Blog Post

Should the App Store Let You Demo Apps?

Recently, here at TheAppleBlog, we made some backstage changes. Over time we realized that Socialcast was great for sharing and discussing ideas, but not ideal for handling business related tasks. As a result, we made the jump over to Basecamp. It doesn’t have the microblog feel of Socialcast, but it’s definitely easier to organize and communicate.

When we made the switch, my first thought was “I wonder if there are any iPhone apps for Basecamp!” A quick search in the Store reveals 17 Basecamp related apps ranging in price from free to $12.99. As a potential buyer, how can I possibly decide which one is the best value?

One of my issues with the app store is that ratings are very inconsistent. A few complaints over accidental crashes can definitely skew a score, and screenshots really don’t help me understand the app’s look and feel. I need to click around and play a little before I decide the fate of an app’s life on my iPhone.

My question is: why won’t Apple (s aapl) allow me to try an app before I buy it? The availability countdown works great for content rented from the store like movies. I can play all I want for 24 hours, and then it’s deactivated. That would be ideal for apps too. I download it, see how it works, and after some time the app prompts me to purchase when launched. The prompt has a link to the app’s page in the store and I can make my decision. This is often how it’s done on the desktop. Why not the iPhone?

As for Basecamp, I ended up sticking with the free version of Sherpa. It covers the basics and it doesn’t crash. I would prefer to try them all, but that’s impossible. For now…

So, what do you think? Should Apple implement a trial period on all for-pay apps? What do you think are the pros and cons?

24 Responses to “Should the App Store Let You Demo Apps?”

  1. With the new in-app purchases, developers can properly implement demo periods now, but they MUST MUST MUST clearly state on the iTunes page (and also in the app) how long the demo period is, and how much it costs.

    Now, way too many pay apps have switched to in-app purchases, but don’t tell you up front when you need to pay (after some accomplishment or length of time) or how much you need to pay.

  2. I think one of the best moves Microsoft made with the Xbox 360 was making Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Indie Games have a mandatory free trial. They even made it so that the system handles most of the work in the case of Xbox Indie Games. The system does not allow the user to save progress and exits the game after four minutes without the developer having to do anything. I think something similar for the App Store would be great.

  3. Jerry Zayas

    How about those who paid for apps like Tom Tom ($99), and hate it?
    I’ve heard from some of my friends that the app was awful yet they got screwed. I think anything over $5 dollars should have a trial period.

    And that’s definitely not an Apple thing, as much as is the developers responsibility.

  4. Videos, podcasts, screencasts, and in-app purchases all have their place and can be useful, but they require more work on the part of the developer. This work has to be repeated by every developer, for every app that is to be demoed. The time-limited demo option, it seems to me, would require minimal work for Apple and no work for the developer, and still benefit the end user. Win-win-win.

  5. i think the suggestion of the podcast idea is brilliant, the demo thing i would love but for some apps it isn’t practical. even a couple of link on the app page about videos and podcasts and more in depth discussions and points would be a HUGE help

  6. Apple should make available the means to demo an app; as you said, they have implemented the countdown for other iTunes content. Regarding BigSprocket’s point, perhaps rather than a set demo time that applies to all paid apps, developers could be given the option of whether to allow a demo and for how long. That could actually help sales of higher-priced products when people would otherwise be reluctant to purchase, without hurting $1 impulse buys.

  7. I’m guessing if there were a 24 hour demo period, there would be a LOT less sales … particularly of those $1 games that don’t have much replay value. It’s easy for people to say “eh, it’s only $1” and try a game that looks interesting. If they got to try it, play with it for a day, then discard it, they’d do exactly that.

    I’m not saying it’s not a consumer-friendly thing to do … it is. Demo periods would definitely help with the big purchases. But, it would definitely hurt those ringtone app developers, and don’t forget Apple gets $0.29 for every one of those sold.

  8. I agree with Joe. Apple said you can’t release anything called “Demo,” but developers quickly got around that with Lite versions for free. It’s the developer’s responsibility to release a demonstration version of their applications.

    I do think that Apple can clean up the store quite a bit by not having two entries for an application; but that would mean acknowledging that there is a demo available, or multiple versions at least. A single product page that has entries to purchase or download a free version of the app would be great.

