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What’s so evil about iAPs?

I’ve been in a couple discussions recently, on Twitter, IM, IRL, about the (ab)use of In-App Purchases by Paper, a pretty cool iPad sketching app that made the buzz last week.
Most people I’ve been discussing with, pretty much have the opinion that iAPs are, in Paper’s case at least, a slightly sleazy, dishonest way to market an app, making it appear as free, where as in reality it will cost you 8$ for full access.
MacDrifter just posted a review of the Paper app, using pretty much the same argument, supporting the case with a screenshot showing Paper ranking as #4 in the Top Grossing chart, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be free.

To be honest, the consumer in me has mixed feelings about this… I understand the argument, and I personally prefer obvious, transparent pricing too.
But on the other hand, are the developers really to blame here?

  • In Paper’s case, they do provide a working sketching app (with the Ink tool) for free. When I buy a Moleskine and a pen, I don’t necessarily expect to get bundled pencils, markers, and watercolors for free.
  • I only bought pencils, so the app cost me 2$ so far, not 8$. I’ll probably never buy watercolors.
  • There are tons of sketching apps out there. I’ve bought a couple, and I don’t use any. If Paper hadn’t been free, I wouldn’t have bothered, period.
  • IAP is the new Freemium. You get to use something for free, you like it, you get hooked, you want more, you pay. I don’t think this is such a bad model, is it?
  • What’s wrong with developers trying to make money out of their app? The growing popularity of IAPs is a consequence of how the App Store works. Blame Apple, not the devs.

Think about it.

You have a great app at a decent price but in a crowded market.
You know Top Free charts get you A LOT more exposure.
You can’t offer proper trials.
You want to put your app in as many hands as possible, because you know people will like it.
What would you do?

4 commentaires

  1. Eric D :

    I think you have a developer bias here. I have bought Adobe Idea, so I’m not the thief kind.

    So I tried Paper because it was free. The basic set of tools is just worthless and to buy something useful is quite expensive.

    Now, if the app did include a slightly more complete set of tools to try, I might see how great they are and would be willing to pay to get the full extent of them. Here, I’m just feeling ripped off. And that’s bad. I just uninstalled the app.

    This is a situation where the Apple store sucks and Android wins. With Google, you can buy an app, check it out, realize it’s not as good as you expected, uninstall it and you won’t pay. With Apple, the developer is pushed into the “free + iAP” model which frustrates the users.
    Apple should look back at the history of “shareware” and realize it’s a great model even if it’s a bit easier to “steal” apps on jailbroken devices. The additional sales compensate it.

  2. Jérôme :

    I’d tend to disagree with your appreciation of the app itself, but it’s obviously not my job to defend it.
    What I’m more concerned about is this growing perception that iAPs are evil, or even worse, that the developers using them are crooks. That’s where I completely agree with the second half of your post, and that’s why I wrote “blame Apple, not the devs”.

    Sure, it’s a developer bias, but no money means no devs, and no devs means no apps :).

  3. Gilbert` :

    I don’t think people really see it as evil, but some might be perturbed because they cannot judge the total cost of ownership of the app.

    In entertainment people are used to paying to get to another level or buy credits etc.

    But the kind of apps that seem to come under fire are tools.

    Personally I’m fine with the model, because most apps are so cheap anyway and I would always make a considered choice about whether or not to buy the additional features. I don’t feel that just because a feature becomes available, I should add it.

  4. Andrew :

    Forgive me, as I’m only coming up to speed on this issue. It seems to me that the people that are discussing this as an issue are people who understand the technology. Do general users care? Or are they used to it based on other in-app purchases (think Zynga’s facebook apps and more)?

    I like the analogy with buying pencils and watercolors… the app is useful in and of itself (just like a bic and pad of paper). If you want more you need to acquire the additional tools.

    I read the gas station analogy in MacDrifter’s review… my first counter-thought to the analogy was paid-for toilets. :) You may expect a free toilet when you fill up with gas, but that’s not always the case.

    In the end it comes down to users who vote with their downloads and wallets. Perhaps we are reaching a point of saturation with in-app purchases… I don’t know nor have I seen any studies that show we are, but perhaps we need some more real data from non-tech people.

    Obviously if that already exists and I missed it, then please provide me a link and forgive me for my ignorance. :)

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