Apple’s App Store Might Cost More, but It’s Worth It

You're buying peace of mind

Key Takeaways

  • Apple makes it easy to cancel subscriptions.
  • App Store users spend way more than Google Play users.
  • Subscriptions are only increasing as a payment method.
Two people looking through a window with the Apple logo above them.

Zhiyue Xu / Unsplash

Apple App Store users spend double on subscriptions compared to Google Play Store users. Are they better off? More generous? Or are App Store subscriptions just easier to use?

According to newly-published data from Sensor Tower, app subscriptions rose by over 4% in 2021, up to $18.3 billion worldwide and $8.6 billion in the US. And while Google Play subscriptions grew faster, overall, App Store users account for more than two-thirds of all subscription spending. Other data shows that App Store users are more likely to pay for software overall, but what is driving this subscription trend?

"A research paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that owning an iPhone is a strong indicator people have a high income," technology strategist Sundus Shahid Bari told Lifewire via email. "Apple doesn't sell tech products, they sell a status that hinges on their tech products."

Sub Standard

More and more apps are adding subscription options. It might be that a previously paid app is now free to download, and then you sign up for a sub once you’ve tested it out. Another typical case is that developers realize that the low prices demanded by app stores do not allow a sustainable business. A music FX app on the desktop may go for $100-150, whereas on the iOS App Store, it might struggle to get away with charging $10, especially when the App Store model doesn’t allow charging for app upgrades. 

"Apple doesn't sell tech products, they sell a status that hinges on their tech products."

One answer to this is to use subscriptions. They allow a developer to keep working on an app, updating it for loyal customers, and making enough money to sustain the business. The downside is that users who might have been happy to buy the app and keep using it forever, ignoring upgrades and new versions, are now locked onto monthly or yearly fees. And while that’s fine to start, those subs quickly add up. On top of that, we might worry that subscriptions lock us into ongoing payments that are hard to cancel. 


But the App Store has an advantage here. It's easy to quit and resubscribe to any app subscription, and people in general trust the App Store to protect them from scams, although that's not always the reality. All apps on the App Store come through Apple, which means they have to use Apple's subscription mechanism, which lists all current subs in one place and requires just a click or tap to cancel. 

On the other hand, Android users can install apps from anywhere, and any subscriptions might not be nearly so easy to cancel. 

"One of the key reasons why App Store users spend more is because installing unauthorized apps on iDevices is not a simple process. Google Play users can easily look for a paid app online and download the APK from a random site, but it's a whole other story for iOS users," network security engineer and blogger Andreas Grant told Lifewire via email. 

Just like iOS users are happy to download and buy apps, secure in the knowledge that their credit cards are already on file and will only be charged by Apple, those same users may be happier about signing up for subscriptions. 

Google android statues on display at an office building.

Guido Coppa / Unsplash

"I do believe the ease of canceling subscription plays a role here," says Grant. "Some of the monthly subscriptions require going outside of Google Play store, so tracking these can be problematic. Sometimes you forget about a random subscription and only remember it when you get an email or look at your card statement."

Subscriptions might not be a popular way to pay for apps, but that's not stopping them from growing at quite a clip. And if Google doesn't want its developers to get left behind, it might want to work on its trust issues.

Then again, with the increased scrutiny Apple is facing for its App Store, we might soon see alternate payment systems and even app sideloading on iOS, which might break trust in Apple's subscriptions unless it forces these third-parties to use its subscription manager. 

It's all more than a bit confusing right now, and that's not likely to change until the various governments impose their regulations. But if you're a mobile app developer, you're still better off developing for iOS if you want to make a living.

Was this page helpful?