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Developers say Apple’s App Store policies make it unlikely we’ll see many pro apps for the iPad Pro


Developers of pro apps have long complained that Apple’s App Store policies are a barrier to them creating iOS versions of popular Mac apps. The launch of the iPad Pro has brought the issue front and center, with a number of developers sharing their thoughts with The Verge.

There are two key issues, they say. First, pro apps are expensive, and users want to satisfy themselves that they are worth the money before they pay. Free trials are the usual way to achieve this with desktop apps, but the App Store doesn’t allow them to offer the same option for iOS apps … 

Sketch on the Mac costs $99, and we wouldn’t dare ask someone to pay $99 without having seen or tried it first,” said Bohemian Coding co-founders Pieter Omvlee, referring to the app aimed at professional graphic designers.  “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.”

Second, where a developer supports a complex app over a long period of time, paid upgrades make that viable, something that isn’t supported by Apple on the App Store.

“Maintaining software is more expensive than building it in the first place,” FiftyThree co-founder and CEO Georg Petschnigg says. “The first version of Paper, we had three people working on it. Now we have 25 people working on it, testing on eight or nine different platforms, in 13 different languages.”

Developers say that while software giants like Microsoft and Adobe are able to persuade users to pay monthly or annual subscriptions, there would be resistance to extending this model to a whole range of apps.

For pro apps already ported to iOS, the same issues mean that there is not much incentive for developers to optimize for the iPad Pro unless they see widescale adoption of the device.

Animoto founder and CEO Brad Jefferson says […] the company is holding off, for now, on making a version of the app optimized for the large screen or the accessory Pencil of the iPad Pro […] “Let’s see what adoption of the Pro ends up looking like.”

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  1. Alex Moran - 7 years ago

    My theory based on nothing but wishful thinking is that iOS (10) is going to significantly enhance the iPad and thus might bring these changes. Cook keeps reiterating that max and ios will not confluence leading me to think that a more specialized version of iOS has been in the works since development of iPad pro started. What we have now is iPad Pro Beta
    Then again, we could get nothing major out of the next iOS

    • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

      There shouldn’t be any doubt that iOS will continue to mature and evolve into something anyone can use for anything. It just takes time.

      • taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

        iPad has historically neglected with iOS updates. It took Apple 2 years before for split screen apps were released after appearing in a beta. Apple needs to keep the iPhone centric and api’s updates at WWDC and then late winter early spring iPad oriented update.

        I’m thinking padOS is sounding better and better. Apple doesn’t and hasn’t tailored iOS to the iPad’s. It doesn’t take 5-6 years to take advantage of the extra screen space, the extra power of the chips and other things that can make an iPad a production device instead of mostly consumption device.

      • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

        I disagree about tailoring iOS for iPads, and I think some people believe this because it didn’t change dramatically when the screen got larger. iOS is purposely designed to work on basically any display size…at least since iOS 7 – present.

        And split screen appeared when it did, because the hardware was capable of running two iOS Apps perfectly at the same time.

    • rnc - 7 years ago

      There’s nothing needed in the OS department.

  2. Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

    “First, pro apps are expensive, and users want to satisfy themselves that they are worth the money before they pay. Free trials are the usual way to achieve this with desktop apps, but the App Store doesn’t allow them to offer the same option for iOS apps”

    Um wait. I’ve bought a whole bunch of BigFish games that are free to try then pay to unlock. Why is that different ?

    • During trial period, were you able to try out all features? I guess that is critical. How could you say Photoshop is worth the money if you could’t try out the whole package.

      • Brian - 7 years ago

        For that matter, how could anyone that isn’t using it 24/7 say that photoshop is worth the money?

      • rnc - 7 years ago

        In-app-purchases are just that. Unlock features.

    • zboska - 7 years ago

      Not the same thing. Games that are lacking features but you pay to unlock a few more or remove ads are not the same as what’s being requested. They want to launch a fully functional app as a trial. The games you’re referring to are not trials that will go away after a certain period. They just have features that can be unlocked later. Apple won’t allow devs to put out a full app as a trial. Devs don’t want to have a pay to unlock method. They want all the features unlocked at the start, but will go away of the customer doesn’t pay after a period.

    • rnc - 7 years ago

      I also think that, quite stupid. You can make a “demo” app for iOS, and then unlock the final version that can really save, or print/export with IAP.

