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In App Purchase Enables Free App Feature Unlocking

Apple has notified iPhone developers that the In App Purchase feature, previously restricted to paid apps, is now available for free apps as well. This is a huge change, and an about-face from the "Free apps remain free" response Apple originally gave in response to the question of using In App Purchase within a free app. We'll see the iPhone app world evolve in two significant ways as soon as developers start taking advantage of this change.

First, and most obviously, it will be possible for a developer to distribute an app for free - say a comic book reader - and use In App Purchase to charge for individual titles. In the past, such an app had to cost at least $0.99 to be allowed to use In App Purchase. Such a change is welcome, if not all that interesting - is there that much difference between free and $0.99 for a reader when the primary expense will be ongoing content?

Second, and most significantly, iPhone app developers will at long last be able to distribute a feature-limited version of an app for free, and use In App Purchase to unlock additional features. This should eliminate the commonplace approach of making free and paid versions of the same app.

Everyone wins. The user experience is better, since users who like a free app don't have to go find the paid version and fiddle with replacing the free one. Plus, it should be easier to find apps in the App Store, because there will eventually be fewer free/paid siblings cluttering things up. Developers win, because they don't have to maintain two versions of an app, and I suspect the conversion rate from free to paid will be higher when it's done within the app. And Apple wins, both in terms of money and loyalty, assuming that users end up paying for more apps.

There may be some confusion in figuring out how to handle reviews and ratings, since apps that allow unlocking of features stand to change quite a bit after that happens. Apple may have to differentiate ratings and reviews posted before and after an In App Purchase was made.


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Comments about In App Purchase Enables Free App Feature Unlocking
(Comments are closed.)

The title of this article is probably misleading. It's unlikely that this change means that Apple will allow what we usually call demo versions of applications into the app store.

There won't be demo versions (i.e. applications lacking significant features such as the ability to save documents); there might be lite versions that can be upgraded to full versions.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-15 15:34
You think? What would you call today's free apps with paid siblings, given that they're restricted in all sorts of ways (but saving is generally irrelevant to an iPhone app)?

"Lite" is an awful bastardization of a word, and I won't put it in an article.
It's Apple's policy to not allow apps which are not "fully functional". So there are no lite applications in the app store that lack features that are necessary for them to be useful, and there are no lite applications that have things like disabled buttons that are enabled in the full version.

When I hear "demo", I associate that with an app that allows me to get a feel for the full version, but is not useful by itself, or only works for a limited period of time. Such an app would not be allowed into the app store.
(I'd call these apps "Lite versions", regardless of my feelings for the word, because that's what everybody calls them - comprehensibility before style :-)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 07:17
Ars seems to differentiate between "Free" and "Lite" for what we have now - fully-functional apps that stand alone - and "Demo" and "Beta," which are feature-restricted in some way.

I think in the future I'd aim for "Trial" or "Evaluation" or something along those lines.
Sorry, third reply to the same comment, but I just found this. Ars Technica writes: "According to material obtained by Ars, the App Store will not accept feature-limited versions of software. Applications may not even reference features that are not implemented or up-sell to the full version. Developers must remove any reference to demo or beta from both the application binary and from any supporting materials, i.e. "metadata" in App Store speak. (...) While the words "Demo" or "Beta" represent App Store insta-rejection, "Free" or "Lite" versions remain acceptable. These applications must be fully functional and stand independently on their own."

So perhaps "Free" is a better word if you don't like "Lite".
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 07:04
Phooey! Updating the article to account for this.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 12:48
Man, I should have read more carefully. That article is from February 2009, and is thus completely out of date. Reinstated my original article... with a tweaked title.
Sorry about that, I should have noted that this article is not specifically about the recent change to Apple's policy, but about Apple's general policy towards "demo" versions.
nanogamer  2009-10-15 17:54
i think polyghost is the first free to pay app.
Paul Collins  2009-10-16 06:56
It's great to have this option. But, do a significant portion of full-app buyers skip installing the "lite" version? If so, having only a single, upgradable app in the store would force these buyers to do an order process twice to get the full app. With a self-contained In-App, there's no 2nd download, but it's still extra steps.

(Sorry about the "lite." I feel your pain, Adam. Reminds me of cigarettes. With even Apple using the term, looks like we're stuck with it. We can still fight for periods inside of quotation marks!)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-10-16 07:18
I'll pay attention to Apple styles with regard to interface elements in their programs, and with their feature names. But they're not nearly coherent enough to follow stylistically on general terms.
Computers are putting and end to the periods inside quotation marks kerfuffle once and for all. The Brits have it right, the punctuation only goes inside the quote if it applies to the quote, or can apply to the quote.
Press "enter".
In the TPS report, input "TPS Cover Sheet Required".
That is the only reasonable choice.