Why Apple should implement a 24 hour return policy for all iPhone apps

Wed, Feb 18, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

One of the more interesting facts surrounding Google’s Android Market Place is that there will be a 24 hour return policy for all paid applications.  Users who aren’t satisfied with their purchase can opt to return it for a full refund within 24 hours of the time of purchase.  This type of policy stands to benefit both consumers and developers, and Apple would have a lot to gain by implementing a similar policy in the iTunes App Store.

As the number of applications in the app store now number over 20,000, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for users to sift through the crapware to find programs actually worth downloading.  Apple’s recent reorganization of the app store helps to a certain extent, but a breakdown of the most popular free and paid apps in each category is just a start, not a be all end all solution.

People will gamble on a few 99 cent apps, but wont take a chance on a $7.99 app

iPhone users might be willing to shell out 99 cents for a game that looks cool, but they’re naturally more hesitant to spend upwards of 10 bucks on a program they’ve never used before, no matter how appealing it may look.  This becomes somewhat problematic because some of the more high quality and complex applications necessarily require more developmental resources, and are therefore sold at higher price points.  These applications are having an increasingly tough time competing in the app store because consumers don’t want to spend 7 bucks on a program that might suck.  Some worthwhile applications therefore get overlooked in the process, and the last thing Apple wants is to drive away developers who churn out some of the more impressive applications.

If Apple needs any evidence that a 24 hour return policy would be useful, they need look no further than the current pricing problems currently plaguing the app store.  More and more developers are becoming frustrated with applications that don’t sell, and are lowering prices to bargain basement levels in an attempt to boost up sales volume.  The “race to the bottom”, as its called, is advantageous to consumers in the short-term, but in the long run, it might preclude developers from devoting the necessary resources towards quality iPhone development.

Are Lite applications the answer?

Recently, a number of developers have been having success with free to download “Lite” applications, which are essentially watered down versions of applications that otherwise cost money.  This method of advertising works well because application screenshots and YouTube videos are not always enough to give users a realistic idea of what a program is like.

One developer in particular who achieved success this way is Ethan Nichols, the developer of the popular iPhone game iShoot.  When first released in October, iShoot sold for $4.99, yet failed to get any significant traction.  A subsequent price drop to $2.99 also did little to help sales.  But when Nichols introduced a ‘lite’ version of iShoot for free into the App Store in January, downloads skyrocketed.   The popularity of iShoot Lite, in turn, drove up sales of the paid version of the application, and within a few days, the $2.99 version of iShoot was the top paid application in the iTunes Store.   Clearly, users who downloaded the free version of iShoot really enjoyed it, and therefore had no problem  with paying a few extra bucks for a full featured version of the program.

The problem with lite applications, however, is that they force developers to essentially release two versions of the same application.  Why put the onus on developers to do extra work when Apple can solve this problem in one fell swoop?  Besides, wouldn’t Apple prefer its developers to begin work on new applications, as opposed to figuring out what features to include or keep out of a lite version of a program that they’ve already finished coding?

‘Lite’ applications work to a certain extent, but it’s really only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.  Not to mention, if every developer started releasing paid and lite versions of applications concurrently, navigating through the app store would become a jumbled mess in a heartbeat.

Consumers are willing to pay more for quality applications

The success of iShoot demonstrates that users have no problem paying for quality applications if they can first give it a test run of sorts.  In that regard, Google’s policy of allowing 24 hour returns makes perfect sense, and is one Apple should follow.

Any application not worth keeping for 24 hours most likely ends up being deleted anyways, and in the end, you’re left with a customer who feels bilked out of his money.  A 24 hour return policy, however, ensures that iPhone and iPod Touch users will always be satisfied with their purchases, and more importantly, will also give some of the more highly priced applications a chance to succeed.  This will, in turn, encourage developers to continue churning out high quality iPhone software.

At the very least, even if Apple chooses not to implement a 24 hour return policy, it should at least consider application demos whereby users could have 2-3 hours to play around with a program before having to make a decision of whether or not they should click the ‘buy’ button.

Apple has repeatedly stated that they view the iPhone as a software platform, and that being the case, Apple needs to do all it can to push forward some of the more polished applications, and to ensure that the App Store doesn’t become thought of as a haven for cheap and second-rate apps.  A 24 hour trial period seems like an obvious solution, and hopefully Apple will soon realize that.

Jon Maddox over at Mustache sums up the situation aptly when he writes:

The third party software market on Mac OS X (which is one of the most thriving software circles around) would be no where without allowing their users to try before they buy. Shareware and Trialware has been around forever. It became obvious to software developers VERY early that letting people use their software was the best marketing they could come up with. Apple ships iWork trials on every computer they make. Why, in 2009, do we have a whole new platform that is rejecting this proven idea?



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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Richard Says:

    It would give me the confidence to venture into uncharted territory.

  2. Igor Says:

    Defo a good idea when contemplating a purchase. If it’s quality the app stays on me phone.

  3. Fly Says:

    I’ve been trumpeting the same theory for some time. It would take the emphasis off cheap, and move it to quality. I would even argue that 1-4 hours is plenty.

    We personally own a couple well researched $5-10 apps, but the balance are free apps with little chance of spending cash on a bad purchase.

  4. Hammer Says:

    Apple, already has the ability to limit rented movies to a 48 hour time period. Why not do the same for applications. Download the program for free. After 24 (or 48) hours, the next time you open the application you either have to purchase it or chose to let it delete itself. They then also have the records to prevent you from downloading the application again.

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