Should developers charge for updates?

Apple Software Update

In the many hours of software research and reviewing we do at Softonic, one issue that constantly crops-up is that of paid software updates.

Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read complaints by disgruntled users that they are being asked to shell-out yet more cash to update an app.

Currently, developers can charge what they want for any kind of update even if it’s a simple bug fix or security update meaning they’ve got users over a barrel. Of course, in reality, most developers aren’t as unscrupulous as this and usually only charge when they’ve added significant new features to a product.

However, this is where the controversy lies. What constitutes simply a new feature and what constitutes a radically new product? Recent trends suggest that users are becoming increasingly demanding about what should constitute a paid update and how much they’re prepared to pay for it. For example, almost half of all iPod Touch users refused to pay the $5-10 to update to iPhone 3.0. Chikita Research found that:

Despite its hype, iPhone OS 3.0 had very little to offer iPod Touch users. Push notifications? MMS? Tethering? Essentially useless on a device that relies on WiFi for a connection. iPod Touch users are essentially asked to pay for copy/paste, in-app purchases, and the ability to buy a segment of the latest apps from the app store.

Apple meantime insisted that the update did add new functionality to the iPod Touch in a typical example of how user and developer opinions differ.

This is not an issue to be taken lightly by developers. In the case of the iPod Touch update, one user said he would go as far as to ditch Apple’s products over it:

So, given Apple’s accounting logic, now that my 2-year contract is over, they should start charging me for upgrades? I don’t think they would dare and I think they should not be treating Touch’s [sic] any differently. This is why I am seriously considering a switch to one of the new Android phones.

But while Apple may be able to survive the odd defection or two, when it comes to relatively small developers who create much of the software we review on Softonic, the consequences could be far more severe, especially when there are often free alternatives that do pretty much the same job.

What really surprises me about user opinions on software however is how demanding they can be. I’ve read about people up in arms over a reasonably priced upgrade to a product they’ve been happily using for years. They seem to forget that the software developing world is incredibly competitive with many open source projects prepared to trump everyone by offering their products for free.

So if a developer creates a genuinely useful application that you regularly use and requests a modest payment for upgrade, is it really too much for them to ask to reward them for the many hours of development they’ve put into it?

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