Could Apple Do This? Would they?

appstore12I’d been thinking about how much Apple is able to do – when they want to – with iPhone App distribution, because of how they set it up.

And I’d been thinking about how much I’d like – both as a user and a developer – trial versions of iPhone apps. But I know what a can of worms is opened by giving developers the ability make and unlock trials.

And then I thought – could Apple handle trials themselves, completely, by making all apps in the iTunes App Store free for the first few days, and then processing the payments if the apps were still installed after that?

The answer, of course, is that I don’t know. I have no idea if this would work or even be possible. I’m sure there are a ton of issues and implications to be thought through. It may be technically impossible, financially unfeasible, or just a lot more trouble than simply letting developers handle trials on their own.

But I can’t help thinking how cool it would be if Apple pulled it off.

It’s clear that no one else could do this with their app stores – no one else has that kind of control. Or – let’s face it – the guts. And it seems to me that it would be very much Apple’s style: here’s a better way to do something, we can do it, let’s do it. And if it turns the existing software distribution model upside-down, that’s just a bonus.

Any thoughts? I can’t tell if this is a good idea, a terrible idea, or something in-between. And it’s probably just wishful thinking on my part. But it would – in my opinion – be a huge benefit to both iPhone developers and users.

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15 thoughts on “Could Apple Do This? Would they?

  1. Lou zucaro

    I like it. And I think they could do it. But it seems like a non-Apple thing to do. Let’s face it, they usually choose “greed” over “the good of the users” unless their hand is forced (DRM, anyone?)

    It’s definitely a cool idea, though and it likely is do-able, especially since I often don’t get the receipt for my payment for a few days anyway, so it seems like there’s SOME kind of delay built in already.

    The trick would be how to know if it was still installed. My wife has never, once, sync’d her iPhone…she plugs it in to charge it, but never syncs it. I have to do that for her because otherwise it would never happen. As such, I think the phone would have to be polled if it hadn’t been sync’d in a few days. And that’s probably a whole other mess, especially with a billion apps a year being DL’d.

    But it’s still a good idea 🙂

  2. Dan Berks

    @ Lou Zucaro:
    I agree with most of your comment, but take exception with the shot at Apple for choosing “greed over the good of the users.” I think it’s obvious a company that doesn’t consider and balance *both* of these frequently conflicting drives doesn’t stay in business long. No one denies that Apple is in business to make money. That said, I’m tired DRM being thrown out as an example of Apple greed. Apple didn’t want DRM. However, the music industry flat out refused to sign on without it. The minute it became feasible to do so, Apple dropped DRM. (On music, anyway. They still exercise DRM on video and for the same reason as before: the content providers demand it.)

    Apple exercises tight control over iTunes and the devices it can sync to; there’s no question they do this to benefit themselves as a company first and foremost. If you must slam Apple for putting profit above benefits to its customers, do so in areas where they’re actually guilty of it. I’m just saying.

  3. Ellen Post author

    Thanks, Dan and Lou.

    I also can’t accuse Apple of being greedy. If they were – they could easily have gotten more than 30% from developers. All the older mobile distributors do, and they don’t give us nearly as much exposure as Apple does. And they’d structure the App Store searches and lists so that the higher-priced apps get the advantage, rather than the lower.

    I’m a big admirer of Apple for doing stuff they way they want. Of course I don’t agree with everything, and of course I hope they change some stuff, but on the whole, they’ve done more – much more – for mobile software in the last 13 months than everyone else put together has done in 13 years.

    But I do hope that implementing trial versions – no matter how – becomes part of what they want. And soon.

  4. Peter

    Seems like a reasonable idea from the end user standpoint, but there’ll be some complaints. “I downloaded this app to try it out but then the upstairs toilet broke and I never got around to it and now I’m stuck with this app.” Can’t make everybody happy…

    As was said above, about the only issue would be whether this is done at sync time or on the iPhone. The problem with doing it at sync time is that not everybody syncs regularly. I know I don’t usually bother with my iPod or iPhone unless I have some reason to do so. The problem with doing it on the phone is that jailbreakers will very quickly find that process and cut it off at the knees. Sounds like a good reason to jailbreak your iPhone–free apps for life.

    By the way, in the realm of “slamming Apple for putting profit above benefits to its customers,” I have just one word for you: “Ringtones.”

  5. karla

    Are you nuts! That is a scam. What ‘Partners in Grime’ said is already being done by developers. Some are even add supported if you do not buy the paid version.

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  8. Dean Roberts

    I install my my apps over 3G or WiFi. I never sync to install apps. With that said, Apple would know you uninstalled it the same way it asks you to rate an application when you uninstall it from your phone.

    Even before trial versions, they need to figure out a better way to organize the app store. I dont even browse the store because its just pages of confusion!

  9. Kevin White

    I don’t think that download now, pay later automatically is a good model.

    You could accuse Apple of being greedy by making it so a) you have to buy an app to use it, and b) making it impossible to return apps. That way, they ensure that every non-free ‘download’ makes them revenue.

    Switching it so that users can download all they want, and have to uninstall apps before a deadline to avoid paying, is just as bad. That’s just like getting 30 free days of [insert service here], and you’ll be automatically billed if you don’t call their CSRs to cancel.

    Do you like doing that? I don’t. No one likes having those auto-renewal things set up. That’s basically requiring payment to be ‘opt-out’. Boo. No way.

  10. Andrew

    Why not an expiring application without a paid for license key? The apps are generally cheap enough that if have 2 iPhones, i should buy 2 apps. The key gen can be tied to the iPhone serial.

    I play with a full function app for 10 days, and after that it shuts down if I don’t buy it. The iPhone has a clock tied to the network. Maybe someone could restore their iPhone, but who wants to do this every 10 days?

    The iPhone could even keep the install date on apps that are uninstalled, so you could not keep re-installing the trial.

    Computers have done this for years and it is easy for Apple to implement if they wanted too.

  11. Terry

    You really hit the nail on the head here. I am a huge fan of my iPhone, but I really struggle with the Apps that cost more than $5. It doesn’t seem like much, but you have no method beyond ratings to know what you are getting. I’m about to drop $20 on a GTD app and I’ve held off because of exactly this reason.

  12. Serge

    Yes, good article.

    And by the way, where is ewallet for Mac ? And also, where is the eWallet OTA version ??? Both have been promised… 🙂

    Thanks !


  13. Sandra

    Such expensive add ons are a new strategy to earn more money. I don’t like it either but it depends on spirit of the age…

Comments are closed.