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Get ready for $10,000 apps in Apple's software souk

With Tim taking his third, natch

Apple on Tuesday announced the "biggest upgrade to App Store pricing," where "upgrade" means concession agreed to as part of a legal settlement.

Last August, Apple settled a lawsuit that software developers filed in 2019 alleging the company abused its dominant market position.

Among the settlement terms was a commitment to "Expand the choice of price points for subscriptions, in-app purchases, and paid apps from fewer than 100 to more than 500 (by December 31, 2022)."

With 25 days to spare, Apple has taken steps to meet that obligation.

"Under the updated App Store pricing system, all developers will have the ability to select from 900 price points, which is nearly 10 times the number of price points previously available for most apps," the iPhone maker said in a statement. "This includes 600 new price points to choose from, with an additional 100 higher price points available upon request."

The lowest paid app price now starts at $0.29, down from $0.49 for subscriptions and $0.99 for paid apps. Prices can also now be rounded, so you may see apps for $0.90, $0.95, or $1.00. Apple suggests that may prove appealing when considering how prices will look for app bundles and annual subscription plans.

The highest price option is $9,999.99 or $10,000 (£8,250) with rounding. And it probably won't be long before a $10,000 iOS app is actually offered as a way to exploit the sadly predictable press coverage that would follow from selling such an expensive app.

We've lived this vapid timeline before. On August 5, 2008, less than a month after Apple launched its iOS App Store, developer Armin Heinrich released "I Am Rich" for $999.99, then the highest price tier allowed.

The app did nothing and described itself as a work of art. Apple removed it from the store on the following day, after six US and two EU sales had been made, resulting in $5,600 for the developer. Apple received $2,400, representing the company's 30 percent commission (since then reduced to 15 percent for small businesses). Alas, two of the buyers evidently had second thoughts and asked for refunds, which they received.

Trying to get attention by selling an app for a few hundred dollars may seem quaint and unambitious at a time when celebrities urge naive investors to set their money alight by converting it to cryptocurrency. But cynical exploitation never really goes out of style. Someone will seek Apple's blessing to ask $10,000 for an app – Twitter Burnt Gold Free Speech Edition, perhaps?

Apple is making the new pricing available today for apps with auto-renewable subscriptions. Paid apps and in-app purchases using the new pricing tiers are expected to be available spring 2023 in 45 currencies across 175 storefronts.

Developers of subscription apps can also now set a price in a local storefront and have prices in storefronts elsewhere fluctuate based on that single set price. Coming next year, Apple expects to provide a set of tools for setting local territory prices so they don't fluctuate when Apple makes price tweaks in a region based on tax and currency changes.

Apple's newfound price flexibility doesn't address the major concern raised in recent antitrust litigation against the company and by government regulators: A supported way to get iOS apps onto Apple mobile hardware without the App Store, in the form of side-loading (user-loaded apps) or an authorized third-party app store.

Apple in response to calls for greater openness has been insisting that sideloading iOS apps will cause security problems, while conveniently ignoring that macOS allows user-loaded apps. As with its price tier changes, Apple isn't likely to give up its App Store gatekeeping unless forced by the courts or lawmakers. ®

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