Subscriptions are nothing new. For generations we've subscribed to magazines, newspapers, TV channels, and more. Software-as-a-service has been popular for a while now as well, and slowly, steadily, subscription-based apps have rolled out across the App Store. But with that power comes responsibility. You want a regular, reliable stream of monthly payments from me? Well, I want a regular, reliable stream of updates and support from you!
For regular, pay-up-front apps, it's easy to keep things equitable. If a developers spends months redesigning their app to make for a better experience, adding features that are really useful, or otherwise making an awesome app even more awesome, I'll gladly pay for their new version. But that's easy. I see the work they put in, and I give them money. With subscription apps I have to extend them my trust in advance. I have to take a risk.
Software-as-a-service is called that because it has to provide a service. If you choose a subscription model, and I have to keep giving you my money, month after month, you have to keep giving me that service, month after month. If iOS gets updated, you have to update to support it. In a timely manner. If something breaks, you have to fix it. In a timely manner!
That brings me to Weight Watchers. As a service, Weight Watchers has always worked for me and was something I regularly turned to when I needed to drop a few pounds or just wanted to eat healthier. I don't know many people that use the Weight Watchers service that don't also use Weight Watchers Mobile. Paper trackers are the past, mobile is the present.
When Weight Watchers Mobile launched on the iPhone 4s, they were in a class of their own. I even named it my favorite diet app.
Sadly when the iPhone 5 was released, Weight Watchers apparently didn't feel it was a priority to update for the taller display. Or to fix the daily crashes that occurred when switching between the barcode scanner app and the Weight Watchers app itself. I attempted to email Weight Watchers support to get a better idea of when they planned to update the app and address the crashes. I got no response.
On January 2013 — 4 months after the iPhone 5 was released — Weight Watchers finally updated to fix some of the crashes. It took them until May 2013 — 8 long months — to add iPhone 5s screen size support. I'd long since cancelled my subscription.
If you're charging $20 a month, and listing mobile as a flagship feature, taking that long to fix bugs and update to support new device is simply too long.
After months of dealing with crashes and no iPhone 5 support, I finally cancelled my Weight Watchers subscription altogether.
When iOS 7 was released, I encountered similar problems with subscription-based apps. Rdio, a music streaming service that I've used for quite some time already had a design that complemented the new look nicely. However, they still linked to the old iOS 6 SDK (you could tell by the old iOS 6 keyboard), and failed to fix streaming issues, until months later. Again, not acceptable if you're withdrawing money from my bank account every month.
It may seem like the bigger changes, like new iPhone screen sizes or iOS design languages, don't happen that often, but something major changes every year. Multitasking, Retina, iCloud, there's something almost every year. When you add up all the little changes as well, things that still impact usability, they happen continuously.
Again, if I'm paying you every month for a service, I expect a high level of service. This probably isn't something Apple can or should control. Many apps don't even handle subscriptions through Apple anyway. They simply let you log into your existing subscription.
I guess all I can do for now is continue to vote with my wallet like I did with Weight Watchers.
Meanwhile, let me know what you think. Am I being too hard on subscription-based apps, or if you're giving them your hard-earned money every month, do you have the right to expect the best app experience possible? Do any of your apps feel abandoned, and what do you think should be done about it?