On The Omni Group, the Mac App Store and Paid Upgrades

Ken Case:

My apologies: I’m afraid we will not be able to offer upgrade pricing to our Mac App Store customers after all. So long as we continue to sell our apps through the Mac App Store, we are not allowed to distribute updates through other channels to apps which were purchased from the App Store.

The program Case is referring to was called OmniKeyMaster. Here’s what it did:

OmniKeyMaster is a simple app that finds App Store copies of Omni apps installed on your Mac, then generates equivalent licenses from our store – for free. This gives Mac App Store customers access to discounted pricing when upgrading from the Standard edition to Professional, or when upgrading from one major version to the next. Another benefit: since they don’t have to wait in an approval queue, our direct releases sometimes get earlier access to new features and bug fixes. OmniKeyMaster lets App Store customers access those builds, as well.

The Mac App Store inherited the lack of upgrade pricing from the iOS App Store. Of course, the Mac’s ability to install software from third-parties means users and developers are used to far more freedom than Apple allows in the Store.

While I think Apple should add upgrade pricing to both App Stores, it’s downright ridiculous that Mac developers are expected to ship updates for free.

Here’s Case again, from today’s post:

We will continue to ask Apple to support upgrade pricing in the App Store, and I would encourage others to do the same—but until that happens, upgrade pricing will only be available to customers who buy our apps direct from our online store.

I don’t think anyone should be holding their breath on that one.

All that said, Case and company should have foreseen this being a problem. Omni has — for years — charged for upgrades. Did they think Apple would suddenly change their policy? If so, that’s pretty short-sighted and frankly, surprising.

Even if The Omni Group just woke up and realized the situation they were in, they attempted to handle it well. The OmniKeyMaster program seemed easy-to-use for customers, which is critical anytime a “cross-grade” is at play.

While Case doesn’t come out and say that Apple shut OmniKeyMaster down, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines.

It’s important to note that The Omni Group is not the only company that has tried to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to this. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple continues to draw a line in the sand on this topic.

While The Omni Group is probably big enough to walk away from the Mac App Store, a lot of developers are enjoying a level of success in the Store that they couldn’t enjoy without it. Apple shouldn’t use that to strong-arm developers from trying to workaround the system. That puts both Apple and third-party developers in a pretty crappy spot.

Update: Shortly after posting, Ken Case pinged me on Twitter. You can view our conversation here. It’s clear to me after our exchange that The Omni Group knew this would be an issue, but attempted to do right by their App Store customers. Apple should allow them to do so.