A note about SignalScope X’s auto-renewable subscriptions

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SignalScope for iOS was fortunate enough to be one of the relatively few apps that could be found in the iPhone App Store on its opening day in 2008. Since then we have received tremendous feedback and support from SignalScope users. This note is in part addressed to those long-time (and not-so-long-time users) who we would like to keep on board with us as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in acoustics-related analysis and measurement on iOS devices.

I thought it would be worth taking some time to present some of the benefits of adapting a subscription-based software business model, at least in our case. In discussing these benefits, some of the challenges we have faced with iOS App Store distribution may become apparent, as well as some of the trade-offs that must be made in any case from both our perspective as well as that of the end user.

I am aware that not everyone is a fan of software subscriptions, and that some, in fact, strongly dislike them. The decision to embrace subscriptions with SignalScope X was not one made lightly.

With the App Store as it is, we cannot offer an elegant solution to continue to fully monetize our development efforts otherwise (i.e. there is no proper way to offer paid upgrades for existing products). This is a decision 10 years in the making and Apple has now given clear signals that subscriptions are the preferred model going forward.

So, what follows are some benefits of subscriptions, at least as we see it.

  • Subscriptions make a better SignalScope. With subscriptions, it makes sense to consolidate all our analysis tools into a single app. App consolidation allows us to put a powerful set of tools in a single app and focus our efforts on that one app, instead of five in this case. This means new tools and features can be delivered more quickly and robustness of the app can be more easily assured.
  • Subscriptions make it simpler for the user to be sure they have the latest and greatest that SignalScope X has to offer. We have used in-app purchases in other products to effectively charge for upgraded tools or features. However, it becomes a hassle, both for the user and for us, to keep track of multiple in-app purchases.
  • Subscriptions help us stay focused on what matters most. If we were to continue to add new in-app purchases to monetize our ongoing development efforts, the apps would continue to become more cluttered over time. The clutter adds a burden to the user and dulls the quality experience we prefer to provide in our products. To one degree or another, this would also increase our support and project maintenance burden and ultimately diminish our ability to focus on providing the best tools available.
  • Subscriptions help us stay in business. Subscriptions cover the costs of continually updating our software to account for new versions of iOS (which sometimes unexpectedly change audio input/output behavior) and new hardware from Apple and others. We are pleased to ship our software with built-in nominal sensitivities for each of Apple’s iOS devices, to facilitate reasonably accurate acoustical measurements “out of the box,” but this comes at a significant cost in hardware and time (e.g. we have to measure actual iPhone and iPad microphone sensitivities).
  • Subscriptions help us serve our current customers better. Subscriptions provide greater monetary incentive to meet the needs of our current (subscribing) customers. With the previous arrangement (i.e. no paid upgrades), once an app (or in-app purchase) is paid for, there may be no expectation of future monetization of ongoing development efforts from that customer. We’re pleased with the upgrades we’ve been able to offer, particularly in SignalScope and SignalScope Pro, over the last 9+ years, but we’ve effectively been giving away major upgrades for free for many app users during that time. Generosity is laudable but not inexhaustible. We need and want to be able to continue to generate a profit as well as a sense of pleasure in serving our customers.
  • Subscriptions make powerful tool sets more accessible. With a single subscription (the Pro Tool Set), SignalScope X replaces everything previously found in SignalScope, SignalScope Pro, SignalSuite, IOScope, and RoomScope. That means software tools previously costing $300 (plus several powerful new tools and features) are now accessible for $20 for 1 month. It should be noted that for all 3 subscription levels in SignalScope X, an annual subscription offers a 25% savings versus a 1-month subscription over a 12-month period. Specific pricing information can be found on SignalScope X’s product page.
  • Subscriptions offer a free trial. This is the first time we’ve been able to offer a proper trial of our iOS software tools to prospective customers before they make a monetary commitment.

For those who have purchased any of the apps now being replaced by SignalScope X, you will be able to keep using those apps as long as you run them on a device with a compatible version of iOS (currently iOS 8 through 11). They will continue to receive maintenance updates and be listed for sale on the App Store for a limited time.

We have big plans and high hopes for the future of SignalScope X. Thank you for taking time to read this and give it your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ben Faber

11 comments

  • Peter E. Stokes

    I am using other tools which are enough and will not buy a subscription based software tool as long as a one time fee tool is available.

    Not even trying the 7 day free trial

    if it was worth it at one time fee i might use your software but not subscription. No Never

    You do realize that there are tools for all of these functions available for incredibly low cost already right?

    • Peter,
      Thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel about subscriptions.
      We are aware of alternatives available on the App Store, although there are undoubtedly some of which we are not. How familiar are you with what SignalScope X has to offer compared with other apps?
      Perhaps, we need to do more to communicate the value in SignalScope X, but I’m not sure what beats a free trial for giving potential subscribers an opportunity to see for themselves.
      Best regards,
      Ben

  • Marc Heijligers

    To put it mildly, I’m not a fan of this subscription model. When you would rely on these tools on daily basis, it may make sense, but I use the tool on occasional basis (say max once to twice per quarter) for octave measurements on DIY loudspeakers. I’m happy to pay a 20 or 30 euro one-time and again for a substantial upgrade, and to support you, but given my usage a $72/yr is not representative for my use cases. None of the above advantages apply to me. This means I will stick to the old version of the tool, and if it starts to malfunction on a new iOS release, I will have to search for an alternative. Too bad, as I like and would love to support your efforts, but it is simply becoming to expensive.

