Everything gelled together for me when I read this piece regarding Apple’s promotion of free apps in the App Store. My perfunctory understanding of economics kicked in, and then a realization. Based on current evidence and speculation, it seems that Apple is trying to drive down the cost of apps in an effort to sell […]
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My Thoughts Regarding Apple’s Push for Free Apps

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Everything gelled together for me when I read this piece regarding Apple’s promotion of free apps in the App Store. My perfunctory understanding of economics kicked in, and then a realization. Based on current evidence and speculation, it seems that Apple is trying to drive down the cost of apps in an effort to sell more hardware. At first glance, this seems like a good thing for consumers, but I think otherwise.

It appears that Apple is implementing the economic concept of a “complementary good”. That is, when the price of the first item that is usually purchased with a second item drops, demand for the second item increases. Here is an example:

Lets say the price of gasoline drops drastically, to under $1 per gallon. The sale of gas guzzling SUVs will likely go up.

If Apple, through the promotion of free apps and encouragement for developers to adopt iAds as an ad-based source of revenue, pushes the cost of applications down to $0 or close to it, the adoption of their hardware would likely go up. In turn, the more hardware they sell, the more insane their profits will grow. It sounds like everyone wins, right?

To my mind, the drive to create less expensive applications will lead to cheap applications, and I mean that in the worst way possible. I see a flood of cheap, single-purpose apps being released, in place of robust multipurpose tools like Coda, Photoshop, or AutoCAD*. Sure, there is plenty of room, and even need, for single purpose apps. But other occasions, especially in the professional field, call for more. This path to free apps does not leave much room for pro tools.

A pile of cheap applications that cannot do much more than one or two things leads to a weaker platform. Apple appears to be taking this position with all of their platforms, but primarily with iOS. It seems that Apple is trying to compete with Android on their own turf, and we see how far cheap applications are getting that platform in regards to revenue.

It all boils down to simple economics. If developers are making little or no money, they cannot stay in business and continue to make great applications that let users create great things and do good work. Instead, I’m afraid we’ll be left with junky, ad-supported, single-purpose applications.

Perhaps I’m overblowing things. Perhaps the market will understand the difference, and gladly fork over money for sophisticated applications while enjoying free apps. Regardless, I feel this is an ultimately unhealthy stance for Apple to take. It’s risky, and not in a good “pushing the envelope in regards of technology and design” sort of way that they’re known for.

If you have an opinion regarding developers, applications, Apple’s platforms, or if you feel like I’m blowing things out of proportion, let us know by leaving a comment below!

*Cheap single-purpose apps would be all developers could afford to create with a lack of significant revenue.

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