Twibble: How not to launch a paid version of your free app

If you’re just looking for an alternative for Twibble, you may want to try out
Twimply (or have a look at Twimply’s features).

If you don’t want to lose your users when you’re launching a paid version of your free app, don’t do like Twibble. Yesterday’s launch of their “full version” raised a lot of critique and chased away many existing users. And at the same time, they’ve also reduced the chance of attracting new users.

Read what Twibble did wrong, and how you can avoid to make the same mistakes.

Here are the 7 mistakes I think Twibble made:

  1. Breaking the most important functionality
  2. Not giving new users a good experience
  3. Offering no new functionality in the paid version
  4. Introducing an annoying returning window
  5. Using bad copy and a wrong tone of voice
  6. Downgrading without warning or explanation
  7. Making it too expensive

(For those who don’t know Twibble, it’s a Twitter client for mobile devices.)

Mistake #1: Breaking the most important functionality

Receiving tweets is the single most important functionality of any Twitter client. And now, this core functionality is broken. In Twibble’s previous version there was no limit to the number of tweets you could fetch. In the new version however, you’re limited to the last 10 tweets. That’s an extremely low number, and it makes Twibble practically useless. The only way to fix this, is by getting the paid version.

You should never break the main functionality of your app. If you decide to cut down on the features, cut down on the nice to haves. In Twibble’s case, they could have chosen to limit the free version to receiving (unlimited) tweets, replying, retweeting and viewing links in a browser. All extras like marking favorites, following/unfollowing users, video-upload, support for Twitpic, etcetera could have gone in the full version.

Mistake #2: Not giving new users a good experience

There’s only one way for new users to find out if Twibble is the right app for them: by using it. To win over new users, you want to make their experience as good as possible. That’s your only chance of converting them to paying customers. The way Twibble is now, they won’t get a chance to enjoy the app.

I have been using Twibble for quite some time, so I know I do like the app. Because of that, I do did consider upgrading to the paid version. New users won’t. They’ll just search another app.

To give new users a taste of the full app, Twibble could have offered the full functionality for a limited time (apart from offering the core functionality).

Mistake #3: Offering no new functionality in the paid version

Users want to feel good about their purchase. If the full version had added new functionality, they might have the idea “I’ve now bought feature X”. But there’s no new functionality in the full version. So now the suers are stuck with the feeling that they have pay today for what used to be free yesterday.

Twibble should have offered something new with the full version, preferable something big. In august they added support for video. Maybe they should have waited to ship that feature until now.

Mistake #4: Annoying returning window

Upon your very first interaction after starting Twibble, it shows you this screen:

upgrade message

Annoying window

It does that every time you start the app. And that’s really, really annoying. Also, it’s completely unnecessary to show this message at this point.

When you scroll down your list of tweets, you’ll get this upgrade message after your last tweet. Now this one is well-timed: here you run into the limitations of the free version, and they offer an upgrade when you need it. They should have limited themselves to this screen only.

Update: newer releases of the free version no longer show the window upon the first interaction.

Mistake #5: Bad copy, wrong tone of voice

The constant returning of the upgrade message isn’t the only thing that’s wrong with it. The message itself is unclear, insincere and does not acknowledge the feeling of the user.

The screen tells you “You can use all features of twibble mobile when you activate your user”. However, “all features” is nothing more than fetching more tweets. And what does it mean to “activate your user”? That sounds like just having to register. It does not tell you that will cost you money.

The worst copy of this screen is the one they chose for their call to action: “Great! Go to store“. This is very, very wrong. You’ve just really annoyed your users by crippling their app and practically forcing them to upgrade. They’ll have a lot of feelings about this, but no one, absolutely no one will think this is Great.

When you’re communicating with your users, be clear and sincere, and acknowledge how your users actually feel, not how want you want them to feel.

Mistake #6: Downgrading without warning or explanation

It’s nothing new for Twibble’s updates to be different. In the past, when an update was available, Twibble simply stopped working and just told you “Expired! Visit to update”.

This time, it all seemed business as usual. Only, after updating you suddenly ended up with an app that has a seriously reduced functionality without choices or warnings in advance.

What Twibble should have done, is warn the users in advance about the changing, and explain that they need to make a paid version to ensure development and support in the future. Then they should have presented the users with a choice: keep the old version (which won’t be updated or supported anymore), or download the new version.

