Opinion: Just how cheap should applications be?

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In a recent post, I talked about my use of SnagIt and how I think people should be prepared to pay a little for applications. I'm endlessly puzzled by people I see stumbling around using free alternatives that don't do the job, when there are good options available.

I had some interesting feedback from that post and it got me thinking further though, about how much we should be prepared to pay for applications? Why is there an expectation that most apps that we use will be free?

The smartphone market is the one that seems most distorted on this. I've seen sophisticated applications that would have sold for hundreds of dollars years ago, being sold for $9. And what do the reviews say?

Great application but so expensive.

The perception is that that application should have been $3 instead. How dare they charge $9 when most apps are $2 or $3.

How did we get to this point? Worse still, the current app stores are making this even worse.

I was talking to a friend in Brisbane recently. He mentioned that he had built an app and put it into an app store. It was being sold for $1.99. When it was being used, it connected back to his servers that he was paying for. After the first month, he'd sold 300 copies and things were looking up. At the end of the second month, there were over 10,000 users connected to his servers but here's the rub:

He'd still only sold 500 copies.

So what on earth had happened? Turns out that someone had reverse engineered his $1.99 app, added advertising into it, and put it back in the app store as a different app, offered for free.

That's just beyond ridiculous, at least if we want there to be apps for us to buy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


4 thoughts on “Opinion: Just how cheap should applications be?”

    1. Hi Mark, you'd think so but when their code has been reverse engineered, there's really nothing to stop the bogus app from doing identical things.

  1. I personally think that Apple is partially to blame for this, since they've been notorious for not allowing trialware in the app store. It's led to depreciation in an app's value overall, because people expect either a lite version or a ridiculously cheap download, with nothing in between. Apple just now offered some lame excuse for a defacto trialware system, and there are so many things they did wrong with that it's no wonder I haven't seen any apps use it yet.
    Well let's see.
    1. The trial is an in-app purchase. Which means an app that I may happily pay 20 bucks for is going to show up as free at first. Wait, what?
    2. If I remember correctly, the in-app purchase is just a full version receipt that expires after 14 days, nothing in between. I also believe that after the 14 days the app needs to function in a limited mode.
    There is always that one person that only needs an app for a little while; maybe they need to pull a solution out of thin air to run a specially formatted presentation or the like. Android kind of indirectly facilitated that, as Google's refund policy, while automated, is pretty tight and rightfully so. It used to be just 15 minutes, in fact. So unless you were testing for compatibility, there wouldn't be much you could do in the way of serious use. If the app functions in a limited mode after the trial, and you only needed it for a few weeks to create something, then you know what could happen. If it's a text editor, then it will no doubt contain a read-only mode if it isn't registered. People could take their stuff and run, and that's more purchases the developer isn't going to see. Might I also add that that is revenue lost and it didn't even take a reverse-engineering for it to happen.
    3. Yes, Apple offers something you could call a refund policy. You have 90 days, but here's the catch; it isn't automated, and it is not a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. Most of the time, software venders don't allow refunds because you are given a registration key that stays with you for good. However, those software developers offer trials which specifically allows them to limit their liability to you. On IOS, Apple is going against principal by not allowing a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, while at the same time having a stipulation against trialware. This forces developers to do one of two things:
    a… make a free lite version that can't expire and has more than half the features of the full version of the app. After all, people still need to be able to try the app, right? easy to say if lite versions could expire which they don't. People could easily have it made with just a lite version and the developer wouldn't see many purchases coming through.
    b. Screw it, I'm making the app free, or $0.99. There's no trialware functionality allowed, and a lot of idiotic wining about losing, what, two trips to Starbucks at most? over an oh so overpriced app. Making it free is the best way to make everyone happy.
    Now you can see clearly how destructive disallowing trialware is.
    At this point, there is no excuse. Simbian, Windows Mobile, Windows C E, even Android, all come with absolutely no stipulations against trialware, and IOS is the only lonesome exception. That creates a more damning effect than one might imagine, because if you'll notice, the amount of actual trialware on Android has reduced. You either are seeing freemium ad-supported apps, or a subscription model. Most developers develop for both platforms, so I'd imagine to keep things consistent they don't implement trialware functionality because well what's the point if one platform won't even allow it?

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