Looking around for a markdown editer, because sometimes even I like something snazzier than vi^1, I came across an interesting blog post: On Apps and Coffee – iA.

iA Writer is an application that I had glossed over when I first got my iPad and filed away as a “Remember for later”. Imagine my surprise, that it actually supports other platforms. But anyhow, moving on.

I think the author makes an interesting point that apps are not coffee but coffee machines. Much the way that to the old world, computers are office tools not just a way to warm up a cold candy bar out of the office vending machine.

In general, as a consumer: I tend to avoid subscriptionware as a rule of thumb. I’m spending enough money on things like video streaming services that I don’t often accept this for software. Or should we say, if your quaint (or even truly awesome sauce) app costs $30/month (or even 40¢ a month) then I’m probably going to keep on scrolling. You’ve got to be something I use excessively or offer some major value, not just fill a personal niche.

Unlike most consumers however, I tend to be quite willing to pay for good software. As a programmer, I understand the effort that goes into making great software more than most users. Further when I encounter good software that solves my problems, I can see the value metric—how much time is this saving me versus developing my own solution? Yeah. That’s a thing. In my experience, people are either willing to pay for a good product or they weren’t going to give you jack shit no matter how much effort it takes to pirate it.

People often forget that the one who produced the product also has to eat, not just slurp a coffee. One of the reasons why I’ve never opted to sell my software, is the profitability is keyed to unit sales. How many apps do you need to sell to buy a coffee? Yeah. Subscriptions are an easier sell when you’re renting access to something. Cloud storage and media libraries make easier sells than say, an address book or a mail client. I’ve seen a few modern models, based on progressive unlock: a few dollars for features here, a few dollars for features there, if you actually want the nice to haves or support the developer. The one I think that makes the most sense to me, as a consumer, is a model like Working Copy. Full cost of the app to unlock the pro features, and future features for up to a year. After which an upgrade cost is pertinent.

I kind of love iA’s analogy hat apps aren’t like coffee but like coffee makers. Whether you buy the $25 coffee maker at Walmart or the $25,000 imported espresso machine, you’re going to periodically have to deal with the costs of service. For a coffee maker this is an expense like coffee beans and k-cups. For software, this is the cost of someone maintaining the software and periodically developing new features. You know what? Never underestimate the cost of maintainence unless you’re willing to coax a 20-year old computer into powering up just so you can run some piece of software that hasn’t been updated in forever. Whether you’re acquiring software from an indy developer, helping maintain it yourself as a open source contributor, or you’re licensing it from an enterprise with more money than your entire family combined, it’s not free to deal with maintaining software over a long term.

Be it our mental models or our monetary worlds, I’m not really sure a good solution exists. But apps definitely aren’t coffee: apps are the coffee makers. Also remember, coffee makers eventually need replacement and that may look like a trip to Amazon or Walmart some bleary eyed morning😂



  1. Actually, the ease of previewing is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed using VS Code the past couple years. But I still need the vim plugin 😃