  3. vkd108 - 7 years ago

    Amateur iPad Pro (until further notice)

  4. rogifan - 7 years ago

    I wonder how many developers we’re really talking about here. It often seems like one or two developers speak out on something and the tech press turns it into major crisis. Oh and The Verge is way late to the party on this story. Sorry Nilay, you haven’t uncovered anything that hasn’t been discussed before.

    • lkrupp215 - 7 years ago

      Apple is Doomed™

      • Brian - 7 years ago

        Doomed I tells ya!

    • mahmudf2014 - 7 years ago

      But no matter what, these are issues and they needed to be get resolved. This is can be a small step for Apple but for developers it could be a big one.

    • Fair amount actually. We often have to kill a product idea or de-scope a project do to the App Store polices. I can’t name a developer that hasn’t faced at least one issue with Apple’s App Store policies (for better or worse).

      As a developer I do think they need to loosen some of them, for example I can’t create an IDE for the iPad that executed dynamic code. This restriction rules out an iPad Pro for a developer. I agree that some of the policies need to be in place but for things like productivity and creativity I think Apple needs to come up with a better model or way and not just say no to it all.

  5. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    Apple may tweak policies but I don’t expect radical changes. Developers need to get creative with in-app purchases and subscriptions. Maybe someone wouldn’t pay $99 without trying but would they pay $10 for a 30-day subscription and then $89 for a 23-month subscription?

  6. PMZanetti - 7 years ago

    Was not expecting “Free Trials” or “Paid Upgrades” to be the substance of this article.

  7. nemesisprime - 7 years ago

    Several apps on the Mac App Store do this:

    App is free with a time limit and after time trial, you either cut off access to the app or limit the features (aka a free version). Want the full version forever? In-app purchase.

  8. tonywmd23 - 7 years ago

    They can make up for some level of this issue with in-app purchases. But not all. There might be a specific pro app segment in the app store when iOS10 comes out, where the policies are tailored to the need of pro software developers.

  9. mad1at35 - 7 years ago

    I agree with the lack of a trial, but I take some issue with the impossibility of charging for upgrades.

    Skysafari Pro, a brilliant but expensive iPad app, costs for existing users when a new full version comes out. In other words when we moved from v4 to v5, for example, those using v4 had to purchase v5.

    I seem to remember the developers offered it at a lower price for the first few days (and altered existing users) so that anyone upgrading straight away didn’t pay full cost.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 7 years ago

      Yeah, I think that’s the issue – you have to charge the same to new and existing customers, and the only way around that is a quiet launch where you alert existing users.

      • mad1at35 - 7 years ago

        Perhaps I’m just being pedantic! I agree with what you say that it makes it difficult to offer an indefinite upgrade to existing users, I’m just demonstrating its not impossible even in the current rules, just needing a bit of creativity to implement.

        Of course when some expensive apps first come out they are often offered at an introductory price ‘for a limited time’!

  10. Like it or not, the subscription model is the way forward for apps with upgrade cycles. The big issue is getting the pricing right. I’d have no problem paying $5-10 a month for Office or Adobe, if I needed it. However, paying that for a fitness app, of which there are several that try and charge this, is just crazy.

  11. telecastle - 7 years ago

    iPad Pro will be relegated to the business, where the Pro apps will be paid for by the enterprise. This product is either a flop or specifically targeted to business. I think it’s probably the latter due to the announcement (that preceded the release of the iPad Pro) of a close collaboration on the app development between Apple and IBM as well as between Apple and Cisco.

    • telecastle - 7 years ago

      I know one thing – I wanted to like the iPad Pro and I was prepared to buy it, but after having tried it for 30 minutes at an Apple store (together with the Smart Keyboard cover and the Apple Pencil), I found no compelling reason to own this device whatsoever. The only really compelling reason for me to buy such a device would be if it could run both iOS and OS X.

  12. D (@derekknight) - 7 years ago

    Make your case to Apple to add the desired features to the app store. I suspect Apple will add the features. I’ve found them to be very open-minded. But taking a dump on the iPad Pro in a tantrum is a guaranteed way to never get my money. You know, back in the late 80’s we had to buy software in boxes with NO guarantee we’d like it and no possibility of a return. I think the App Store has done a very good job at catering to both customers and developers. It’s not perfect, but bemoaning to the press in a most ungrateful and childish manner the very system that has made many developers VERY wealthy is insanity. With regard to paid upgrades, I think it’s often abused. Many desktop app developers use security issues and OS upgrades as a way to force (yes force) customers to re-purchase apps (with minimal changes) over and over. I hope this model never lands on iOS. If you do a ton of (real) work to your app, tangent off a new title and sell it that way, but don’t expect customers to pony up so you can buy a new car every year.

