The Tweetie 2 fiasco: blame it on Apple?
September 29, 2009
The iPhone dramarama wheel landed on Tweetie 2 recently, to the tone of much annoyance regarding the fact that the Tweetie 2 upgrade won’t be free to existing iPhone Tweetie users. That is to say, Tweetie 2 is a totally different program than Tweetie, and as such, will require another $3 purchase for those who want to use the latest Tweetie version. That’s not to say that users of Tweetie will be incapable of still using their Twitter client of choice, merely that the developer, atebits, will clearly be focusing on Tweetie 2 users rather than spending most of their time addressing problems with Tweetie “1”. So naturally, buyers of Tweetie may be a little peeved, since they feel neglected and betrayed, particularly when atebits could offer a discount to existing Tweetie users, or even simpler, make Tweetie 2 a free upgrade instead of a new app (albeit at the cost of atebit’s development time).
Perhaps the hoopla is mainly grounded in the naming of Tweetie 2. Clearly, atebits wants to capitalize on the success of Tweetie, though naming Tweetie 2 something different may not have gotten everone as riled up, since a clearer line would be drawn in the sand. After all, it’d be easier to convince people to buy a new Twitter client than a newer version of a client they already paid for. Sure, the argument against a sense-of-entitlement is a simple one to make: atebits clearly spent a lot of time building Tweetie 2 from the ground up, and as a business, they wants to make money where they can (and not where they can’t, thus the continued free-ness of Tweetie for OS X).
And maybe that’s where the second problem lies: blame it on self-entitlement or not, there’s a reason many Tweetie users are upset: the precedent for major upgrades to iPhone apps (as well as software like Tweetie for OS X), at no cost to previous buyers, was set long ago. Developers of apps like Twittelator Pro, for example, have added just as many features as Tweetie 2 will offer, and arguments of Tweetie 2’s superior useability aside, there are many other apps that have offered iterative, substantial updates over time, at an arguable loss to the developers who continue supporting purchases long after they were made. Now that’s no fault of atebits: they’re clearly trying to break free from the way things are generally being done on the AppStore, in such a way that they can afford to work on iPhone apps full-time, whereas many other developers may simply be working on their apps as a side-job. Neither way is inherently right, it’s just that Tweetie users are used to things moving in a direction that favors their AppStore expenditures.
It’s really not a matter of having to shell out a whole $3 more just for the update. We’d argue that if atebits made Tweetie 2 a free upgrade and kept certain features unlockable only through in-app purchases, that they could more easily convince many dissenters to spend that $3 for fancy new features. But instead, they made a new app, which will probably earn atebits a few more bucks in the long-run (since in-app purchases generally make less than stand-alone products), and though that’s certainly a valid move for a business trying to make some extra moolah, it somehow feels wrong, as though atebits is not being honest to consumers. That’s especially true for people who buy Tweetie today, only to find that their purchase will barely be supported once Tweetie 2 comes out.
So the hoopla is an emotional reaction to a problem not with atebits, but the AppStore process, highlighting yet another deficiency with the AppStore’s mechanism for enabling long-term application support by developers who make a living writing, and maintaining, iPhone apps. The only real fault we can find with atebits is not using the in-app purchase mechanism to support the transition from Tweetie to Tweetie 2, but maybe there’s a legitimate reason that atebits couldn’t go that route. (Any developers want to comment on this?)
Ultimately, if Tweetie 2 offers the same features as Twittelator Pro (with TweetPress support for WordPress), we’ll probably drop another $3, knowing full well that that $3 we spent earlier was effectively thrown away (Tweetie offered too little functionality by the time we picked it up). What we don’t want to see is this kind of practice being repeated again and again, however. Rather, if there’s an obstacle to using in-app purchases to charge for major iPhone app revisions, then Apple needs to address this issue pronto, else this won’t be the first time that app buyers get all up-in-arms over the Tweetie 2 upgrade process. As it stands, the process not only angers consumers, but negatively affects app developers also.
09/30/2009 Update: According to atebit’s response to an inquiry by The iPhone Blog, the in-app mechanism wasn’t appropriate.
If all I were adding were features, then the in-app purchase route would have been an option (but then again, if all I were offering were features, I’d probably release it as a free update). Tweetie 2 is a fresh start, 100% rewritten, shares no code with the original . The only thing they have in common is the name.
That doesn’t entirely answer our question though. Does Apple require a minimum amount of code to be the same between app updates? If not, then Tweetie 2 could have new features enabled with an in-app purchase, despite it being rewritten from the ground-up. Aside from the extra development time needed to include the in-app purchase functionality, is there an Apple-imposed obstacle here?