If Rdio and Weight Watchers can't even keep their apps updated, what good are subscriptions?

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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab), 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?

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • Netflix does an okay job at this. I've been really happy with their steady progress over the months. Dropbox took a while, and is still glitchy for me. If any app took that long to update, and I had that many issues, I'd unsubscribe as well. And tell them why. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but to get my business, you have to earn it. Every time.
  • This is business 101. If you want people to pay for your service you have to provide a good experience or you lose your customers. If you aren't going to work to provide that good experience you don't deserve people's hard earned money.
  • It's an issue but not big enough for me to cancel. I love the product they offer across Mac, iOS and Android. If the actual product (music) get worst I may consider but as long as it's meeting it's primary purpose, I'm happy. Sent from the iMore App
  • Which app? Sent from the iMore App
  • i think he means Rdio since he said "if the actual product, music..."
  • Agreed. My biggest pet peeve is apps that you are constantly paying for and still have the 3.5" screen size. The biggest offender I have is the RSA SecurID app. A minor issue for this app, as it does one thing, and is minor, but how many companies are paying support to RSA? Last update was 12-11-2011 and added support for iOS 4.3. At some point they added (including 7.0) to the description. Again, minor, and probably me being too picky, but 25 months since the last update is nuts. Sent from the iMore App
  • They do need the update to change the app name to InsecurID and update the company name to NSA. I feel for you if you're forced to use products made by those government cronies.
  • My only subscription app (Foreflight) is excellent for new updates. They did twenty of them in 2013 alone and they don't seem to be slowing down in 2014.
  • You're not being too hard at all. If a company wants to charge a premium for a service that depends on mobility they need to be able to iterate on that experience with the best tools available. It's one thing to not update something like the keyboard - but it is another all together to leave glaring bugs unfixed. Subscription services should always be held to a higher standard.
  • I think the keyboard and design are just as important to be honest. They need to stay current with what Apple is pushing out. I think anyways. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree to an extent. Things really should match the rest of the OS. It just bothers me less than bugs. If I am paying for it the service has to be usable above all else.
  • I am with you on the keyboard front. LastPass was like that for some time and was up until recently, but their app has been stable which is a way bigger issue to me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Daily reader, infrequent poster here. First, Allyson (and Rene) I enjoy your posts and find them incredibly useful. Love iMore!
    To the best of my knowledge, and my 13mos experience here at iMore, this is the first post I've seen address this issue. Would it be useful to have a thread in the Forums dedicated to reporting/listing of deadbeat developers and/or subscription services?
  • That's an excellent idea! Adding it to my todo list for tomorrow :) Sent from the iMore App
  • This was the love/hate relationship I had with Spotify that still leaves me wondering why people like that app. The iOS app is bland but functional, but a year and a half later and the Mac app STILL doesn't fully support Retina displays. That alone tells me they don't care about keeping their apps current, and I refuse to give them my money. I'm astounded such a popular service is still, after all this time, lacking in such a big area. Oddly enough, Google Play All Access is IMHO the best streaming app on iOS by far, and I've used Spotify, Rdio, and Mog to compare.
  • this is excatly how i feel. and i feel stupid after a while like i'm just being ungrateful and i'm the only one. So glad someone spoke out, i had Rdio when iOS 7 dropped as well (actually i SWITCHED to Rdio specifically cause the design was so nice) and felt the same way you did. I have since gone to Google Play Music All Access which has it's own issues, but that app hasn't been out nearly as long as Rdio as well as it being Google who's updating it so i generally have a decent feeling about getting regular updates. Obviously the Android version will always be ahead, but Google doesn't ignore iOS simply because it makes them so much money. I used Spotify before Rdio and i felt the same way about them. i don't expect an update with all the new features/bug fixes/optimizations in 2-3 days after a new version of iOS drops etc. but it's unacceptable for it to be months on end just sitting in the App Store. I think Apple is addressing this problem to a certain extent by having told devs that all apps have to be updated to be compatible with iOS 7 by next month or the axe comes down. i'm sure Apple is starting to see this becoming a widespread issue of apps just not being updated consistently enough.
