No such thing as a free app... so pay up if you want quality

8 Apr 2014

Two weeks after Microsoft unveiled Office for iPad, Adobe has today launched Lightroom for iOS 7. While the two releases do quite different things, they follow the same "gotcha" business model: unless you subscribe to the companies' premium services (Office 365 for Microsoft, Creative Cloud for Adobe), they're limited to viewing rather than editing.

Indeed, Adobe goes one step further, explicitly saying that Lightroom for iPad is purely for subscribers to its services.

There will, inevitably, be a backlash about this. But this comment from stephen_d_morris, on our news story covering the release of Lightroom mobile, resonated with me: "There are many many hours of highly skilled professional development going into these products. To expect them for free is crazy. If you like doing work for free let me know, my shower needs cleaning and my lawn mowing." Well put, Stephen!

If you like doing work for free let me know, my shower needs cleaning and my lawn mowing

People don't really expect things to be free, though. They just expect them to be available for a one-off cost. Look at the reams of criticism Word for iPad has received on the iTunes App Store, where nearly half of its 838 reviewers have given it a one-star rating: "Useless without a subscription," writes nayrn; "Waste of time unless you already have Office 365," writes mykola87. "Haha. No" says Appteste3333.

I disagree. Sure, if it's a one-off app that requires a small team to develop it, then a small, one-off cost feels reasonable. Some developers will be well rewarded as tens of thousands of people pay for a download... others less so.

For big companies such as Microsoft and Adobe, it isn't realistic to expect a high-quality piece of software, that dovetails with the rest of their platform, to be available for a one-off cost. The time and investment required to make Office 365 and Creative Cloud a reality is massive, and while it's certainly true that Microsoft and Adobe aren't poverty-stricken, both companies have shareholder expectations to meet - and that means making the most of their assets.

Paying serious money for serious software isn't new. It's just a shift in how things were done. I for one wouldn't want to go back to 1994 when it cost £430 to buy Office 4.3 Pro. Isn't it time we all grew up and accepted that this is the new way of doing business?

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