Editorial: iPad app prices are out of control and will kill us all

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Editorial: iPad app prices are out of control and will kill us all
Apple trained us well with the iPhone. All those $0.99 apps, $1.99 apps, and the occasional $4.99 (or so) app, padded by plentiful free apps, and we laid down / rolled over every time the App Store whistled. Sure, we admit it, after a few months of conditioning we even spent $9.99 on a couple apps, but boy did we do our homework on those ones! They had to be the best, they had to either be the "greatest game ever," or a vital piece of productivity software we could never live without. But something, somewhere broke within and we were left powerless as the iPad at last made its way out of the box and popped open the App Store for the first time. These pricey apps (the average seems to be double the iPhone price) are dangerously expensive, and we'd like everybody involved to think twice before beating our wallet into submission with these $9.99 and $14.99 "snacks." Follow with us after the break as we break this down, won't you?

In the long run, it's perhaps difficult to expect $0.99 and $1.99 apps being the norm for the iPad. With less than a million devices on the market (compared to almost 70 million iPhones and iPod touches), there isn't the sort of scale yet that will make the iPad inherently a gold rush. Plus there's the real fact that the iPad requires a separate effort of development, with non-game apps requiring exponentially more UI elements and even games requiring new high-res versions of all graphics and iPad-specific controls. Even the iPhone's App Store was a little pricier in the beginning as first-to-market apps capitalized on the easy cash, so maybe we're just seeing a repeat.

But double the price? The typical offenders (like Real Racing HD) double the price of an iPhone app you might already own, but also require a separate purchase -- all for merely iPad-enhanced views. Even worse is something like Minigore HD, which is $4.99 (a new quasi-baseline for paid apps) for an "HD" version of a $0.99 / $1.99 game, and which, like most of the games we've seen, is merely a bump in resolution. Sure, you might get suckered in once or twice, but most of these don't have enhancements worthy of even a second purchase. Particularly at launch, we would've loved these heavy iPhone hitters to build "universal" (the little + icon on the purchasing button) versions of their software, adding value for people who have already bought in the form of a free iPad download, and adding incentive for folks who haven't. After all, what iPad owner doesn't have an iPhone? Developers might be feeling the pain of a second platform to develop for, but from a casual user's perspective they're going to spend maybe an hour or two a day with the iPad, but their whole day with their iPhone -- they don't ascribe value to mere quantity of pixels.

Our fear isn't just of a selfish "give us more apps for less money" sort, but we're also worried about what will happen to developers a couple months down the line -- these nerds need to stay happy so we can keep getting our regular fix, after all. The problem with charging too much for an application is that you can feel burned. Sure, you might blaze through your first half dozen iPad purchases, but once those iTunes Store receipts start piling up in the inbox, and then the credit card bill comes in the mail, we can see regret setting in. We're reminded of a little ditty by our boy Frank Herbert:
I must not regret. Regret is the App Store killer. Regret is the little-death that brings snackable obliteration. I will face my regret. I will not permit my significant other to look at the credit card bill and glare at me. And when she has gone away to play Scrabble on her iPhone I will turn the inner eye to see its iPad. Where the regret has gone there will be no more "HD" versions of apps I already own. Only I will remain.
We think it went something like that. Anyway, it's hard to regret a $0.99 app. Even if you play with it for 15 minutes and then give up, you shrug your shoulders and say, "oh well, that was a nice bit of fun." But with a $9.99 or $14.99 app, you really expect greatness. If the app doesn't deliver (and trust us, most of the apps we've seen so far for the iPad aren't worth half the price), you feel burned. You resent the app, you resent the developer, you resent yourself, and you even resent the iPad itself. Maybe the iPhone purchasing process has made you numb to these sort of feelings, but we found them rushing back with the iPad, and we're pretty sure these prices could make even the least frugal of App Store big spenders cringe.

Not all of this is the fault of the developers: if Apple implemented a trial period it could really soften the blow (iPhone OS 4.0, perhaps?). The iPad could perfect the shareware model that almost has worked on the PC, and it wouldn't hurt to have trials on the iPhone either. We'd also like to see video and better resources in the app store itself for discerning the quality of an app. If $9.99 is the new norm, then we need some new tools to discern and evaluate. Some applications are really worth $9.99+, either for the brand (Scrabble comes to mind, as does Civilization Revolution), or for the sheer utility (Pages, or Brushes), but we hope and pray the market solves these prices down to something much more reasonable for the average not-a-life-changer app.

If anything, the App Store taught many people not only how to pay money for things, but also taught them how rewarding it could be. Developers could make millions with a well designed, useful, or entertaining app, and responded accordingly. It's one of Apple's most wild successes, in an era of stolen music and everything-on-the-web-is-free mentalities. We're not arguing against the power of paid, we just want it to continue in the best way possible: cheap.
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