Mistake #7: Too expensive

The full version of Twibble costs € 4.90. That’s not a much, but it’s just expensive enough to make you think twice. Also, this price will make it less attractractive for new users to give Twibble a try.

My guess is that setting the price at € 0.99 would have resulted in more income. Also, they could have given existing users a discount.

Summary: Bad feeling, bad conversion

To convert your existing users into paying ones, you’ll have to make your users feel good about your app. Twibble’s mistakes result in the exact opposite. And that’s a pity.

Twibble is (was) a great app. I can fully understand their wish to make some money, or cover their expenses. They just picked the wrong strategy.

This does not mean it’s too late for Twibble. If they admit they were wrong, and pick a new course quickly, they could still win back those users who are now looking for an alternative. I really hope they do.

Update: I created my own app instead

I haven’t been able to find an app that really suited my needs. So I created my own free mobile Twitter client: Twimply, which has the additional bonus of Instapaper and Delicious support. You can read more about Twimply’s features in this post.

What do you think?

What do you think about Twibble’s strategy? Would you upgrade to the full version? Please let me know in the comments.

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8 comments on “Twibble: How not to launch a paid version of your free app”

  1. I’ve been using Twibble for several releases, and it became my client of choice for my Blackberry. Because of the way they approached the upgrade, and for many of the reasons you cited, I won’t be upgrading to the new version.

    In a market where there are too many other good, free clients for twitter, I’ve been driven elsewhere. It’s unfortunate, as I preferred Twibble’s feature set, but I’m confident that other apps will meet or surpass my needs now and in the future.

    zegt GenXer
  2. I pimped your comment at as I’m in almost complete agreement with it, and you have expanded on you thinking elegantly in this blog post.

    Although I too would have thought €1-3 would be a fairer price, I’ve stumped up the cash to get the full version, only for the fact that competition today (Twim, Tiny Twitter) is so dire and has made me realise that Twibble has evolved into a fairly decent client, all things considered.

    One other thing which I mentioned on is that the developers have shown such little regard for existing users, how can we be sure they won’t lock out users who have paid for v1.x by releasing v2.x with little or no actual changes to the application? It would be sneaky, but then…..

    I do hope Twibble’s business model isn’t built around Dick Turpin methods like this!

    zegt Gordon
  3. @Gordon: Good point about not knowing what will happen in future releases. The folks from Twibble state that your payment will be valid for all releases of version 1.x. The way they’ve gone about it now does not inspire a lot of confidence in how they’ll handle release 2.x. However, since you’ve paid for the app now, I don’t know if they would still have the right to disable your 1.x version.

    And thanks for pimping my post! (I had also posted a link there, but it’s still awaiting moderation)

    zegt jaron
  4. Thanks for voicing that opinion. I was really annoyed by what twibble did, but the worst part of it I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet: For about two years, they used their users as beta testers. People contributed to the development of the program by their bug reports and comments. It is not only not fair, it is outright wrong to then take away the program from the users who contributed to it. If they wanted to charge for it once they reached 1.0, they should have made that clear up front — because for many users, it makes a big difference whether they contribute to a free project, or a product that is sold.

    The ultimate solution to issues like this would be of course to use free, open source software with a suitable license. Then things like this could not happen. I’m looking for a free, open source twitter client now…

    zegt drmirror
  5. You summed up pretty well all I thought about the Twibble paid version “upgrade” did wrong. It has indeed evolved into a good app, and I miss it now. The idea of leaving the pre-1.0 version freely available without expiring is a great idea. Plus a price under 1 euro really wouldn’t make me think about their future 2.0, 3.0 releases.

    I’ll tweet around your post. From the web client, unfortunately… 8(

  6. […] fee). Read the comments on twibble’s own post and search Twitter to catch the mood out there. Jarón Barends has summed up the mistakes concerning this upgrade in full on his blog and tells us how other free apps can […]

  7. Good analysis Jaron.

    When you offer features to users for free and give no indication that they will have to pay for them at some point in the future, they logically form an expectation that they will always have those features for free. When you then hide those features behind a paywall, your users will get upset.

    This long time user of Twibble 0.9.x is upset, and is probably going to buy Gravity now. Well done, Twibble.

  8. enjoy 😉

    zegt lee