  9. I know a few apps I would return if they had a return policy, grr! Anyway, I think trialling an app is a great idea. I think you should be able to trial the app for about 15 minutes or 30, depending on the purpose of the application. I sure as hell would buy a lot more applications if this was possible. Then again it could be bad as it could limit some sales. I think it would affect game sales because if I had the opportunity to try the new Call of Duty game, I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone ahead and bought that for £6.00. I don’t think it’s worth that at all and I would be one less customer for Treyarch.

  10. … and a follow-up …

    Has any developer released a Podcast demoing different aspects of their App? If your Podcast is tagged with the same keywords as your App, your potential customers, when searching for an App, will stumble upon both your App and the Podcast demo of it, and you can absolutely have an “in iTunes” demo …

    Podcasts are easy to produce (iMovie, Garageband) and free to post on iTunes. Creativity my friends.

  11. Why is it Apple’s responsibility to provide a demo?

    Can I go to Best Buy and just take something out of the store to try and bring it back with no consequence to myself if I don’t like it? Nope. At the very least returned purchases have a restocking fee.

    It seems ridiculous to hang the responsibility of marketing, demoing, sales, and returns on Apple’s head. If I am a developer making an App, I will provide a Lite version, a website that shows a Demo video, and the ability (probably from the website) to contact me with questions.

    The question should be: Should developers stop complaining about what the App Store doesn’t do and start taking advantage of what it does do? And, should developers take a Business Models 101 class before jumping into the App world?

  12. Well now that developers can offer paid add-ons in free applications, that’s the closest we’ve got. But you still have to give users limited paid features to try out or they may just use the free. It’s very tricky.

    How would they implement a video service? They could add a video URL link option for developers who chose to offer a demo video I guess.

    I agree that letting users try it out, even for an hour or two seems like a good solution. Doubtful it would help developers out as a whole because then you’d have 20,000+ (don’t know this figure) paid apps you could demo free and there’s only finite time in anyone’s day/life. I guess the good apps would rise to the top. :)

  13. NO! That’s what “lite” or in-app purchases are for. If Apple comes out with demo versions, it’ll only be a matter of time before a few bad Apples (pun intended) find a way to “unlock” a free app and remove the demo status.

    Bad for all of us. If you wan to t try before you buy, the Dev should come out with a lite version or a lite version that you can upgrade to full with an in-app purchase.

    • Not true, demo apps would still be protected by Apple’s code signing protection, making cracks impossible.
      Except for pirates with jailbroken phones, and those people can already pirate the full versions now, so there’s no difference for piracy if Apple allowed demoes…it would just make things better for honest users.

    • The problem I have with “lite” apps is that they clutter the already painfully overcrowded store.

      Not to mention, many “lite” apps don’t give access to many features that could be the deciding factor for a for-pay version…thus defeating the purpose.

  14. Apple should either have a demo period or allow refunds for apps that don’t perform as advertised (within a reasonable period)

    Either of these would solve the problem of being unable to try an app before buying.

    For a dollar, who cares, but I admin, I have avoided buying any apps that cost over $10 because I am worried that I will get screwed if I don’t like the app.

  15. I think that they should have a video demo on the itunes site to show how the app works and the features provided by the developer. This would go a long way if they continue to refuse to provide a trial time. The other option is that the application is active for only a couple of hours, and then deactivates.

    • I totally agree. Letting people test the app before buying: WON’T HAPPEN. Is a total disvantage. Instead, showing videos of about 30seconds to 2 minutes max of how the apps works and stuff, is a more convenient option.

      Now, as we like options, we should have both, video and demos. So, if u really loved the app after using it for a few hours (not 24hrs, that’s too much) u might go for it and buy it.

    • ChaseLemmons

      As a game designer I would hate that. Take activision for example. If they thought demos would attract customers they would of been like other companies and made a “Lite” version. It’s the game designers choice in doing so. They made a demo for Xbox but not for Ipod.

      People would abuse the demos, and not buy the product!

      I want there to be, of course. But that’s like copyrighting music, it hurts the industry which makes it so we get less albums/games.