    • Marc,
      I understand your concern. Unfortunately, we have no proper way to charge for upgrades to existing software on the App Store. Once you purchase an app, or an in-app upgrade, that app, or that upgrade, has to be maintained, which cannot be done indefinitely without additional cost. The only way to upgrade it for a fee is to replace it and charge for the new version. The subscription model is currently the only way to do that in the App Store without charging full price for the new version of the app each time it is upgraded (i.e. replaced).
      Regarding cost, and your stated needs, your 20-30 euro amount is closest to purchasing SignalScope plus the Octave upgrade (without the data acquisition upgrade). SignalScope Pro costs $75. With the subscription model, you could pay $8 for one month and disable auto-renew for the subscription. So, if you pay $8 once per quarter, that’s $32 per year, which is comparable to your 20-30 example.
      Thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts.
      Best regards,
      Ben

  • Jamie Pruden

    I guess I’m super late to the party… just downloaded my updates and got the message about the move to the subscription model.

    Like the two writers above, I’m very against software subscriptions… I completely recognize the need for the company to stay afloat *and* the limitations of the Apple Store, but there is another option.

    For those of us who would prefer to pay for our product *once*, how about adding an option for lifetime upgrades at some *realistic* amount? Frank Rieff (http://www.publicspace.net) offered this for his products and I happily paid for the lifetime option… despite the fact that I only use the products once or twice per year. It gives the hobbiest access to fantastic tools *and* gives you some income.

    Short version: I will never pay for a software subscription for a tool like this one… but given the option, I would pay for a lifetime upgrade package.

    Of course, this doesn’t even touch the chunk of money that we already have invested in your software that is now abandonware. This almost works for something like 1Password that is $10, but for a product that cost me $300, this is outrageous…

    • Jamie,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this.

      Unfortunately, a “lifetime upgrade” is not a sustainable business model for us. That’s not a model we have ever adopted, and, although we have been giving SignalScope and SoundMeter users free upgrades (major upgrades, not just updates) for nearly 10 years, we have never promised free upgrades forever.

      Before publishing apps on the App Store, we would occasionally release major upgrades to our Mac software and charge upgrade fees for the new versions. Users of older versions then had the option to upgrade, or not. Unfortunately, that’s not a model supported by the App Store, even today. We’ve been waiting, hoping that Apple would add support for a traditional upgrade model. In the last 2 years, Apple has made it clear that subscriptions are the preferred model for ongoing monetization efforts for apps with significant longevity (like SignalScope or SoundMeter).

      We are dedicated to developing a growing suite of professional-grade precision measurement and analysis tools. Such tools, by nature, are relatively expensive to maintain, particularly with the pace with which Apple makes changes to the iOS operating system and their iPhone and iPad hardware. In industry and academia, annual maintenance contracts for professional software have been around for decades (not strictly identical to subscriptions, but similar). It’s now becoming common for newer versions of professional software to move to a true subscription model (consider the more obvious examples of Adobe and Autodesk), which actually makes the software more affordable to more people.

      If you only use the software once or twice per year, you might consider purchasing 1-month access to the lowest subscription level you need once or twice per year. That’s a less-expensive option that wasn’t available previously.

      Whether you choose to give the new apps a try, or not, you can still use the software you’ve paid for. I can only hope that you’ll stay on board with us, but regardless of how you choose to deal with the changes, I wish you the best in your endeavors.

      In any case, we mean no disrespect to our former, current, or future customers. We appreciate everyone who has helped us bring our software to where it’s at, and we look forward to producing more world-class measurement and analysis tools in the years ahead.

      Best regards,

      Ben

  • Chris Beale

    We use several software subscription systems including Xero and Current and some that we’ve dropped because of poor development. The key to software subscriptions is regular development and rolling value. Once it becomes clear that a provider has taken their attention off a product and is happy to harvest money they will lose their business. My feeling is that Faber are taking on a major challenge and might find it very hard work keeping the interest of subscribers paying big money on a regular basis. We will have to see how they cope. If my annual subscription comes around and I’m using the same old app I will feel cheated and will close my account, irrespective of the usefulness of the product. I sincerely hope they blow us away.

    • Chris,

      Thank you for your comments. Once it became clear that subscriptions would be the best approach for us going forward, despite the significant challenges associated with the change, we made the decision to go all in. We too, have high hopes for the future of SignalScope and SoundMeter, and plans to ensure that those hopes are realized.

      Best regards,

      Ben Faber

  • Ken

    Like other users I am disappointed that I invested heavily in Sound Meter and its optional add ons at a considerable price to find it is no longer supported and you are introducing a subscription model.

    Unfortunately you operate in a niche market, charging highly for your products. I haven’t seen any other apps so highly priced.

    You have a good product but judging by the comments already made your sustainable business model may prove to be unsustainable in the long term. Only time will tell.

    I wish you well but I certainly won’t be taking on the subscription model and have learnt never to pay so much for niche apps again when you may be significantly let down those creating and managing them.

    I think the word is “shafted”.

    • Hi Ken,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I’m very sorry that you feel shafted–we certainly mean no disrespect to our customers who chose our products before the recent changes. We’re doing the best we can with a difficult set of circumstances within an App Store environment that does not cater to niche products, like ours.

      How long have you been using SoundMeter? In your opinion, how long should a developer be expected to maintain a product before replacing it with a new one?

      Again, we appreciate your comments.

      Best regards,

      Ben Faber

  • Darren

    Hi Ben. Thank you for writing up the above. I think it demonstrates that at least you have looked at the business model.

    Ben, if I looke at your software i would place it in the test & measurement area but it is written to perform like a lab device.

    Have you considered making it more aligned to specific industries or activities? Ie work place safety. I think if you did that and provided specific capabilities for that you could absolutely apply a subscription model as the expense is a business expense.

    Create a simple to use free app for those who have simpler requirements. Note these can all be variants within the one source /build environments without adding significant cost to development.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Regards

    – Darren

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