude, rather than a comparison of value.

Supporting independent developers

More than just saying thank you, though, it is about supporting those who create the very apps that we use each day.

Tweetbot is a popular app because not only is it arguably best-in-class — ‘the Twitter app for power users’ — but (and perhaps also because) it is developed by a small team that cares passionately about what it does.

That’s not to say that big companies that develop apps — this applies more broadly than just Twitter apps — don’t care about their creations, but Tapbots (the company behind Tweetbot and other apps) has an entirely different position: for example, it is far more open to interaction and feedback.

More importantly there will be no Google Reader-style shut down for ‘business objectives,’ that’s assuming of course that the team continues to enjoy what it does and receives adequate financial compensation for doing it.

It would be interesting to know how many of the dissenting voices from today were equally as vocal when Google shut down Reader, or when promising startups are sold to big companies and changed forever.

Watching products you invested time in disappear or undergo huge changes is galling, but the chances of it happening are lower if you use apps like Tweetbot, which are essentially developed by Twitter users who evaluate them differently to listed corporate firms.


Innovation isn’t limited to developers compensated by big companies, which can afford to offer free products, and independent developers are only independent if they can sustain themselves financially — so why shouldn’t Tapbots charge users for an upgrade that the developers spent countless hours working on to improve your favorite Twitter app?

Side note: The Tapbots team recently admitted they “have to make tough decisions that keep our business running,” although that doesn’t relate directly to this release, a reminder of the reality of the business.

Headline image via kellyreekolibry / Shutterstock

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