Apps that I would subscribe to

In addition to my thoughts about subscriptions, I was inspired by Jeff Mueller to think about which apps might still make my cut if they jumped to a subscription model.1

My current subscriptions

First off, here are my current subscriptions that are related to apps or services on my iPhone:

  • iCloud: Why doesn't Apple just give away storage for free? Do we still have to live in times when storage considerations are necessary? Free unlimited iCloud storage would be a differentiating factor for iOS and a true lock-in for the ecosystem.
  • Dropbox: Works mostly as a backup for my iOS photos as well as my digital file drawer. My paperless office is not yet based on iCloud. With further improvements to iCloud, however, I could see myself moving away from Dropbox in a near future.
  • YNAB: It was one of the forerunners of the current subscription debate and as I went progressively iOS-only, sticking with YNAB 4 was no longer an option for me. Whatever you say about YNAB 5 as a subscription app, it has helped me get a grip of my monthly budget and I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. This is a huge win.
  • Apple Music: I was quick to switch from Spotify with the initial release of Apple Music, mostly because Apple Music had the better catalogue for the more obscure stuff that I listen to. I am somewhat frustrated about the fact that Apple Music's data usage still draws from my monthly plan, while Spotify offered a special carrier arrangement. Also, I use Siri less often than I intended to because it still doesn't bridge the language gap between English and German.2
  • Netflix: I hardly ever use it on iOS, but mostly on Apple TV.
  • Amazon Prime: Not so much for the additional entertainment services, but for the free shipping which probably does pay for itself.3
  • Overcast: I am still a patreon. I love the dark theme which uses the San Francisco font. I suppose, Overcast will be one of the first apps to jump to a subscription model.

Apps that would have to go

Now, let's take a look at apps that I would potentially stop using if they switched to subscription pricing:4

  • Overcast: I have become an Overcast patreon to support the ongoing development of the app. However, within the context of subscription triage, the unique selling positions of Overcast (Smart Speed, Voice Boost, speedy sync) are becoming less important to me. The Smart Speed statistics never showed up on my iPhone, anyway, so I am not clear on what I would really miss. These days, I am back to listening at 1x to most shows and Apple's Podcast app would probably do the job just fine.
  • Fantastical: I'd be sad to see it go as TextExpander snippets and natural language input greatly speed-up my calendar management, but the standard Calendar app has also come a long way.
  • Reeder & Feedly: I would probably question RSS in itself and go back to Safari instead.
  • Spark & Airmail5: Apple Mail, then. I'm glad I don't get much email. 
  • Scanner Pro: It has obviated my dependence on a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i. Most likely, I could go by with plain JPGs instead of scans because I usually don't perform OCR-related actions on my scanned documents. 
  • Waze: Apple Maps gets me pretty far already. I use Waze mostly for its traffic updates. Maps will probably get better in the future in this regard, even though slowly.
  • My photosuite consisting of VSCOPixelmator and Metapho: I have high hopes for the future of I could only let go of these apps because I take a lot of pictures on my Fuji X100T and not only on my iPhone which requires less post-processing on my part. 
  • Streaks: I am using Streaks to outsource habits I want to form from my main task management system. I could see myself integrating these, though.
  • PillowI use this app daily to track my sleep. I have learned a lot from it about what influences the quality of my sleep, so much that I can go by without its help now. 
  • Notability & Goodnotes: If sees further improvements, the additional benefits of these two are marginal to me.
  • Weather apps: I am currently using AccuWeather Platinum. I would stop using it.7
  • Ulysses: Sad story. I love this app, but Drafts is becoming my main text editor and I could go by without Ulysses.
  • Social media: Finally, a new reason to look for other channels of interpersonal communication.
  • Messaging apps: Everybody is on Whatsapp, these days. I still prefer iMessage whenever it is applicable and hope it catches up in iOS 10.

Probable subscriptions

Even though I want as few subscriptions as possible, I would consider subscribing if these apps went for it:

  • Drafts: It's more and more becoming the only place for textual interaction on my phone. Recently, I started using it as my main text editor and I hardly ever find myself needing another writing app.
  • 2do: My task management app of choice since I switched from OmniFocus as half the Internet did. There is no going back to a based system.
  • 1Password: Only to be questioned by a thorough overhaul of iCloud Key Chain.
  • Workflow: Oddly enough, I mostly use it as a health tracker. For any serious consideration of iOS as a main operating system, though, it's a must-have. 
  • Copied: It's possible to emulate its functionality in Drafts, but as you can only run one instance of an app in split screen multitasking, going without Copied diminishes my productivity when I need it. It has also become my TextExpander replacement to some extent.
  • Splitwise: Not a lot of talk about this longstanding staple of mine on the Internet. However, my girlfriend and I are using it daily to keep track of our joint expenses and it saves us the awkward discussion on who is paying for what next. 
  • PDFexpert: No better way to work with PDFs.
  • Stronglifts 5x5: This app is a great, no-BS help in becoming stronger.

