When Mobile App Developers Get Ripped-off

Friday, 28 June 2013

Going back1 to Windows Phone 7.5 after a few weeks on Windows Phone 8 has been non-problematic. I've comfortably resisted the impulse to upgrade back, and I'm happy to continue to do so until Nokia release a new Lumia that I must buy. This wouldn't have been as easy were it not for a few third-party apps that cost me less than six dollars in total. I've used these apps daily for more than two years and have received numerous free updates2 in this time. In short, they've offered incredible value. So much so, I actually feel bad. 

I don't think it's right that a single micropayment entitles me to receive unlimited updates for the remainder of an app's development. I want developers to have the ability to charge their app's existing users for an update they consider merits an additional micropayment. This has never been an issue with traditional software, and so I'm puzzled as to why there appears to be different expectations for mobile apps. When an update inflates the value of software, which was both feature-complete and useable3, at no additional cost, there stops being a correlation between the amount of money paid in and the amount of value got out. In other words, that's the moment the developer gets ripped off.

An alternative app monetisation model I'd like to see introduced is the ability for apps to be sold as a service with recurring subscription micropayments. If I'm seeing value from an app every day, it's only fair that I continue to support its development beyond an initial transaction. It's in our best interest. After all, the extra revenue this would generate for developers will be reciprocated through higher quality and/or more frequent updates. 


Given Windows Phone's still insignificant market share and the scarcity of great apps available for it, on the odd occasion that I do come across one, I feel like a few dollars is not enough to justify and support the app's development. The problem I have at the moment is that there's nothing more I can do4.

Update: I've discovered that Metroblur on Windows Phone is a free app that enables its users to offer their support by donating through an in-app purchase. Clever. I remember visiting the official sites of London Travel, NextGen Reader and Rowi and being disappointed that there was no option to send a donation. So, it's refreshing to come across a developer who has creatively identified an unconventional method to finance their app's development. 

I don't think that an option to donate should be restricted to free apps either. If you're charging for your app and are actively updating it, like any of the aforementioned apps, then I'd encourage you to add an option in your next update that enables your users to donate. Not all your users will, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many are willing.

1. Involuntarily.

2. The updates are usually incremental improvements, but occasional major iterations have not been uncommon.

3. Not Windows 8.

4. Other than to recommend the app to other Windows Phone users I know. The problem is I know only one in the real world. And I'm not John Gruber on the Internet.

LET'S GO HOME