App Store Subscriptions Mean More Expensive (Hopefully Better) iPhone Apps

Today people were shocked to discover that the first turn-by-turn navi iPhone app to hit the iTunes App Store cost $9.99—per month. Well, get used to it, because there are a lot more subscription apps coming.

Think about it: Carriers like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T regularly charge between $8 and $10 per month for GPS apps. Gokivo is just a made-for-iPhone version of Verizon's not-so-great VZ Navigator. Why did you expect an updated and hopefully improved version of that would cost less?

TomTom, TeleNav and Navigon are all expected to be launching their own turn-by-turn navi apps for iPhone before the year is out, and it would be a shock to me if they went any less than $10-per-month.

The question is, are they worth it?

Because we're talking turn-by-turn navi apps, the numbers are easy to break down. Not only do we know what carriers charge already, but we know, for instance, that TomTom still lists its PDA software (supports Dell Axim, Sony Clie and Palm Zire, among other extinct devices) for $99.95—without free map updates. At the same time, we know that even the cheapest decent portable navigators, like the Garmin Nuvi 250, cost $128 on sale—also without free map updates.

These apps, by definition, don't come with maps loaded into the phone—they download the most recent ones from a server which the software maker pays for the right to use on an ongoing basis. So add to that the cost of licensing instantly up-to-date (Nokia-owned) Navteq or (TomTom-owned) Tele Atlas map databases, and you see why no navi can just be a $15 one-time app. As Gokivo's creators, Networks In Motion, say on their blog:

It takes a lot of work and money to deliver all these features and functionality that's included in a turn-by-turn navigation app; and unlike product with maps on the device, we are updating maps and search indexes constantly.

This is just one category, but there are many that will need higher pricing or persistent subscription fees to keep them going. This isn't about The Man—Apple or AT&T or "Macho Man" Randy Savage. It's about developers, and it's rough for them when they want to distribute flagship software over a platform that's used to distributing 99-cent iFarts. The transition must come. I hate to say it, but the iTunes App Store needs more advanced software, and if that means higher costs then, for the sake of the iPhone OS's continued growth and viability, I say we get behind it.

This isn't to say Networks In Motion unveiled the pricing strategy in the most graceful way. But what they did to was make the first move. I think everybody in the navigation category was hoping someone else would go first, and Gokivo drew the short straw.

Now come the next questions, like how many devices you can load the software onto. After all, if the download is $100, and you put it on two iPhones, isn't it more like $50 each?