    • eswinson - 7 years ago

      In the ’80s, it was quite common to go to a computer store and get a hands on demo of software and even a 30 day eval on disk with a temporary key. If you were buying big ticket items like AutoCad, Digital Darkroom or the first Adobe products this was quite normal. Shareware also became common for smaller programs, games and utilities and you could either pick up apps on disk form your local computer store or computer club or even download them form CompuServe or AOL.

  13. Jeff Harmon (@jahartis) - 7 years ago

    Well thats shocking. I guess Affinity Photo & Design and Clip Studio Paint proffessional apps will have even less competition than I orginally thought. The sad truth about developers is this, there really a dime a dozen these days. What one refuses to do only leaves a bigger opening for people willing too.

    • dwsolberg - 7 years ago

      Yes, that’s why most apps are worth a dime a dozen unless they’re made by a big company or it’s a game. Developers are asking for a way to make full-featured productivity apps on the iPad. That’s had to do at a dime a dozen.

  14. SKR Imaging - 7 years ago

    iOS 9 was developped first and foremost for the iPad Pro… It added features users were longing for… Hopefully iOS 10 will further this mindset and open the app store to trial versions and allow paid upgrades.

    Apple needs to listen to the ones making the iOS ecosystem what it is: the developers.

  15. applegetridofsimandjack - 7 years ago

    Why does Apple need to take 30% of every purchase. 30% is huge… I think 15% would be a fair.

    • Markus (@jokey2k) - 7 years ago

      Issue at hand is that those stores re-selling these charging cards need actual cards to sell and want some money for shipping them. Sometimes we can buy them 20% off, so I think Walmart and whatnot in turn only pay like 78% when acquiring them from apple (so they can have 2% for cash handling). Same applies to paypal selling them to 15% off. Rest of 8% is to apple for keeping manpower and pay hardware all over the world.

    • Brian - 7 years ago

      OR, for that matter, why do all the other “app stores” that came in it’s wake charge just as much?

    • eswinson - 7 years ago

      that 30% is also paying for your license of Xcode and all those frameworks it provides for development of your app.

  16. Robert - 7 years ago

    They argue
    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.”

    I question this argument. By supporting iOS they open up their potential customer base and reducing the price will greatly increase volume. Many non pro users like to sketch but would not pay $100 dollars when a cheaper app will do what they want but a great many of these same non pro users would pay $10 for a truly great sketching app. Increased sales volume also means more people to demo or recommend the app to their friends. My point is – a sketching app is not a niche! It’s only a niche because it’s $100. The question is would reducing the price by an order of magnitude increase volume by a greater order of magnitude? I believe it will, if the product is truly great.

    • auntietroal - 7 years ago

      It doesn’t, though. We have years of evidence on this now. Users do not flock to low-cost apps. They only flock to free apps (if they actually find them at all).
      It’s been a dramatic race-to-the-bottom for the last 8 years, with developers constantly undercutting each other in prices under the hope that users will buy their app if it is cheaper. Unfortunately, sales generally don’t increase nearly enough to offset the lower prices. A developer only takes in $2 on a $2.99 app sale, and even a single person company has to sell a *lot* of copies at that price every day to make a living.

      Developers want trial versions so that they can invest in apps and charge what the apps are truly worth. Users won’t pay up front for something they don’t trust. This ends up being bad for everyone, as developers can’t risk investing time and long term effort on apps when any payoff is very unlikely. Everyone gets stuck with shallow, cheap apps that aren’t built to do much or last long.

      The overall feeling in the dev community is very grim right for the last year or two. Many people are dropping out because Apple is not delivering the types of improvements listed in this article.

  17. Hanley Leung - 7 years ago

    i’m sorry as an IOS developer I just find this article to be wrong.
    1) you can release your app for free and make a portion of your features locked behind IAP or with a limited amount of times they can use it before they need to pay or limited by amount of time.
    2) you can again, lock off a bunch of your features to subscription buyers only which apple already supports.

    this article is really unfairly trying to portray apple as not helping the app developers.

    • Milorad Ivović - 7 years ago

      I get the feeling that developers are trying to squeeze apple to lower their 30% take, by going public with reasons why they won’t port their OSX apps to iOS. You’re absolutely right in that time limits are supported, which is really all that’s required in this case.

