The software subscription model has been around for some time now and has polarised opinion. Some see it as a natural progression allowing constant updates for a fixed monthly price. Others see it as an effort by companies to force you to pay them month by month in order to maintain your workflow and in some cases your files. Adobe certainly experienced some back lash when it launched it’s Creative Cloud service. It’s been quite a change to the traditional ‘own your own physical copy’ model. Every week a new announcement seems to be published about some established company moving some or all of their software or services to subscription.
This does offer some advantages; I can see both sides of the argument. If your business relies heavily on a particular piece of software and you use it constantly then a subscription might be worth it. After all if you were always buying the latest release of a piece of software it would probably end up costing you more over a number of years.
However if you’re not a power user or you’re an individual and have the requirement for lots of software which you use occasionally, then it might not be financially viable. There’s sometimes the option for month by month subscription for some software and services but the associated price hike over a pro rata yearly subscription can be significant.
When buying cameras we have taken it for granted for years that the hardware will stop working eventually but usually the camera itself falls out of favour long before it dies completely. Either the codec, sensor or form factor becomes passé and things move on much more quickly these days. However the cameras can be passed down and used for other purposes extending their useful life considerably. It’s not unknown for large companies to donate their old cameras to charities and schools.
Will your car still work?
Let’s look at another large capital expense where recent changes in technology have moved things on.
The car industry. You have a new expensive car, it comes with an always on connection and is able to download updates to its operating system which allows you to perform advanced functions. Then suddenly the manufacturer stops supporting the software, the car still drives but all the other functionality like navigation, media playback, and auto drive functions stop working. Deliberately disabled in software. Security updates are not available and you find that overnight your car is more attractive to thieves as they can gain access remotely without the security barriers. Ok it’s not exactly the same but you get my point.
If you don’t carefully read the full license agreement, and lets face it who does? It could mean that your new hardware purchase has a much more limited lifespan than you might expect. For example a light that allows complete remote control and even transmits it’s colour data and luminance values to other lights in a group to allow full control. However it loses a lot of it enhanced capabilities without the app, which you then have to pay for on a continuing basis. For software and services this is not unusual, however for hardware this means a change in the way the end user has to plan.
You’re paying upfront for hardware with advanced features that only work whilst subscribing. How long is the app going to be supported and what happens to the hardware when it’s no longer available? Can you still use your expensive light or is it destined for recycling? How long is the product life, can it be extended through community hacks and open source software? Retro gamers have extended the lifecycle of old hardware this way for years.
Companies should be a bit more upfront about what happens when they stop supporting a product or they go out of business? Even established software companies have decided to stop supporting products because financially it doesn’t make sense to them.
What has been the norm in the PC world for years, if not decades, is starting to migrate to other areas of technology. It could be that they are so co-dependent that the hardware can’t perform without the software, then presumably we’re actually subscribing to the hardware as well? This is not actually a bad idea, although making it work financially for all parties may prove difficult.
Moving away from limited life products
For a world that ‘s trying to get away from limited life products and packaging, having products that just stop working after only a few years is a tough sell. This is even harder to reconcile if at the end of the supported life cycle the product can’t be repurposed and has to be recycled. Yes recycling is more responsible than throwing it away but an extended life span is a better way forward.
So what’s next? Probably that this model is going to expand into other areas. Also look at the way some products are funded these days. Lots of established companies are looking to sites like Kickstarter to launch their products now. The upfront cost of development is being met by prospective end users, not the shareholders through R&D budgets. Sustainable income is important, if you can attract someone to your product and keep getting regular predictable income it makes forecasting a lot easier. The whole model is changing.
Of course we have seen features that are locked until a premium is paid, cameras and codecs spring to mind. After all it’s even possible to rent codecs for some cameras. What if your lighting only allowed certain RGB values for a set amount each month, or your slider wouldn’t track slowly without subscription. I know it sounds as bit far fetched but you can bet than someone somewhere has some products in mind with these sort of limitations, or enhancements (depending on your point of view)...actually they’re already here.