Essays on Technology and Culture

The Price of a Good App

When I switched to the Mac back in 2005, I didn’t anticipate that I would be spending a significant amount of money on software. I came from the Windows and Linux worlds, where freeware abounded—on Linux especially. There’s certainly a non-insignificant Mac freeware community. I don’t want to ignore that, and I have a few really top shelf freeware applications that I use daily. [1] However, especially since the App Store (iOS and Mac) launched, I’ve begun spending money on applications, and I’m glad.

The app store model has problems that I won’t reiterate here, but it has the incredible benefit of taking the friction out of purchasing software. This works two ways: by putting software a click or two away, and by exerting some downward pressure on application prices. [2] According to Dan Frommer the average price of the top 50 paid apps on the Mac App Store was $26.13 in December of 2011, so it can’t be that much pressure, at least for desktop applications.

Still, though it’s easier, high-priced apps still make me flinch, but less so. I can’t help but think of 1Password, which set me back $50 for the desktop app, $10 for the iPhone app, $15 for the iPad app, and $8 to upgrade to the new 1Password 4 iOS app. That’s over $80 that I’ve paid out, and Agile Bits has seen about $55 of that. [3] I’ve spend about the same on Things, my task management app, on three platforms. I’ve spent almost as much on OmniFocus. When I mention these applications to friends and family members, however, they freeze up or dismiss them out of hand.

Yes, these apps cost a lot of money. Yes, there are cheaper, or even free alternatives to them. However, the value I’ve gotten out of these applications has not only exceeded the original investment, but has me willing to pay for some of them again on other platforms—thus increasing their value to me. Then, consider the warm fuzzies value of supporting an independent developer or company that’s thrown a lot of time, effort, and skill into creating something, and suddenly dropping $50-plus on the right application feel great.

The price you pay for a good piece of software is a lot up front, but the mark of good software is that you get not just as much as you spent in value, but moreso. The security from something like 1Password is a bargain at any price. $50 plus $18 for the iOS app is nothing if you want a really good application to manage your passwords. $70 or $80 for task management is worth it when those tasks follow you around, when it’s frictionless to add them to your system, and pleasurable to use. Much free software [4] falls short in these departments.

And it almost goes without saying that if you’re pirating these applications without paying, the chances of that developer continuing to give us great work drop. Paying for it is the best way to ensure getting good software for years to come.

  1. Adium is freeware, and arguably the best instant messaging client for the Mac. Meanwhile, The Unarchiver opens nearly anything I can throw at it, and it’s also free.  ↩

  2. Okay, I’ll reiterate one problem.  ↩

  3. I bought the original Mac app, pre-App Store, so I don’t know how much they had to give up in overhead, but I am assuming it was more than on the Mac App Store. Also, the new iOS app has increased in price to $18.  ↩

  4. Thankfully, not all.  ↩