With each new iteration, technology makes the status quo look its age. Nothing dates faster than the introduction of a younger model. ‘New’ carries with it an expectation of faster, better, brighter, lighter but it’s hard to separate the substantially improved ‘wheat’ from the marketing hype ‘chaff’.
New can also mean a retrograde step in functionality, temporarily on the promise that the bugs will get worked out. How long are we expected to wait for normal service to be restored? My new phone carries Android 8 Oreo. Several apps I use regularly don’t work well with Android 8 - LastPass I’m looking at you given that you tripled the price for my last renewal - but it’s the apps that don’t work at all that really cause issues. Some kind of form field bug seems to affect the taxi app I use, rendering it incapable of booking taxis. “Pick up the phone” you say, and you’d be right, but now the voice channel carries a small but measurable financial impediment. In a few months time, most Android phones will be on Oreo, but when developers don’t patch their apps for weeks or months function suffers. Most mobile app revenues are based on one-off payments, so the only incentive for the developer to patch is to access new customers on the new platform. They’d have every right not to patch at all!
The social contract around software is changing. I paid £140 for Quickbooks 2004. At the time the expectation was that it would last a few years, unless I wanted the latest features. That amortized to about £50 per year based on a fairly pessimistic 3 year projection - some users have successfully used it for 14 years! Accounting in small businesses doesn’t seem to change much, which creates challenges to the developer’s business model.
Nowadays Quickbooks costs about £15-47 per month (£225 - £564 / year). I use Quickbooks for about 30 hours per year, which makes that a very expensive subscription. It does its job no better than before. The utility of Quickbooks hasn’t grown substantially, but the proportion of my business’ income spent on it has.
My screen recorder software - Camtasia Studio 8 - doesn’t work with the latest version of Windows. Only the upgrade works, but that costs another $99.50. When I bought the software, I didn’t get a 1 or 2 year subscription. I bought it in perpetuity. There was no warning or limitation placed on the use of the software, so the post-upgrade error messages were a surprise. Had I been told “you’re buying an annual subscription”, I probably would have chosen a competitor. While many large purchases are going monthly (house, car, mobile, etc.), I still favour sweating an asset (or front-loading the cost) where I know I’ll have long-term demand for it because it’s better value.
There are no absolutes here. Developers need to get paid and their maintenance should be funded, but there’s also an obligation on those who make software to be transparent about what we as consumers are buying. The transaction needs to be clear. Muddying that in the interests of securing a sale, only to later reneg on the agreement risks alienating customers.
Platform and major API upgrades that contain breaking changes seem to come with startling regularity. My old iPad has slowed to a crawl with the latest iOS and I can’t get software for my old iPod Touch any more. These devices are in good nick, but they’re rendered useless before their time because the pace of platform change robs them of an old age. One wonders if slowing down a working device is a marketing strategy to force consumers onto the newer model.
There’s a balance to be struck here and it requires collaboration across the software value chain. Consumers, expect to pay for software and a subscription to updates (the £200 + £40/year JetBrains model seems pretty fair). Software developers, charge your consumers properly and be clear about the commitment you’re making, then manage your risk. Platform vendors, invest in your customers’ delight to motivate their forking out for the next big thing. We’ve got to do this together or in 10 years time, the Software Industry may be tarred with the same brush as double-glazing sales.