How iOS 6 Free App Password Policy Might Affect App Adoption & Developer Business Models

by Christopher Paul on July 24, 2012

After reading – from a few sources – that iOS 6 no longer requires a password to download free apps, I wondered how that would affect the user experience and, in return, the developers who vie for app attention. The short version is that I think this is a great thing for users and developers. For users, it just makes updating apps much easier. But for developers, it’s even better – at least after you start to dig through it.

Quickly, downloading a free app doesn’t expose the user to much risk. We assume Apple vets the app and with the controls placed around personal data coming in iOS 6, we can trust that our sensitive data won’t be taken without our express permission.

For the developer, it’s not as quick or simple but still a good thing. The existing policy for paid apps would still apply and a password will be needed for purchase; I assume (though I haven’t seen anyone saying expressly) that in-app purchases will still (and rightly so) require a password. I imagine a world where many developers go freemium – even for rather basic features – just to reduce the barrier to entry. I also imagine a wold where apps are either severly restricted or, as was the case with a lot of shareware from a while back, time constrained. After a few days, the app would require an in-app purchase allow continued use. But there are two things to consider:

One, I don’t know if that’s the best way to handle app development; I appreciate how Instapaper removed it’s free offering and went paid app with optional subscription. But what if Marco wanted to increase Instapaper’s use without the overhead that lead to him abandoning that price point? What if Marco said Instapaper is free to store one article at a time or store as many articles as possible but they’d only be available for 15 days or so. Afterwards, only an in-app purchase would allow access.

The barrier to trying out the app would be low enough for users unwilling to shell out $5 at first to try the app – like Marco originally inteded with the hope they’d upgrade. But it calls a bluff, so to speak, and prevents the freeloaders from bitching about an app that they got for free. For those willing to spend the money (seriously, it’s only $5 and completely worth it and the subscription), they get an app they’ll love and without much risk at all. From Marco’s perspective, it might increase his footprint more so and compete with other “read later” services like Pocket and the infamous Readability.

The second thing to consider (and is the only downside I can see from this type of business model) revolves around reviews. I remember people touching on this when debating free vs paid apps was all the rage a few months back. Basically, Apple has one review sytem per app. If you have a paid one and a free one, there are two sets of reviews. People who got something for nothing and complain about it later (giving the app a one star review) can and does affect future downloads and app rankings. One solution to poor reviews was to eliminate the free app and raise the bar for those vesting in writing reviews – a strategy I agree with.

By moving back to a single free app, you run the risk of freebasers to ruining your app rating when they find themselves forced to make a decision to do an in-app purchase for continued use. Everyone wants a free ride if they can get it and for some reason, they think it will actally get them where they need to be every time.

Unless Apple has a thing against time crippling features in their ToS (I haven’t read the whole thing yet), I see this as yet another way for developers to expose their apps and monetize them later. Come to think of it, I can’t understand why more developers don’t go back to a trialware style of app today.

It might not be for everyone – Marco Arment might not feel the review risk is worth it. But I can’t see how this subtle change to iOS won’t offer a better user experience and a way for developers to earn paying users with little risk to either side. It seems almost frictionless.

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