  • No you are not being to hard. I always stop my subscription and reply with a reason for the cancellation. I believe companies will start noticing the cancellations and the reasons why. then they will begin to take notice. Sent from the iMore App
  • Forget the weightwatchers Ally!!! Have you tried that crazy wrap thing??? Check it out at my wife's site www.ginamester.com Keep the great reviews!! Sent from the iMore App
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  • I think Rdio has the best looking UI out of all the streaming radio apps out there. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ditto.
  • I agree Ally a subscription based service such as rDio should be pumping out updates and fixes to their apps with far more regularity then say a developer who charges a one time fee for theirs. I stopped using rDio due to the lack of smart playlists and not being able to shuffle your entire library of songs. Sent from the iMore App
  • I disagree on a few things mentioned as you're taking services from the perspective of using the latest and greatest handset. I expect a subscription service to provide me with updated content to continue my relationship not support every new method of viewing content. As mobile manufacturers and networks update on a near yearly basis I don't expect a large proportion of my subscription cost to go to developers to keep up. I much prefer them to invest in content. The solution to this is simple, keep your old handset and operating system and receive content as before. There is more than one OS, handset and manufacturer out there, so I suggest that if a particular app is important then keep the handset on which it works and is thoroughly tested rather than going cutting edge and suffering all the pain it clearly grants.
  • I think you are spot on! In the case of Weight Watchers, poor management and lack of prioritizing their mobile platform reek of why it took so long for them to update the app.
    I had a similar issue with Touch Banking app and had to write a somewhat abrasive letter to the CEO of Stock Yards Bank because they wouldn't keep up with the changing pace of their mobile platform they were supposed to be supporting.
  • Nope, I don't think you're being too hard on subscription-based apps. I mean they're getting a constant stream of revenue from you, the least they can do is to try to do the same and give you the quality and content the subscribers deserve - timely updates to fix whatever bugs it has or in adding new content to the app. I don't have any apps that I have a subscription to since I think if I add up the monthly costs, it can get a bit pricey for me. So what I usually do is I try to look for a different app I can buy upfront that offers a similar function/service but without the need for a subscription.
    I think what you did is exactly the correct approach a subscriber should do for cases like these. Send the developer an email inquiring about the updates. If they didn't respond, then maybe it's time to cut off the subscription and find an alternative.
  • I hope you sent them a link to the article. =)
  • I completely agree on WeightWatchers. While I've had great success with the program, I signed up as an e-tools (I _love_ that they call them e-tools, by the way... very modern) member only. I've sent them loads of feedback about the poor state of their app. I was happy to finally see some update in the past couple of months, but it's still prone to this problem where they change some backend code and suddenly the app stops working. You have to reinstall. Earlier in 2012 when this happened they lost all tracking data for that day. Completely unacceptable, and this stinks because the health program itself is quite good.
  • 1Password is not a subscription application, but is a very expensive application .. iOS 7 has several months of life for the end user and even I do not stand for something as simple as is the keyboard, I hope you update your application, I will not pay 18 dollars for a new application (1Password 2) as was the case Tweetbot Sorry, my english is bad
  • If anything you are being too generous. If a service charges a subscription than I feel they have an obligation to upgrade the app. I cancelled my subscription to Der Spiegel English edition for this very reason. The content was very good, but I cringed every time I opened the app that still isn't updated for the taller screen. It's not like they are totally clueless, they did take the time to update their German language app. As a customer it makes you feel unappreciated.
  • I agree with this stance. And I think it should be enforced even more so, besides services you're paying for. For example, the two banking apps I use (BOA and Simple) still haven't updated for iOS7. Yet I'm forced to use them on a regular (sometimes daily) basis. While Simple doesn't crash since their latest update, BOA crashes continually and looks terrible in the iOS 7 environment. In addition, apps you've paid for (Articles for Wikipedia for example) I think should either update for the new OS in a timely manner or push out a separate app (like Twitterific 5). Simply put, I paid for the app, and the experience. Especially when I bought one like Articles for the UI and it hasn't been updated in years. Sent from the iMore App