iA Writer, Instapaper, OmniFocus and Reeder: Apps raising the premium bar

Imagine a tool you need to have on your iPhone and no pre-installed app helps you. The answer is only a couple of taps away: a quick browse in the App Store will get you a couple of alternatives by third-party developers. This is the way you expected to work, but in Apple's last keynote I learned the meaning of getting sherlocked, when Apple basically copies your best features for its own apps.  

The new apps and features available on iOS 5 such as reminders, photo editing, notification center and reading list seem like a threat to developers charging customers to use similar apps. 

But this risk of losing most of your market after Apple bundles a competing app with every iOS device—unlike iBooks available as a download—makes the situation pretty unfair. The solution for some is to run forward, keep expanding and refining a product hoping that a crowd of those iPhone owners who care about details, won't mind paying the extra premium price. 

One of the best examples of this premium resistance is iA Writer. Launched as an iPad app last September, it has earned some positive comments from users, who prefer it over Apple's Keynote Pages.

It turns out that with the release of the desktop version on the Mac App Store, takes the fight to iWork and Microsoft Word territory. Its focus approach makes a big difference when you compare it with the built-in TextEdit, but might not be enough to convince those used to full-featured apps.

The decision to match iWork's Pages pricing is already an interesting topic being discussed, but I think it's worth mentioning the effort gone into the both apps and going for a higher price. Its not about an icon change, it's about a developer drawing the line between premium apps and the rest of the ecosystem.

The same goes for Instapaper. After ditching the free iPhone app of the popular bookmarking service to stand at $4.99, the leaks of the Reading List feature on the OS X Lion preview suggested big competition approaching. 

Days after the keynote, the developer told Ars Technica "I keep playing back the scenarios of what might happen here; I try to be rational and not emotional about it. The two most likely outcomes are that nothing changes or my sales go up."

Marco Arment argues that despite the app's popularity in the charts, less that 1% of iOS users owns Instapaper. Once the greater audience sees the workflow in action, will choose his app over time.

After some failed attempts to mix Notes and To-Do items with Mail on the desktop, Apple's Reminders is surely a better effort to provide a default option for every user, despite the numerous amount of third-party apps that already populate this market niche.

The geo-location option in the app sets it apart from some of the more GTD traditional apps, and aims slightly at OmniFocus, which can add locations to tasks.

According to the same article, Ken Case, CEO of The Omni Group, also prefers to see the positive aspect first, saying that "It's great that Apple is educating people and is validating what we've already done." The bottom line is that well-designed products will continue to sell, even if Apple introduces apps that replicate some of their features. And speaking of premium features, OmniFocus for iPhone and iPad are some of the highest priced apps in their category.

Another premium app like iA Writer that recently completed the "Back to the Mac" cycle with the launch of a desktop app is Reeder. The spirit that started with an RSS iPhone app almost two years ago, is now present on OS X with an interface that bridges Macs and iPads.

To a lesser extent, Apple has been offering RSS syndication services in both Safari and Mail, but none with the level of integration of Google Reader and offline reading combination. Considering the amount of similar free apps and the option to use a web-based solution, Reeder is surviving at the premium level.

Those familiar with the examples mentioned above, you know Apple still has a long way to match every feature in the likes of Instapaper, OmniFocus or Camera+. I hope the move will discourage the creators of cheap clone apps to submit more junk, while protecting those who expand functionality and polish the experience to a level Apple won't reach.

The Apple Design Award apps this year support this idea show the interest Apple has in nurturing innovative ideas such as djay for iPad and Infinity Blade, two examples of that invisible premium App Store.