Two of the most frequently requested features for the App Store are free trials and paid upgrades. While I agree that it would be great if Apple gave us a convenient way to offer these options to customers, both are possible today. Pixaki now has both a free time-limited trial and a paid for upgrade, and there’s not a single subscription or in-app purchase involved. Here’s how I’ve done it:

Free trials

The Omni Group showed us last year that it was possible to get a time limited free trial through App Store review if the app remains functional after the trial runs out. In their case, the app still functions as a document viewer, and that’s exactly what I’ve done too. The Omni Group’s approach is to offer a single app with in-app purchases used to unlock the full functionality. However, there are a few downsides to using in-app purchases — there’s no support for Family Sharing, no bulk discount for education, an internet connection is required, and it’s quite a lot of work to develop. Instead I decided to release a second app — Pixaki Viewer — that provides the trial functionality, and then prompts the user to buy the full version on the App Store when the trial is over. The app shares all of the documents and settings with the full version, so there’s no migration process to deal with.

I’m certainly not the first person to do this, but paid upgrades using a bundle have worked out really well for me. Existing customers have been very grateful that their loyalty has been recognised, and I’ve had very few issues with it not working or not being obvious enough for people upgrading. It does mean that I need to keep the old app on the App Store for a while to come, but I want to keep doing bug fixes to it anyway, so that’s not too much of a problem. I had some issues initially with setting up the bundle on iTunes Connect before the app had launched — to get round this, I had to release the app then immediately remove it from sale.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how we need to abandon the old pricing models and how everything is moving towards a subscription model, but I just don’t buy that. I think that for the right sort of app, the “old” way of doing things — charging a decent amount for the app, using free trials, and offering upgrade pricing — can work just as well on iOS as it has been working on macOS for decades.