Brighthand Bytes

Dec 23 2011   9:26AM GMT

When Buying Mobile Apps You Get What You Pay For

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

I sometimes wonder if software for smartphones and tablets isn’t too inexpensive. How many great apps aren’t being developed because companies know people will complain if it costs more than $5? And all upgrades have to be free.

Good, powerful, and useful smartphone apps sell for a tiny fraction of what PC ones do, but development costs aren’t that much less. Companies have to take a big risk to release mobile software because there’s a good chance it won’t be profitable.

I know, there are 500,000+ items in the iTunes App Store so there are plenty of people willing to take the risk. But let’s face it, a good percentage of those apps are junk. There are huge numbers of flashlight apps, public-domain books released as ebooks, poorly written clones of Bejeweled, and other wastes of time put out with minimal efforts on the hope that enough people will pay 99 cents for them that it will be worth the few hours of time the developers put into them.

There are a few big-name PC software developers making iPhone apps, but many of these are classic PC and arcade games being ported to a new platform, rather than new games being developed. I suspect the situation would be different if these companies could charge more for their work, but the current economics of the App Store exert tremendous downward price pressure.

Tablets, Too
The situation is slightly different for the iPad. Companies regularly charge more for the tablet version of their apps, but that typically means they cost $3 instead of $1. The problem with this is tablet apps need to be nearly as powerful and complex as PC apps, not “dumbed down” versions.

Tablets are rapidly replacing laptops for many consumers. As such, they need to be relatively powerful, with robust third-party software. A simple smartphone app expanded to fill a large screen won’t do it. Developers aren’t going to do all the work required if they then have to sell their software so cheaply there’s little chance of recouping their money.

Some companies companies realize this, which is why the best and most capable iPad productivity apps aren’t cheap. The Quickoffice suite, which lets users work with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, is $20. Those who buy all of Apple’s iWork suite will pay $30. The new LogMeIn Pro is also $30.

I’m not saying that all iPhone and iPad apps should be $20. But people shopping on the Apple App Store should realize that the development of quality software takes a lot of money — $50,000 isn’t unusual. As such, not everything can cost 99 cents, and people shouldn’t complain when apps cost more.

What it really comes down to is, you get what you pay for. If the mobile software you’re buying costs 99 cents, odds are it has been developed on a shoestring budget. If you want something more robust, you probably should look around for an alternative with a higher price tag.

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