iPhone Developers: Strategies for Delivering Multiple IPAs

The clutter in the App Store continues to be a problem, with numerous “business card” apps that provide minimal functionality beyond a simple web page[1]. Additionally, there are lite versions, demo versions, full versions, and even entirely new apps like Tweetie 2 that offer enhanced features.

Each app requires a unique identifier and occupies a separate slot on your iPhone’s home screen, not to mention its own listing in the App Store with distinct screenshots, marketing materials, and reviews. Managing these apps in iTunes, deciding which to sync or keep, adds to the complexity.

The introduction of iPad- and iPhone-specific apps is likely imminent, alongside the Universal Application solution promoted by Apple. This allows developers to redesign their app interfaces for the iPad, incorporating new features that are constrained by the smaller iPhone screen.

This scenario often results in an app family that includes free versions, paid versions, device-specific versions, and various upgrades, all under one brand but with varying features, prices, and platforms.

In a recent article, I discussed Apple’s potential to merge multiple app versions into a single product using multiple iPhone app files, or “multi-ipa” files. Each app in this family would share the same slot and identifier, with the highest priority app being installed by iTunes based on its settings in the Info.plist file.

Consider downloading a free iPhone-only demo of a game and later upgrading to a full version.

The paid version would replace the free version in the same slot due to its higher priority. Currently, this results in using two slots and identifiers. If an iPad upgrade is purchased, iTunes would sync the iPad-specific version to the device, avoiding the need for pixel doubling.

Apple could introduce a “Complete my App” feature, allowing customers to purchase iPad-specific enhancements only if they buy an iPad. This system would depend on iTunes storing multiple versions of an app to sync the most suitable version to each device.

The multi-ipa system allows different versions of the same app to coexist in iTunes. The most recent, feature-rich, and device-specific version is always prioritized.

There’s a push from Apple, developers, and consumers to consolidate app families, yet reasons remain to keep them separate.

Apple and consumers benefit from a single listing and device slot for what is essentially a single app with multiple versions. This approach would significantly declutter the App Store.

Developers might resist this change. Having separate listings for lite/demo and paid apps allows them to manage negative reviews more effectively. Many developers prefer not to adopt in-app purchases, which would keep demo and paid versions within the same app. Apple could change its policy on this practice at any time.

On the other hand, paid upgrades could be a consolidation win for developers.

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Tj Luoma

Gary is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Apple. With a keen eye for detail, Gary covers everything from the latest iPhone and iPad releases to in-depth reviews of the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch. His insightful articles help readers navigate the ever-evolving world of Apple technology. Gary’s expertise and clear writing make him a trusted voice in the Apple community.