Another disruption in the Apple universe today, as the text editor Ulysses went from being a regular paid app to a subscription app/service. The response followed a familiar pattern:

  1. Users exhausted from trying to keep track of their other subscriptions to software and websites and podcast networks and streaming services and God-knows-what-else grumbled. (And there was at least one raised eyebrow about the elevated cost of the subscription.)
  2. Bloggers who reliably support developers wrote their usual posts about sustainability, the lack of upgrades in the App Store, and how developers need to make a living if we’re to have decent software on our devices. The text of this evergreen post would make a good TextExpander fill-in snippet—assuming you have subscription.

I don’t have a dog in this particular hunt. I don’t use Ulysses and didn’t plan to even before the pricing change. If I were a Ulysses user, I’d do my best to figure out what it’s worth to me—including the direct and (especially) indirect costs of switching to a new text editor—and try to make a rational decision based on the world as it exists now, not the world as it existed yesterday or the world as I wish it to be.

If I were interested in Ulysses but hadn’t yet given it a try, I might see the subscription service as a positive. Ulysses used to cost $45 for the Mac and $25 for iOS. Now I could give both versions a good, solid two-month trial for $10. If they don’t fit my way of working, I walk away $60 ahead and knowing exactly why I shouldn’t continue the subscription. This is the sort of in-depth knowledge you don’t typically get with the common 7- or 14-day trials.

Looked at this way, subscription software can save users money, especially for serious productivity software, which need extended use to assess their value. Of course, the savings only come if you drop the subscription, which isn’t great for developers, but hopefully they’ll make it up with people for whom their app is a good fit.

Another place where subscriptions can be a boon to users is with software you need only intermittently—a few times a year, maybe. Obviously, this works only if the developer allows short-term subscriptions, but most seem to.

Early last year, I started a subscription to Microsoft Office. I hate Office, but I needed it for a couple of projects where I was going to be getting more than a few Word documents from a client. I figured I’d drop the subscription when the project was done. Then I started working on a regular series of projects in which Excel documents were the lingua franca, and I went ahead and switched to a yearly subscription. It pains me to send any money to Microsoft, but as long as these sorts of projects continue, the $100/year is worth it.

As a counter-example, the Omni Group uses regular pricing for the iOS version of OmniGraffle. I bought it a few months ago, have tried using it on several drawings, and it just doesn’t work for me. With a Pencil on the iPad Pro, OmniGraffle should be a delight, but I’ve had to quit each drawing in frustration and switch to OmniGraffle on the Mac (which I still love) so I could finish them. I haven’t deleted OmniGraffle from my iPad yet, but I don’t expect to use it again. I could have saved some money with a short-term subscription.