      A base set of very boring free features, and the rest of the suite unlocked for 30 days, which then goes inactive unless you pay. Those who won’t pay are left with “view mode” similar to how microsoft’s office apps work unless you’re paid up. There’s no reason they can’t do it.

      As for paid upgrades, the current system seems to work okay for many developers. It’s a bit clunky, but there’s nothing stopping them from releasing an upgrade as a separate app. That way, if they want to be good citizens, they can keep providing security patches (if necessary) for their older version, for users who have old devices on older versions of iOS. If they don’t want to do that, they can just pull it from the store. Seems like this method gives developers (and customers) more options.

      • auntietroal - 7 years ago

        In my years of following the indie app dev community, almost no one complains about the 30% cut. That’s a concern of the big successful free-to-play game vendors and the like who want to squeeze more profit.

        If you are only selling 5 to 10 copies a day of a $2.99 app, it doesn’t make much difference if Apple takes $0.50 or $1 per sale. The problem is the sale count.

        And not every app type lends itself to trial ware, and Apple also restricts what devs can do in that regard.

  18. modeyabsolom - 7 years ago

    Oh dear, this could be a major barrier for Apple’s iPad Pro being taken seriously in such circles. And one of the major justifications for its existence in the first place. I really hope Apple are taking note of this.

  19. bonaccij (@bonaccij) - 7 years ago

    If you think about it, this argument could actually help them in the long run. I think it is quite fair to say that Apple has actually made it MORE POSSIBLE for developers to make money in the App Store than not. I see it this way. Take an app that is specifically for drawing – whatever the app is – and for FREE, give them a blank canvas and a pencil tool ONLY. Then you can have In-App Purchases for more tools (maybe a set-watercolor – paint brushes – whatever) to push it up to a mid-tier offering. Have another In-App purchase for unlocking, maybe, different papers. But the biggy, is if they want to be able to save it in any other format that a low quality jpeg or something, they have to pay the full price – PERIOD. I think that is more than generous enough for real people to get a try at a piece of software without having to pay full price and then offering In-App purchasing for more cash to the developer. Heck, you might even make MORE money, as many may just see the need to go that “Mid-Tier” route… there are ways to do this and be effective. It’s really just a matter of being creative with how you offer your services.

  20. modeyabsolom - 7 years ago

    As Alex Moran mentioned at the beginning of this thread, iOS 10 might be key here. Turning the iPad Pro via upgrades like a true bonifide file system and other features, maybe unique to the iPad Pro, into a truly viable professional machine and laptop replacement. Here’s hoping but like Alex, I’m not holding my breath!

  21. Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

    The one thing I do suggest is that people not write off the iPad Pro for what it can and cannot do right now. It’s a very new product that has to grow up. I’m definitly going to get one, in a couple of years when they have this App thing sorted out, and availability is better, and we’re at iOS11 which can handle the capability of the device more effectivly. Remember, the original iPhone was limited too. The original iPad ran mostly iPhone apps at 2X. The original Mac when it arrived was limited by RAM and Apps. Two years later the products werre all much better.

    Don’t write the iPad Pro off because of gestational issues.

  22. RP - 7 years ago

    The device has been out a week. As of right now it’s all anecdotal. Let’s see where things are in 6 months. The market goes like this, if someone thinks they can make money on something they will give it a shot. Let’s see. Remember, the Adobe subscription model itself is the developer saying that things were not working. Less and less people were paying to upgrade. The market for windows machines is down and dwindling and that’s a bigger problem for this “big developers”
    Let’s see if they feel this way in six months, a year as people continue to jump to ios and android for most of their computing needs. The problem is bigger than they let on, everyone is feeling the digital disruption. With web collaborative tools that are more or less platform agnostic like Google Docs, Drop Box, Netflix. To subscription models that the MS Office Suite or Adobe office suite. To the growth of Android and iOS. There is a lot of change going on. The music industry is feeling it, the cable industry is feeling it, the software industry is feeling, the hardware industry is feeling. And we will see how it goes, Developers “saying” they will not embrace is one thing, but the market talks and bullshit walks,.If they don’t, that only opens the way for someone else to take the market from them where they won’t. Maybe some can afford to see money on a table and walk away from it, but someone else may see that and go “yoinks!”
    That’s the way it works.

  23. Stephen Hagans - 7 years ago

    I’m pretty sure you can fudge the same functionality with inApp purchases no? Give limited functionality for free version or expiration date on full version until paid.

    • auntietroal - 7 years ago

      Apple explicitly forbids expirations in app review.

