Going Freemium

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to make a big change to the way iKana touch is sold on the App Store with version 2.7. Before I get into that, let me give you some background. Since it first appeared on the App Store, nearly 10(!) years ago, iKana touch has used the paid up front business model. You bought the software, then it was yours to use on all your devices forever.

The App Store didn’t allow us to offer a free trial or to charge for upgrades in the way that has sustained developers like ThinkMac since the dawn of the home computer revolution, but for a good few years that simply didn’t seem to matter. The iPhone was on a near exponential trajectory and sheer size of the expanding market kept a decent amount of revenue coming in. Unfortunately while the market was growing, a parallel force was also at work – the now infamous race to the bottom in App pricing.

Apps backed by venture capital or from major developers with other income sources, or with no real sustainable business model to speak of, have pushed the price people are willing to pay up front to basically zero dollars.

For a good amount of time ThinkMac’s apps managed to escape this trend, as niche markets continued to get away with charging non-zero sums up front for apps. However it’s increasingly apparent that the writing is on the wall for us now too. In fact, to be honest if I relied solely on income from my apps to survive, I’d have been forced to throw in the towel a few years ago. Contracting has helped me keep my bills paid and a glimmer of the indie developer flame alive since 2014.

What brings us to where we are today, is that the main client I’ve been working with over the last few years unexpectedly went out of business at the start of the year, and this has thrown the now dire sales performance of my apps into stark focus. I want my apps to generate me a basic income I can survive on as contract work comes and goes. To do that I’ve had to think long and hard about changing my business model to one fit for the App Store of 2018 and beyond.


So freemium, also known as ‘free to play’, refers to any app that is free to download on the App Store but which offers in app purchases (IAPs) to unlock features or content. There are a lot of companies using this business model unethically – deliberately crippling gameplay for example to coax users into paying for speedups and cheats, that themselves are quickly exhausted. That’s not my intention at all.

With iKana touch IAPs will be used to unlock the hiragana and katakana character sets, either individually or all at once. Once you’ve paid to unlock them they will remain that way. There will be one consumable IAP called the Day Pass that lets you effectively trial the app fully unlocked for 24 hours, but everything else will unlock things permanently for you. Before you purchase one of the IAPs you will get a limited subset of kana unlocked to try the app with.

Now you might be wondering what this means if you’ve already purchased iKana touch – will you need to buy these IAPs to gain full access the app again? The simple answer is no, iKana touch will check your purchase receipt from the App Store and automatically enable all the kana sets if you have bought version 2.6 or earlier.

Now there are some downsides of this model that I want to acknowledge – it will no longer be possible to buy a discounted bundle of iKana touch and iKanji touch going forward due to limitations of the App Store. It will also no longer be possible to bulk buy iKana touch for education.

Finally you may wonder why I went for a freemium model and not a subscription. Simply put I don’t think a subscription model is well suited to an app like iKana touch, which has fixed content and no online component. iKana touch is also not an app most people would likely use for more than maybe 6 months, which negates any of the long term benefits of choosing the subscription model in terms of lower fees from Apple etc.

Finally before I thank you for reading all this shop talk, let me say that yes things will be changing for iKanji touch too in the near future. Exactly how will depend in part on the success of iKana touch’s new model.

So yes, thank you for reading this. I hope this makes clear why this change of business model has become unavoidable and allays any fears that it might be a raw deal for previous customers. If you have any thoughts or questions about this please drop me a message.

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