Trials, Demoes & App Stores

One little annoyance about Apple’s App Store model (both iOS and presumably the Mac App Store) is that there is only one way a developer can really offer customers a demo or trial of the software: ‘lite’ versions. As it currently stands on the Mac there are three methods that I can think of that developers use for allowing you to ‘test’ their software: trial periods, demo versions, trial demo versions.

Trial periods are straightforward – you can use the app full featured for X period of time, then you must pay up. Demo versions allow you to use the software for as long as you would like, but you don’t get all the features that the software offers until you pay for the full version. 1 Then you have what I call trial demo versions, where it is a combination of both, you get X period of time to use a limited feature set of the app.

One of the complaints that I have heard about the upcoming Mac App Store is that Apple is excluding demo and trial apps from the store – effectively forcing consumers to pay up, for a presumably expensive, Mac app without getting to see if it is what they need first. This is a real problem, how many people want to pay $60 for a task management app like Things or OmniFocus without getting to ‘play’ with it first? Not many I would guess, they will opt for cheaper options like Taskpaper.

Why Apple is Doing This

I can only guess why Apple is setting this rule, but my guess would be that they too hate those annoying nag screens and the inability to print in demo apps. By that I mean trial/demo software is incredibly annoying to consumers, what if the feature you want to buy the software for is one that you can’t use in the demo version? What if you really want to test out a piece of software, but 14 days is just too short – sometimes life gets in the way.

There is only a small contingent of software developers out there that do Trials and Demoes right, everyone else just makes them as annoying as possible. That is what Apple wants to do away with, they want to improve the customer experience with 3rd party software.

Lite Apps

All of this talk brings us to so called ‘lite’ apps that you find littering the Top 100 in the Free section of Apple’s iOS stores. Most common with game developers – you get the same game, often with less levels, for free. The benefit to the consumer is that you get a try before you buy option. The benefit for the developer is that they get to expose a lot more people to their app that would not have paid for something they could not try first. The drawback to developers is that they are giving away part of their hard work for free and there is certainly a large portion of users who don’t end up buying the full version.

This is where the rub is for developers – how do you make a ‘lite’ version of a Mac app?

There are certainly some apps that excel at things like this: SuperDuper and Tweetie (back in the good old days) and so forth. They all have a good free or ‘lite’ version of the software that users can pay for a full version that does a bit more. How do you translate a ‘lite’ version to something like OmniFocus? Only allow so many actions or projects? Remove perspectives or syncing? With a piece of software like OmniFocus removal of any of those features severely cripples the users experience to the point where they begin asking: ‘is this app any good?’

Challenge

The real challenge for developers moving forward with the Mac App Store is not going to be deciding whether or not to allow Apple 30% of their revenue – rather it is whether they can and should make a ‘lite’ version. There are some apps (Games particularly) that lend themselves to having ‘lite’ versions fairly easily – others like OmniFocus are not as clear cut.

Say you do come up with an idea of how to make a ‘lite’ version of your app – will it even be worth your time rebuilding the app into a free, or way too cheap ‘lite’ version?

  1. Like how SuperDuper! works.
Originally posted for members on: October 28, 2010
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