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If I have a choice between a free app and a paid app that do very similar things, I’ll buy the paid app every time. In my article about choosing Photoshop over GIMP, quite a few commenters said they didn’t use Photoshop (the inarguably better app) because they would have had to pay around $10 a month, a tiny fee for anyone to invest in professional calibre software. I find this whole line of reasoning ridiculous.
When it comes to iOS apps, the vast majority cost less than $5. In fact, most cost less than a single dollar. By paying this small fee once, you get a whole host of benefits. I pay for apps, let’s look at why you should too.
They’re Less Likely to Vanish
A few weeks ago Mailbox, the popular “inbox zero” mail app, was shut down. It had launched as a free app with a waiting list. This created a lot of buzz and hundreds of thousands of people had soon downloaded the app.
As a free app, Mailbox obviously had limited revenue streams. They were soon acquired by Dropbox who kept the lights on for a few years. Unfortunately, Dropbox themselves are under pressure to increase their revenues so Mailbox has been dropped, leaving its users out in the cold.
Contrast this situation with my email app of choice, Airmail. The OS X version is the best Mac desktop client. They’ve recently put a lot of time and money into developing an equally excellent iOS client. Rather than offering it for free, it costs a very reasonable $4.99.
I check my email at least a couple of times a day. For less than the price of a beer I can get a great email app that I can be pretty sure isn’t going anywhere. This seems like a fair deal to me, rather than having to deal with the hassle of finding and adjusting to a new email client (something that kills your productivity) every year or two.
Better Developer Support
Even if someone is developing an app in their spare time, it’s better for customers if they treat it as a business rather than a hobby. They don’t have to sell many apps a month before their revenue justifies the time put in. If an app is netting someone $500 or $1000 a month, it can make a pretty big difference to their bank balance.
Once someone is in a situation where the money they get from app development is something they don’t want to lose, they become more dependent on their customers. They need to update their apps for the latest versions of iOS and respond to support requests. If they don’t, word will get out, bad reviews will come in, and the income will vanish.
Finally the Twitter iOS App has been updated. Cleaner but not much else going on.
— Rob Humphries (@robhumphries) January 6, 2016
There are plenty of people who’ve developed an app just to learn the process, released it for free on the App Store, and never looked at it again. You can still use one of these apps, but if it’s still got a skeuomorphic design that looks great on the iPhone 3GS, there’s not much of a chance the developer is ever going to update it to support the iPhone 7.
To me, a few dollars is a small price to pay to ensure that the apps I use on a daily basis run properly on my iPhone.
Developers Don’t Have to Make Money Elsewhere
Even if you aren’t paying directly for an app, the developers have to make money somewhere. It doesn’t matter if the app’s a simple tool, they will still have some costs — at the very least there’s Apple’s Developer fee. Unless the app is a hobby (which has other issues) the developers need to bring in some revenue somehow.
Flappy bird ad's got no chill since everyone stopped playing ? pic.twitter.com/MlqK0Ms7cQ
— Josh (@JoshKonitz_) September 15, 2014
Selling an app isn’t the only way for developers to make money, but it’s the one that’s best for consumers. Advert-supported apps are ugly, which is one of the many reasons why iOS apps are still better than Android ones. Developers selling personal details and usage habits on to other third-parties is just asking for trouble. The only good ways for developers to release free apps is if they are supporting an already-profitable service (for example Uber or AirBnB) or if they’re part of a freemium app with paid upgrades.
Features Stay the Same
Freemium apps then, may seem to be the perfect balance for people looking to avoid spending money. Just use the entry level app and don’t pay for the upgrades. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very viable strategy.
For one, many of the problems I’ve detailed in this article remain the same — if everyone stuck with the free base product, the developer wouldn’t be able to continue developing the app. You’re also costing them money. Second, most freemium apps are designed to make you pay for the upgrades. The best features might be kept behind a pay wall, there may be adverts, or you might only be able to use the app a certain number of times.
— Magedivity (@Glorious_Crown) January 9, 2016
Even worse, if you’re using the free app, features you love and use daily can be pulled away and put behind a paywall. That’s exactly what happened last year with Pushbullet. Universal Copy and Paste, one of the apps most useful features, was initially included in the free app. In order to make their Pro tier seem more attractive, the developer’s changed things and made it an exclusively paid feature.
Regardless of what the situation is, you’ll almost always be better off investing in the upgrades which means it’s basically just another paid app (although your money also has to support a number of freeloaders).
More Polished Apps
If an app is making someone money, they can justify spending time on it. If they’re scraping by on what little revenue they can glean from adverts, then polishing the app is not going to take priority. More time spent building an app means that it’s going to be a more polished product with fewer bugs.
Having an app crash while you’re doing something important, or constantly logging you out, or not registering your taps properly, or any one of a million other minor bugs that are endemic in apps that haven’t had enough time spent on them can be infuriating. I for one am happy to may a few dollars to let developers give their apps they time they need (and keep my blood pressure down).
Almost every time we write about an app at MakeUseOf, someone comments that it looks great but they’re not going to spend money on it. As I’ve covered above, this is silly for many reasons but there’s one more super important one: if you like a developer’s work, it feels good to support them. I like knowing that the people who make the apps I use daily are, in part, able to feed themselves and send their kids to school because of my contributions.
Yes, a dollar here or there is hardly making an earth shattering difference but it’s still good to know you’re helping. Even if you don’t care for any of the other reasons, consider buying apps simply to support the developers you appreciate.
Do you pay for apps? If not, why not? And if you do pay for apps, have I missed any of the reasons you do?