The changing face of software consumption isn’t something that’s just happened. It’s been something that’s been evolving for as long as software has existed. However we’re now undergoing one of the larger pivotal moments in the way that software is both delivered and consumed.
With recent changes in online technologies, there was much anticipation regarding the role web would play in applications and many dreamed up a euphoric idealism that the world would switch to webapps, as they were naturally cross-platform and cut down the workload and expense of those producing them.
While it’s been argued that such an approach is neither feasible nor in the best interests of consumers. Some have decided to push on with a web-technology-centric strategy to app consumption. Mozilla have reached the Rubicon with Firefox OS (B2G) and have no other recourse but to deliver what they’re contracted to. Even at the detriment of the bigger Mozilla picture. However Facebook, the most popular website on the planet have no such contractual obligations and as such have decided to give up on webapps for mobile in favour of a fully featured native experience.
As it became apparent that everyone knew how to find and download music, Apple successfully rode the momentum with the iTunes and monetised downloading. However, the interesting thing of note was their app store. As per the music industry, the sales of applications was slowing down and while the music industry’s embrace of the internet as a means of delivery was easy, it was thought that the same would be a lot harder for applications. It wasn’t.
With the increased internet speeds worldwide, the shift to digital purchases were always going to be embraced. The question would simply become one of how? How do you sell to consumers and keep them locked in while having the smallest overhead possible? Of course, once again to the rescue is the OS-level application store. However, while that makes delivery but a simple task it doesn’t solve the issue of locking in the user and repeat business is paramount.
This, for all intent and purposes brings us to where we are now. The frailties of the webapp have been highlighted over and over again and while some persist, others have set aside personal ambition and pride in favour of surviving to fight another day. It’s within this chasm of space that the Mozilla Platform should’ve blossomed and dominated. The bridge to the desired-by-some webapp era. The lessons they’d learned with early XUL Firefox put Mozilla in the perfect position to spare others that pain. And for that commercial opportunity, all it would’ve taken is the release of Thunderbird for Android and some standalone Web Developer Tools. However, due to commitments with Firefox OS (B2G), they dropped the ball.
Adobe have probably had the most aggressive start in terms of embracing this modern day model of software consumption. And have targeted students and small businesses alike in their model. Though their rhetoric would have you believe they’re marketing to out-of-touch middle-management. They’ve been bold and opted for the subscription model. Consumers pay a monthly fee and as such can download and install applications. While this means that should they release three versions of their flagship software in a year, you’re quids-in. The issue is that users lose access when they stop their subscription.
There is a better and in fact fairer way however and the question is simply, who will be the first to arrive at it. Software companies, especially large ones, seldom release more than one version (major) of their software a year. Consumers should pay a flat fee for a major version and be given a choice of subscriptions to pay a year. The lower fee would be to support to bugfixes and the higher fee gives you access to any major version that’s released while you’re paying the subscription. If a consumer opts to stop paying the subscription all together the day after a major release, then of course they don’t get any bugfixes. Access to the higher subscription should require so-many months of lower subscription fees or a new purchase. But basically, this enables developers to lock consumers in and build an comfortable environment to work.
In terms of organisations like Mozilla, they could quite easily take a cut as per a license for using their software in a commercial endeavour. And app stores, I’d like to think that they’d see the sense in keeping their hands off of subscription fees that were lower than some arbitrary amount. Well, this is where software consumption will ultimately end up. It’s just a question of how long will it take.