App Store – You Get What You Pay For

On January 14, 2009

As a new writer here on WOiP I’m getting a new perspective on the applications I see in the iTunes App Store.

In the past I would see an app, think it was cool, try it out, and decide if I wanted to keep it installed or not. Because of this, most of what I looked at were free apps. After becoming more familiar with what is out there now I am view things in a much different light.

It’s become clear to me that there is a big problem with the App Store- the default $.99 price. More accurately, the bargain pricing is symptomatic of a bigger issue, the  underlying causes of which needs to be addressed.
In the short run inexpensive apps look to be a great deal for consumers. Cheap applications mean handheld devices can acquire tremendous functionality in a short period of time. On the developer side, cheap applications mean developers can get huge exposure to a large number of people rapidly. The warm fuzzies end there. Even though it looks great at first, upon deeper examination, it is the most unfortunate thing for the consumer and developer that could’ve ever happened.

Just this morning I was perusing the App Store as usual, I took notice to the unusualy high amount of new crApps in the store. Now I don’t throw around the term crApp loosely. An app really must be a pointless waste of space to be labelled as such, but alas, there were plenty. This reminded me of the post Dan recently wrote in which he commented that the good apps are very good, and the crap apps really were crApps. It has become increasingly prevalent that some developers have picked up a copy of "iPhone Apps for Dummies" and have taken it quite literally.

This brings me to the point of this post:

We, as consumers have a tremendous impact on the fate of the App Store. It is, after all a market-driven entity. What sales have shown thus far, is that consumers do not feel that expanding the possibilities the iPhone can offer is a mainstream idea.  This is evident in the apparent reluctancy (just look at sales numbers) to buy higher priced apps, reardless of the versatility and promise they show to the iPhone as a platform and to the user buying it. That, in turn, makes it less likely developers will put in the time and effort to make fantastic apps. The result is an over-all dumbing-down of the App Store’s offerings.

This is especially unfortunate because, as I and many other power users surely have determined, the iPhone is not a phone. It is a mobile computing device. This mini computer has phone capabilities but it is a computer. And as a computer it has huge potential; potential waiting to be tapped by, you guessed it, hard-working, skilled developers.
Think about it- basic Mac and PC applications run for 2 to 3 times the amount of the middle and high priced applications for the iPhone. You don’t expect notebook software for $.99 and we shouldn’t expect it from iPhone apps either, not if we want the device’s potential to be fully leveraged as it could. The sooner the community recognizes the iPhone for what it is, the better. The fact that consumers are stuck on the "phone" factor of the iPhone generates a stigma that this is a device that will be replaced within six months to a year. I know this fact was true with other phones I have owned. Would I spend fifteen dollars on an application for my Motorola RAZR two years ago? The answer is HELL NO! Why? Because, in part, I knew I would have been throwing money away on software for a piece of hardware I would not be using a year or two later. Not so for the iPhone because the iPhone isn’t a phone, it’s the first hardware for the new computing platform.

The iPhone introduced the era of mobile computing. I treat this device as an extension of my home computer. On top of all the conveniences it offers on it’s own, the iPhone creates the ability to take what I’m working on "on the road" in a way never before possible. To do that requires great apps, apps that aren’t happening at an average price of $.99.

Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of a developer. Think of all the time, weeks and months with nothing to monetarily show for it, spent on developing a truly powerful and polished application. Think of the money spent in order to get the ball rolling on what could easily turn out to be a big undertaking. Now, think about how that well written and extremely usefull and polished application is underwelcomed, torn apart, and underappreciated by the millions of "cell phone" owners out there who cannot seem to justify paying more than .99 for an application.
I, for one, am increasingly concerned that some developers have had to scrap great ideas for updates or new undertakings entirely because the revenue stream to support it never materializes— not when people expect to pay just $.99.
Why does (choose your favorite, powerful desktop productivity application) cost so much? Because it takes money to develop great applications….

Right now it seems the good applications have been completely overrun by the bad.  The good ARE there but they are damn hard to find. (Hence why we do what we do here.)
If we want great apps for a great device we need to be willing to pay a reasonable price. I don’t want to pay even $.99 for crApp BUT I can’t expect to only pay $.99 for brilliant software either!

The final word:

This is truly an unfortunate circumstance we all have found ourselves in as consumers. It is an App Store "depression" if you will. We are at a point in the app store’s short life when we can help determine it direction. Do we want bargain prices for apps on a nice iPod phone? If so, so be it but let’s realize what that means. OR, do we want to truly tap the power of this device and its new platform? If so, it is up to us as the consumers to make sure it grows and prospers. That starts by our taking a hard look at what we hold in our hands. Is it a phone? Or is it a mobile computing platform unlike any that has ever been seen? If the latter is the case, then we have a lot of work to do to bring the developers back and push the community in the right direction. We must quit complaining about the price of apps and be grateful when one comes along that is truly amazing. We must realize and reject a shoddy app when we see one. We must not give halfass developers the satisfaction of your dollar to "see what it does."

The old adage holds true with the App Store. You get what you pay for.