I am using Bobby as a tracker for my subscriptions on iOS. I bet I'll have to use it more frequently in the near future. 

  1. For the sake of this argument, I will focus on frequently used apps that I work with at least once a week.  ↩︎
  2. It's too awkward to pronounce the English names of artists in a phonetic German version. ↩︎
  3. I did stream Fear the Walking Dead from Prime Video to my Apple TV, though. ↩︎
  4. It's not that I don't like these apps. They do solve problems for me in a big manner, but if I had to subscribe to them, I could most likely find a simpler alternative. ↩︎
  5. Still not fully decided, but I lean more heavily towards Spark these days. Airmail is just too buggy. ↩︎
  6. Raw support?  ↩︎
  7. The margin of error in weather forecasting is still too great, anyway. ↩︎

Subscription Overload

To be honest, I am already subscribed to too many services. I have been trying to cut back on this ever growing list of subscriptions and reevaluate my workflows for quite some time now. Strangely, I find more value these days in unsubscribing from services and replacing them in favor of a simpler solution. That doesn't happen simply out of financial reasons. Every additional subscription adds its quantum of general stress to my system.

Remember that gym membership you signed up for but never went? Or those unused Audible credits you accumulated last year? How do you feel about these?

There is something implicit about subscriptions that has the subscriber eventually overpay. For a lot of my subscriptions, the value I got from the product, didn't keep up with the money I spent over time. As most people don't keep an organized budget, the net result of more subscriptions is an increase in financial burden and liabilities.

Subscriptions tend to be sticky. While it's easy to subscribe, it is somehow harder to unsubscribe.

With the expected changes to the App Store whereby any app1 will supposedly be able to implement subscription pricing, it's possible that we'll see more developers try to jump on the subscription train as sustainable development is a struggle.

From the viewpoint of developers, why not have recurring income for ongoing development? I believe that great software has to have its price, but I am uncomfortable with the prospect of app developers moving at scale to subscription models. Will subscriptions bring a change to the hesitation people have in paying for software? I do pay for the tools I use, but a subscription makes me think twice about whether I really want to continue with a service.With the recent debate around TextExpander 6, it appears as if I am not alone in my doubts about app subscriptions.

In the end, a service is just a service and an app is just an app. Hardly any software solution is so vital that it couldn't be replaced by or integrated into a simpler framework.

Switching task managers, email clients, calendar apps, text editors and podcast clients has hardly ever made me more productive. If anything, it has been a time sink for a procrastinating nerd. Subscriptions in apps will probably increase the temptations to toy around with software and make it more difficult to resist the allure of app marketing. Does this help me in getting things done?

One could argue that the option of free trials makes it easier to settle on solutions that best suit your needs. But perhaps, instead of opting in, it may be better to opt out.

Within recent months, I have moved away from Evernote which has been the backbone of my paperless office for years. I unsubscribed from Adobe Creative Cloud and unified my image handling in iCloud Photo Library. I have cancelled several news media subscriptions (print and digital) in favor of blogs and indie publishers. I also deleted a whole bunch of apps. This has given me more clarity about my tools and their strengths, even though I may be missing out on the latest and greatest updates.

There are still several redundancies in my system, but I intend to make it even more consolidated and unified. I am willing to make compromises on features if it is for a simpler, less sticky and more streamlined overall solution. For this, I will probably not follow down the subscription route.

  1. Any app? ↩︎

Motion Stills

A new Google app lets you create looping GIFs from your Live Photos. Looking at the coverage, I feel like this is what Live Photos were supposed to be from the get go. I like Live Photos but a lot of mine are just too shaky. Motion Stills seems to be a better take on Live Photos just like Hyperlapse is a better take on Time Lapse videos. However, I haven't transported my photos over to Google Photos, yet. These days, I prefer unification over segregation between services. Instead of using iCloud, Google, Dropbox, Adobe CC and external hard drives combined to store my pictures, I now just keep everything in iCloud and it's working fine. Furthermore, I feel like the search queries that are possible with Google Photos don't solve a pressing problem for me. I rather have the seamless integration with iOS that comes with iCloud Photo Library.

  1. If only RAW support on iOS would become a thing at WWDC. ↩︎