Skip to navigation

PCPro-Computing in the Real World Printed from

Register to receive our regular email newsletter at

The newsletter contains links to our latest PC news, product reviews, features and how-to guides, plus special offers and competitions.

// Home / Blogs

Posted on April 8th, 2014 by Tim Danton

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

Adobe Lightroom for iPadTwo 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?

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted in: Software


Follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “ No such thing as a free app… so pay up if you want quality ”

  1. Chris Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    The problem is the lack of upgrade pricing on the App Store. I’m sure Microsoft and Adobe would let you pay a one-off price for Office / Lightroom if they knew they could easily charge you again for an upgrade at a later date. It probably wouldn’t hurt if Apple didn’t take 30% of every sale either.

    For better or worse, Apple has set the expectation that Apps get updated for free, with the exception of In-App Purchases for new features. Microsoft and Adobe are simply saying that if you want to use their software and continue to receive new features and updates, you need to keep paying them for the privilege.

  2. Tim Danton Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    An excellent point. Developers need to have an incentive to keep updating the software; what happens when the stream of new users starts to run out?

  3. TV John Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I don’t disagree with this point of view at all. The only odd thing here is that you can go out and buy Lightroom for the PC without having to have a subscription to Photoshop, etc. I use DxO myself, but I understand that it’s a pretty useful bit of software. Surely all those standalone Lightroom users are entitled to a bit of consideration?

  4. MatBailie Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    @TVJohn – Those “standalone Lightroom users” still have exactly what they had previously. They’ve lost nothing, they just haven’t gained something others have. What about the poor subscribers without an iPad?

  5. Paul Brasington Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    The subscription model being pushed by MSFT and Adobe is nakedly rapacious – It guarantees them a (high)continuous income stream with no necessary correlation to added value – reflecting the truth that it was getting increasingly difficult to get people to pay for incremental upgrades of little value in mature products. The Office 360 sub is only reasonable if you happen to want all those installations and cloudy stuff (though OneDrive is nowhere near as useful cross platform as Dropbox). I’m certainly very happy to pay for quality in the things I want. I’m not particularly happy to happy these companies for simply existing. I’ve upgrade my copy of Office religiously from 95 to 2013. Won’t be doing it again unless MSFT offers something significantly better.

  6. John Chapman Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Except for something like Office, where people don’t want to move beyond 2003, so the revenue stream starts to dry up. Putting out a desirable upgrade instead of rental might have maintained the revenue stream.

  7. Surefire Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    So much software reached maturity many years ago with only gimmicky or very specialised features being added that a subscription model is the only way companies are going to make money.
    We will probably end up with a situation where a very small number of people pay a very expensive subscription fee and the rest make use of the excellent free, open source, software that has now also reached a point of functional maturity where it easily competes with commercial products for the vast majority of users.

  8. tech3475 Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    For some reason this subscription vs one off situation reminds me of the Xbone DRM disaster last year.

    Both models have their pros and cons but personally I think not to give the option to those who prefer the older model is wrong.

    It could also turn out bad in the long term if they decide to alter the model e.g. higher prices.

  9. martin Says:
    April 8th, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I think the one-star ratings are probably because people see an app listed as ‘free’ only to discover upon installing it that it is not free. I’m sure a little reading would have avoided this disappointment, but most people don’t. So they percieve it as a con, a come-on, a bait-and-switch ploy, and blast it with one star.

  10. Paul Brasington Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 12:44 am

    @surefire makes the necessary point about opensource stuff – LibreOffice has now reached the point where its word processing module at least is nicer to use from day to day than Word, and I feel much more comfortable saving things in ODF than a proprietary format. Now OfficeSuite Pro on Android also supports ODF (and costs only 15 quid – expensive for an Android app but that shows the different world we’re in might not be the one MSFT and Adobe are hoping for)the only reason I maintain an MS Office is installation is to check compatibility (I write for business) before I send formatted documents off to clients – and even there LibreOffice is getting better with every release. I should stress that I’m not anti-Microsoft – I was a loyal Office user for years … but what it’s offering to me as a lone freelancer just doesn’t make sense any more…

  11. David Wright Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Standard model – it is good that MS and Adobe aren’t using the standard model for industry software.

