What about App Store Demos?

Despite Apple’s apparent stance on this, this “feature request” just won’t go away, and I don’t think “7 days of full featured functionality” is the stupid simple answer here.

We’re talking about an ecosystem of $1 and $10 apps here. The most “expensive” app I use is the $14 iTap Windows Remote Desktop client. So, before I get into potential implementation details I’m going to say upfront that I come down on the side that’s not convinced these will lead to more revenue to developers or even the store as a whole.

Trial vs Refund

Let’s first assume that apps are left in the dark about their trial status and it’s up to the OS to decide what happens on day 8. This is what’s known as a “full featured trial”. The app just works, until day 8, when it stops. A lot can happen in 7 days: you can finish the game, you can fix that messed up photo you took, you connected to that server and fixed a line of code that saves your company $2.4M. The app held up its end of the bargain, now what?

Your common “woa $1.99 is WAY too expensive for an App!” user would prefer the app just sits there on your home screen, and prompt for payment should they ever try to launch it again – and developers of single function apps would see downloads explode while revenues plummet.

The only way to do this in a way that would make sense for developers to still make money would be to hold the purchase price of an app on a user’s credit card, and on day 8 if they haven’t purchased/deleted the app, charge them or release the credit as needed. There’s obviously some backend charges associated with that that aren’t worth it for $.99 transactions but let’s assume Apple’s willing to eat it. In order for this to work, Apple would have to require a credit card to try apps (if you weren’t aware, you can create an iTunes account without a credit card and download free content).

Turns out…

As it turns out, Apple already allows demos and refunds. Developers are free to make “lite” versions for free full of in-house ads for the full version. Developers are also free to offer a single free app with a “Full Version” in-app-purchase. Some of the top grossing apps employ this strategy (Photoshop Mobile comes to mind).

In reality, the demand for mandatory trials isn’t from people who want to try before they buy, it’s from people who just don’t want to buy, and developers who take pride in their work are more than willing to lose their “business” to ad supported and freemium alternatives.

The problems Apple has to address with the app store are the eroding “middle class” of apps – apps below the top 10s that have exponentially less downloads because of visibility issues related to the so-called “long tail”.