My friend Joshua Schnell wrote a good post the other day at his Macgasm site “ in which he talks about the iPhone App Store, something being rotten in the state of it, and how it is currently broken and in danger of losing more good developers. He also argues that it is time to […]
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Should Free iPhone Apps Be Eliminated?


My friend Joshua Schnell wrote a good post the other day at his Macgasm site “ in which he talks about the iPhone App Store, something being rotten in the state of it, and how it is currently broken and in danger of losing more good developers.

He also argues that it is time to abolish free apps on the App Store.  While I agree with a lot of Joshua ‘s sentiment behind his post, and with many of his points about the need to support developers, I have to disagree about the need to eliminate free apps.

Here are some of Joshua ‘s sentiments and points that I can agree, or at least empathize, with:

Put the real development groups in one section, and the fly by nighters in another section. Because frankly, the half-assed developers that are driving down the prices need to be put out to pasture, and the real developers, the ones putting their heart and soul into a game that can ‘t break a 5% conversion rate need to be coddled a little until the tides turn, before they ‘re gone for good.

I like the spirit of this idea, but I don ‘t know how viable it is.  Who gets to judge which are the half-assed devs and which are the real ones?  In a lot of cases, one man ‘s crap app is another man ‘s fun little novelty app. 

Having a separate ‘Novelty Apps ‘ section of the store is an idea that has appealed to me for a long while “ though again I don ‘t know that it would be very easy to draw the line on what is a pure ‘novelty ‘ app as opposed to a ‘valid ‘ entertainment app.

The Sony PSP games start at approximately 19.99 on the lowend and about 49.99 at the high end, and I ‘ve played some of those games frankly a lot of them pale in comparison to some 1.99 games that I ‘ve paid for on the iPhone. Sure, there ‘s a lot of crap on the AppStore, but there ‘s surely enough meat and potatoes available that the 1.99 price point is a steal when compared to other devices.

I ‘m not much of a gamer at all, but my impression is that iPhone apps do stand up quite well compared to major gaming platforms.  And certainly the pricing of most iPhone games seems incredibly low compared to other platforms.

Programming for the iPhone isn ‘t profitable unless you have a huge name behind you, or Apple decided to feature your application. For the rest of the developers it ‘s a giant game of chance

My impression is that is true a lot of the time “ but that there are also still some notable exceptions to this.  I still see some success stories coming out of the App Store for smaller development outfits “ like Lima Sky and Tapulous as just a quick recent example “ though admittedly these do seem few and far between of late.

Here ‘s where Joshua ‘s wish to support good iPhone developers gets to advocating a change that I think would not be a good one at all:

Apple needs to do everything it can to help these developers be successful, and frankly I think it ‘s time we eliminate free applications. There ‘s no such thing as a free lunch, so why the heck is Apple encouraging a free app?

I believe free apps should stay around, and that they are beneficial to the App Store, to developers, and of course to users for a number of reasons, including:

Free does not necessarily mean crap.  Take a look at the current Top Free Apps shown in iTunes.  On the list are Facebook, Pandora Radio, and excellent games like Tap Tap Revenge 3 and Paper Toss.

Free doesn ‘t always mean rags and ruin for the developers.  Backflip Studios have had huge financial success on the back of their free Paper Toss game and others they have published.

Free apps are a huge draw for the App Store and I imagine for many first-time users of mobile apps.  I also feel “ without any hard evidence of this “ that free apps likely have a sort of  ‘gateway drug ‘ effect on many new users, and lead them to purchase plenty of paid apps down the road.

The recent changes to allow free apps to include the in-app purchase capability strikes me as an ‘everybody wins ‘ scenario for free apps.  Users and developers win because this allows a lot of room for making an initially free app the equivalent of a free trial on other platforms.  And for developers it provides a strong new way to get users to try out their app and then upgrade through in-app purchase to unlock more powerful features or the ‘full ‘ version of it.

Free apps are also just nice ‘treats ‘ to keep us visiting the App Store frequently “ especially younger users and even parents of younger users.  Surely getting people visiting your store more often is a good thing for anyone whose goods are in that store. And I don ‘t believe that because you use free apps you inevitably become averse to paying for apps.

I know that in my own case I have very happily paid $10 and upwards for many iPhone apps, and continue to do so “ but I also have many free apps that I ‘ve got great enjoyment out of (including both Pandora and Paper Toss).  Similarly, I have paid for many apps for my six year old daughter, but I ‘m not unhappy when she comes along with a request for a new app that is a free one.

I would love to see more success stories for small iPhone developers, and I ‘d certainly like to see developers earn more for their stellar efforts.  But I don ‘t see that eliminating free apps is a good move for the App Store, or one that necessarily increases the odds of success for iPhone developers.

What do you all think?  As users it ‘s easy to jump straight in and say ‘Yes we want free apps ‘, but thinking about the big picture and supporting developers so that continue to make great apps for the iPhone, what are your reasons for wanting or now wanting free apps to be around?  For those of you who are developers, what ‘s your take on this?

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