    Most business software consists of an upfront costs, say 20,000UKP plus a monthly/annual “maintenance” fee which is a percentage of the licence costs, say 500UKP.

    In Adobe’s case that would be around 3K for Creative Cloud up front, plus the 69UKP, or whatever it currently is, per month.

  12. David Wright Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 9:09 am

    @Paul I’d disagree, as a long term OO.o and LO user, as well as MS Office, I’d rather use Office 2013 than LO.
    Also “proprietary format”? MS Office hasn’t used a proprietary format as standard since 2007 and Office 2003 can be retrofitted to use OOXML too.

  13. Paul Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I don’t mind paying for software – I appreciate there’s a lot of work goes in to them.

    But I like to buy and app and no have to buy it again and again and again – which is essentially what a subscription is.

    I’d rather be given the option to stick with the old app or buy the new and better app.

    Because maybes its not new and better – in which case I can decide not to pay. This puts pressure on software designers to add features to attract new purchases.

    If you are locked in for life with a subscription then where’s the incentive?

    So its not about wanting free stuff its just about having the choice of if and when I decide to upgrade to the latest version of software.

    But I suppose as others have pointed out much software is now as good as it gets. But instead of forcing us to buy it again and again – how about creating something totally different and selling that instead?

  14. GrayHall Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 9:46 am

    How about developers produce a free (or cheap) light version and then sell ‘feature packs’ that improve functionality. This way they can make money by adding features that people want and would have an incentive to improve their product while people will have a reason to spend more money but get a better product.

  15. Tim Danton Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 10:13 am

    On Twitter, @CraigGrannell made the excellent point that there is a maintenance cost to apps as well – OS updates in particular.

  16. Ian Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 10:31 am

    This argument could equally be applied to those bemoaning the end of support and updates for Windows XP as they paid once, did not pay for a support contract and the OS is no longer for sale.

  17. David Wright Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    @GrayHall isn’t that exactly what the MS Office and Adobe Lightroom apps do? You get basic functionality for free, but to use all the features, you have to buy (rent) the feature pack.

  18. Michael Baldwin Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Is Libra Office as good as MS Office…Possibly not quite as slick.
    Is it good enough of most peoples 90%+ daily usage of an office suite..Most Defiantly!
    Is is cheaper….Oh just a bit :-)
    Will it get better?
    Well with over 1000 developers on board one would hope so.

    Just like Gimp, Libra Office and the online equivalents from Google Etc are going to nail down all but the small professional market.
    Leaving Adobe and Microsoft to scrabble around trying to charge £500 per year by 2020 for subscription usage in the ever shrinking professional market, as they try to keep going.

  19. TV John Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    @MatBailie – Sorry, I should have been clearer. If I was using Lightroom I wouldn’t object to having to pay to unlock the iPad version, but I wouldn’t want to buy a subscription for products I wasn’t using. I was just commenting that it’s a bit odd for Adobe to cut out standalone LR users.

  20. Chatan Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    There are some good alternatives to Office. The Apple iCloud apps are pretty good and they are much cheaper than Office

  21. GrayHall Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    @DavidWright – Yes that’s true but with a rental model you are stuck with all or nothing. As long the devs keep introducing new things that people want then that’s fine. But as has been mentioned before software often matures rapidly and new features can become bloatware. If they have features you can pick and choose then the devs will have to keep making better ‘packs’ in order for people to keep spending money.

  22. Jeff Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 9:35 am

    @TimDanton – On the subject of updates, depends if it is actually an UPDATE or just a fix for something that wasn’t right in the first place.
    Same applies to XP, after 13 years one would hope that any reason for ongoing maintenance has long passed, otherwise it is not fit for purpose (:

  23. Martin Kay Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Of course there are pluses and minuses for subscription models. Many ‘upgrades’ don’t really offer that much in new useability or the new features aren’t required or irrelevant to a users requirements. Of course there are some very expensive bits of 3D software that offer very little in their upgrades, mentioning no names. I think it would be better if the two models were always on offer, otherwise the subscription crowd are a captive audience.

  24. WebDude Says:
    April 10th, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I can understand big developers wanting subscription model, not least because of past piracy denting income (though arguably, if the pricing was lower, then there would be less incentive to seek out pirate copies), and as a programmer for some 30+ years, quite understand the views of authors/ software houses.