    • barthrh (@barthrh) - 7 years ago

      I believe you’re right. Why not give people a limited supply of “trial credits” that are used as you try the software. You can buy more credits, or buy “unlimited credits” for $99. Done. The big disadvantage here is that in-app purchases are not subject to family sharing (which should be corrected for purchases that are not exhaustible).

  24. taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

    This no different then the Pro apps and most first party developers not having apps in the apps store of OS X. That store is a barren waste land. Major developers are not going to sell their apps at 30% discount through Apple’s stores.

    That is the problem I see with a convergence device. Users are used to The iOS App Store and having a plethora of apps. You’ll find some games their, but as far as professional apps they are not on the OS X store.

    This needs to be addressed for OS X and iOS. The app and music business for Apple is supposed to be about seeking devices and making Apoles’s walled garden a great experience for everyone. As long as Apple makes enough from music and apps to pay for their servers and costs of hosting the data they should call it a day. 5He developers have to see the costs of Apple hosting their apps and see what it would cost them to host the apps themselves. Apple should be running on break even from software sells. I think if Apple can show what it takes to break even on sales then developers should negotiate that percentage.

    • how about a second option – bring Gatekeeper to iOS but for iPad only. That way developers who want to build a sustainable business developing Pro apps, can sell it outside the App Store. And with Gatekeeper Apple can still require sandboxing, have mandatory code signing, and have the power to nuke apps that abuse security / privacy.

  25. Charlie Shi - 7 years ago

    Why not release a free app for trials like games do? Also, iterations can be made into new apps as well, and you can make money that way. Anyone who doesn’t upgrade will lose continued support. Game developers have found the solution years ago. Just look at Gameloft.

  26. Isitjustme - 7 years ago

    Sad to say this guy is really challenged.

    “Animoto founder and CEO Brad Jefferson says […] the company is holding off, for now, on making a version of the app optimized for the large screen or the accessory Pencil of the iPad Pro […] “Let’s see what adoption of the Pro ends up looking like.”

    Naturally only a handful of pro apps will slow the adoption of the iPad pro but if there is an abundance of pro apps the adoption rate will go thru the roof.

    Perhaps he knows his app will not be widely use hence this excuse.

  27. I feel for developers, but non-paid upgrades are what truly encourage people to purchase an app. In app purchases is a good way to combat that, but crucial app features should not be offered as a secondary purchase because then people will feel they were tricked into paying for a “free to play” app.

  28. charilaosmulder - 7 years ago

    Summary. We need:
    1. Free trials
    2. Paid upgrades

  29. Brian - 7 years ago

    Apple will not create separate “pro” policies, that is absurd.

    Fact of the matter is, cheap software promotes platforms. Even really terrible ones (DOS) in the face of much better (classic Mac) systems. It works for iOS, too. There is MORE and BETTER software for iOS than android. No question (in my mind at least). This is not an accident.

    Apple is driving down the cost of software.

    Devs expect to “make a living” (and support 15 employees) on one app. That’s unreasonable, unless the software is really awesome and popular.

  30. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    In app purchases… There are many that offer a basic version of their software and you can upgrade to the ‘pro’ version via in app purchases…

    • charilaosmulder - 7 years ago

      That’s a one time purchase, which is not sustainable. There should be an option to pay for a major version update with new features, otherwise stay with the old version.

      Tweetbot and Sketch kind of do this, but they have to submit their new versions as new paid apps and remove their older versions from the store.

  31. This is the real problem. Without Adobe After Effects and Illustrator, Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5, an iPad can’t even begin to replace my laptop. I’m not trying to moan, that’s just the way things are and why I chose a MacBook Pro. If an iPad *could* do the other things, I’d probably have gone for an iMac + iPad setup.

  32. Also, can’t developers currently put two apps on the store: A full version that costs money and a “Free” version that works for 30 days? Then, each year when a major update comes out, release a new app?

    So you’d have Photoshop 2015 which Adobe would take off the store next year, when Photoshop 2016 was released? It would still work on devices if you had paid for it, but you could upgrade?

  33. ikimclint - 7 years ago

    Invalid concerns. No.1: You can have in-app purchase to unlock the full feature set. And, disable the app after X days after first opening the app. #2: make a separate app for a new version that requires purchase. These concerns are just excuses to me.

  34. Don’t do subscription, either with Adobe or Microsoft, since I find buying an app costly enough little alone having to pad their bottom line with subscriptions.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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