App Store Problems Vol. 1: The App Store Discourages Users From Paying For Apps Up Front

The iOS App Store is an amazing place that distributes over a million apps that have been downloaded over sixty-billion times. However, it hasn't evolved much from when it was first launched in 2008. While there have been refinements and features added, there are underlying problems that threaten the general quality of the entire ecosystem. This is the first of a series of posts talking about improving the App Store. I am trying to highlight the problems and find fixes that aren't just the same answers that people have said for years. These problems aren't catastrophic ones dooming iOS but fixing them could have a positive effect on the entire platform. So let's get to it. The iOS App Store discourages paying for applications upfront and that has a negative effect on almost every users experience. First some history for context, when the App Store launched no one was really sure what sort of pricing model would work on the new platform. Older mobile platforms, like Blackberry, had software priced at ridiculous prices. ($60 for a simple calculator ridiculous). What happened was we quickly experienced a "race to the bottom." Which was both good and bad. It was good because it allowed millions of people access to software they couldn't afford before but its negative effects are just as significant. Ignoring Apples imposed restrictions, by pricing out more expensive apps we slow the evolution of mobile applications. Developers who need to make money selling apps to stay in business can't spend as much time on developing new cool features and UI because the time cost vs what they can make of a 99c app makes long development times too costly. You probably know that today iOS apps, for the most part, are pretty cheap, and most apps downloaded are "free." You also probably know that pressing the "buy" button holds a certain risk because you have no way to try an app before purchasing. Sure you can get a refund but it isn't a straight forward, easy process. To be clear there definitely should be apps that cost 99c or are free but by not allowing trials of applications Apple is discouraging higher pricing for more advanced apps. Furthermore if pricier applications, which are generally speaking higher quality, can't thrive it eliminates the premium market. Ignoring applications from developers that are hoping to be acquired or receive venture capital, the developers who make quality software and need to charge a fair price for it go out of business.

What about capitalism? Free markets? 'The competition is just offering the same thing at a lower price.'

The problem is they usually aren't. Lower quality applications that the vast majority of people use, make them think that this is what it has to be like. Filled with intrusive ads, poor experiences, ugly Ui, and predatory in-app purchases. (Once again not all lower priced apps are junk, there are great ones but many aren't.) If the general public won't pay for apps and get used to low quality software, it damages the experience of iOS not only for them but for everyone. If quality developers go out of business it holds back not only the whole platform but technological progress itself. Ignoring the societal thirst for free, the way the App Store was set up discourages upfront purchases. In this post I'm only going to focus on two related problems, both of which have the same solution. Simply put, the App Store is a poor salesman and the risk for paying for software upfront is too high for many people. One of the biggest problems for customers of the iOS App Store is that Apple doesn't let you try an app before buying. I don't agree with Apple's 'no trial' stance but I have resigned myself to believe won't change. So how can Apple fix the problem without allowing trials? By showcasing an app in a compelling way that shows all the features and how they work. The solution I outline below will mean a bit more work for developers but hopefully this will result in more sales and allow you to find the apps that are perfect for you.

How I Decide If I Should Buy An App

I am not the typical app shopper. When I hear about a cool app I go to iTunes, or the developers site, and check out the features. I read reviews if there are any and if I am still not sold I head to Youtube to find a video of how the app works. Which results in: a well done product video that may or may not show the features, a video made years ago that isn't relevant anymore, a shaky video from an amateur reviewer, or nothing. I am much more likely to buy it if I can see a video of how it functions and see all the features. The general public isn't going to do all this work just to buy an app, which is precisely my point. It is important to make the App Store itself a compelling salesman so the everyday user can easily see if they should buy the app.

How Developers Can Make Pressing The 'Buy' Button Easier Today

This is pretty simple, just maintain some good quality videos of the features and update them when you release major updates. Have one main video that is basically a commercial to entice me to buy but also have short videos outlining the different features of your app. If you can't afford to make a "commercial" just make simple videos showing the features. There has been a number of times where an app looks great but I don't buy it because I can't verify some feature that has to work a certain way or it's useless to me. If I can't confirm a feature works a certain way I don't buy it. While they could just put it on Youtube or their site Apple shouldn't make users search for it.

Apple's Role

Apple could easily streamline the research process and make the decision to purchase an easier one by showcasing app preview videos front and centre. Users hear about a cool app, they check it out on the app store and watch a video outlining the main features of the app. This would make pressing the buy button a whole lot easier. Google already allows developers to do this and Apple started allowing developers to do this late last year. The app 'Clumsy Ninja' was the first to get a video preview but doesn't currently have one. Personally, I have never seen a video in the App Store and for someone who looks at as many apps as I do it leads me to believe they just aren't there. So either developers aren't taking advantage of this feature, which I doubt, or Apple has abandoned it. Videos alone would make the App Store a better salesman but simply allowing video previews isn't enough. Apple should be actively helping developers by giving them the tools they need to quickly and easily make professional looking videos. This would sell more applications and lead to less disappointment with apps that don't do what users think they could.

Videos Are A Good Start But The Experience Could Be Better

If the only point of this post was that Apple should allow video previews in the App Store there would be little point to it, it's been said before. I don't just want videos I want a better experience, one that shows me the information I need to press the buy button. This is the experience I want:

  • I read about a cool new app. It looks interesting but I don't need to buy another app that I am only going to use once and then revert back to the one I normally use.
  • So I launch Siri and ask to see a preview of 'New App.'
  • She launches the apps main video preview. (Similar to how she launches movie trailers)
  • It looks promising but I am not sold. I ask can you show me 'Feature B?'
  • Siri launches a more in depth video of the feature I asked for.
  • I ask 'how are the reviews?'
  • She shows me not only user reviews from the App Store but professional reviews from my favourite sites.
  • "What does John Gruber think about it?"
  • She answers "He says 'It works great, highly recommend.'"
  • "OK buy it." I press my finger to the fingerprint scanner and it authorizes the purchase.

Bonus Points: I say "Can I see how my data will work with the app" and you see a preview of the app with all your relevant data.

Final Notes

Apple and developers have an incentive to make the sales pitch for their app compelling. The better the pitch the more likely I am to buy. I truly hope Apple drops the traditional mentality of how users interact with the App Store. It would not only make the user experience better but could also mean more sales for developers. Apples 'Think Different' motto seams to be at odds with the company lately. No Apple hasn't stopped innovating, and anyone who writes articles about that is a moron, but I think success has discouraged radical change. With iOS7 Jony Ive showed us they weren't afraid to take risks with their biggest product, let's hope that spirit still lives throughout the company. Let's not let Apple become complacent with the status quo, demand the best experience possible.


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