    Problems arise, however, when some have a not so flexible approach. For example, I know my sister uses “WhatsApp” for messaging and sending photos. I found it easily enough on the Google store (she uses iPhone, so in this case I was lucky they developed it for both), but then found I could not install it on my tablet as it needs a SIM (to get some authorisation message).

    Now, it has a low annual cost (and the first year is free) but sadly because of this specific SIM situation, I cannot just be contactable with any phone (I have several Androids) but would need me to take out at least 10 subscriptions for the same piece of software (I am assuming), as, unlike Skype or e-mail, I cannot easily use the same account information on multiple devices.

    Of course, there is another ‘problem’ for Android which I’d like to get round – that of Apps I never asked for but only have the option of update not uninstall (eg YouTube, Hangouts, Facebook, daft games, etc). Some are from Google (eg Speech input) while others are thrown in bloat from manufacturers!

  25. David Wright Says:
    April 11th, 2014 at 9:15 am

    @WebDudue the standard Office 365 Home Premium allows for the software to be installed on 5 separate Windows or OS X based PCs and 5 separate mobile devices at the same time, using the same credentials.

    The new “Personal” version is for 1 PC and 1 mobile device.

    I’m not sure on the device restrictions for Lightroom.

    With 3 PCs, a Mac, 2 smartphones and a tablet, the subscription makes a lot of sense, and is good value for money.

    For somebody with 1 PC or 1 tablet and was happy to keep Office 2003 for a decade, it isn’t a good deal.

  26. Andrew Pepper Says:
    April 15th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I think there’s a slight typo in the article which talks about “Microsoft and Apple”’s development cost; I think it should be “Microsoft and Adobe”.

  27. Tim Danton Says:
    April 15th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    @Andrew Pepper – you’re quite right. Thanks, that’s been fixed.

  28. Muck Says:
    April 16th, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Well on Apple devices you do get iWork for free so there is such a thing as a free app. I appreciate that Apple has factored in the cost through the hardware sale but they’re then free for life. That’s why people are complaining. Microsoft cannot compete with that because they have to make money somehow and they didn’t get the hardware sale

  29. John Haynes Says:
    April 17th, 2014 at 9:09 am

    As a Lightroom user on a PC, I am delighted that it is still available as a standalone, “old style upgrade” model. I also will happily use Photoshop CS6 until it no longer cuts the mustard but I will not buy a monthly subscription where my access to the software ceases if I stop paying, that makes no sense for me. For a commercial studio, I can see it working, it is probably far more cost effective for the business than lots of boxed product but for the individual, it makes no sense.

    Yes we should all pay for software but the problem for Adobe and every other software house is that most products ‘mature’ within 3 versions, from there on in, feature bloat and ‘under the hood’ stuff to accommodate hardware/OS upgrades is all there is.

    Unfortunately by the time this point is reached, the software company, its employees and shareholders have become ‘used to a certain lifestyle’ and product improvement alone can’t meet their expectations. Consequently ‘robbing the customer’ via a subscription program is all that is left. A few years back, I subscribed to Autodesk Max, on ceasing my subscription, I still retained the ability to use my ‘last licensed’ version.

  30. David Wright Says:
    April 17th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    @Muck, then they should buy a Surface Pro and ask Microsoft for free updates. ;-)

  31. Mal Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Wait until someone thinks it’s a good idea to charge a monthly fee for the software built into our TVs and PVRs or even the Engine Management Systems on our cars.

    All the people singing the praises on here of monthly subscription, who are employees of those same companies, will be kicking themselves because they did nothing to stop it.

    For me, the deal is: NO MONTHLY FEES – charge a one off fee for the software or don’t bother trying to promote it to me because I’m not going to buy into your rip-off.

  32. Vince Says:
    May 8th, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Some things never change. This article could have been written (and possibly was) ten years ago, perhaps even twenty.

  33. Lucie Kruger Says:
    June 10th, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    yea absolutely right nothing is free of cost….. :( , these are just a marketing line to attract you… and to ful fill there words the provide you a demo version… finaly what after some day it require an update…. then they charge you….


Leave a Reply

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

* required fields

* Will not be published






Your email:

Your password:

remember me


Hitwise Top 10 Website 2010