Localscope 3.4 – Fixing problems with perception and the business model

April 22, 2013

In two and a half years Localscope has evolved to become one of the best location apps out there. As a company we are extremely proud of Localscope and often explore new means of telling more people about the unmatched location discovery experience of Localscope.

Four months ago, we decided to adopt the freemium distribution model to open Localscope up to a much larger audience. Being a revenue driven product, it was extremely important for us to offer a substantial bonus for paying customers, while still allowing the complete location discovery experience to all free users. We chose to not chop out features or views from the free version as we believe all of Localscope's features and views work tightly together to provide the intuitive experience we love and separating them out made the experience fall apart. As a core principle we believe in aligning our interests with our users' and hence stayed away from advertisement driven revenue models, where sooner or later the business is driven towards making a product out of its users; making the advertisers the real customer. For our freemium offering we chose to limit the integrations with services and navigation apps. Most APIs have some form of limits imposed and quite a few have recurring costs attached to their use over time so limiting the free users to only some of the APIs (that had generous limits and wide global reach) made sense. Version 3.1 onwards we made the entire Localscope experience available to anyone with an iOS device for free, limited to only 5 of the 22 services and integrations with only the free navigation apps. An in-app purchase would unlock Localscope Premium for the user across all his or her devices and enable the entire range of services and integrations. Since the paid APIs and our continuous development efforts are both recurring costs, we decided to charge an annual recurring fee for Localscope Premium. We even devised a clever way to provide a lifetime premium subscription to all existing users to ensure that all our early supporters get the best possible deal and never have to pay again for Localscope. We expected all of this to improve the visibility and perception of Localscope to its audience. Unfortunately, it did quite the opposite.

We had expected that initial problems if any would be with very low conversions from free to premium, and we were prepared for that. The conversions however have been higher than we anticipated. We lost out on a much more critical area, one that we were confident the freemium model would improve: Perception and perceived value of Localscope. From user reviews and our extensive 1-to-1 communication with a large number of our users sending in recommendations and seeking support, we derived that users have not looked at our Freemium model in the same light as we had initially ideated. The general perception of the premium subscription looked like us charging money for data owned by other services that presumably provide the data for free to the world. Though some of the APIs do cost us money directly proportional to their usage, that cost is negligible to the cost of continuous development of the app itself. We expected our customers to pay for the app and it's experience if they liked it, and in turn get rewarded by getting a larger set of service and integrations. Now in hindsight, this was clearly a mistake. There was a big divide between what we intend to sell and what our customers thought they were buying.

To add to our woes, we screwed up with our choice of the data storage and sync platform needed for maintaining purchases and licenses of Localscope Premium. We went with Apple's iCloud and it failed to reliably sync the licenses across the users devices despite us trying everything from our end to ensure it does so. For some paying users who were automatically upgraded to the exclusive lifetime premium subscription, the licenses did not save and they were reverted to the free version of the app. Fortunately, we had built an activation code based system to enable the purchases without actually purchasing. A large number of users reported this issue to us and we sorted their problem by providing one-time activation codes to reactivate the premium subscription. However, there is possibly a much larger number of users who faced this, have never gotten in touch and walked away unhappily. Making long term users who have paid you unhappy is a completely unacceptable situation for a company like ours that is deeply focused in making customers happy by benefiting everyday life. We attempted to improve the licensing methods and released a few updates, but they did not help. Based on our analytics and reports the issue has been clearly at the Apple iCloud end and we could not do much besides filing a bug report, which we did and it still remains unresolved. While only a small fraction of users faced this issue, for an app as widely used as Localscope, the small fraction can be a very daunting number.

Our goal with Localscope has always been to build the finest location browser the world has seen. We intend to maintain Localscope as a continuing effort and business to let people use freely and commercially available locational information in helpful and intuitive ways. We cannot do this if we and our users do not share a common perspective. Neither can we do it by being unfair to users, even if its inadvertent and to only a small fraction of them. With v3.4 we are undoing these mistakes. We have decided to go back to the model that has worked well for us and our users for over 2 years now. Localscope is now available as a paid app only, with no in-app purchases or subscriptions. To make it up to all of the unidentifiable customers who faced the licensing issues, we have decided to disable the in-app premium completely and give every user of Localscope access to the complete paid version. All you need to do is upgrade to the latest version and Localscope will be usable in its full glory for every user who has paid or downloaded for free prior to v3.4.

To Everyone who faced issues with the Localscope Premium purchase or upgrade, we are genuinely sorry. The upgrade should fix your issue no matter the state of the app on your device. To all the users who have downloaded our app and not upgraded, congratulations! You are now a user of the full version of Localscope. Lastly, to all the users who supported Localscope by buying it, thank you!

Looking forward, Localscope is far from complete. Some of the greatest features and enhancements that we have ever designed and have been working on for a year now, are still being developed and remain to be shown to the world. Localscope v4.0 is going to be revolutionary and is coming soon!