The iPad App Price Pump

Illustration for article titled The iPad App Price Pump

So, one thing that struck us in those leaked iPad App Store screens: The apps are markedly more expensive.

This is not surprising, given the obvious. The iPad is bigger. Its apps, logically, are bigger and more complicated, possibly packed with more features. So they demand more money. But there's a few things that we can tease out, if these leaked prices indeed reflect what we're gonna see on April 3.

Three points:

• A new platform is effectively a new world, so app prices are probably going to shift rapidly as developers feel out what people will pay (probably downward, though devs are hoping against another downward spiral)


• Prices are generally going to start out higher, though a few developers will push universal iPhone/iPad apps instead of double-dipping

• App names and versions are going to get ugly

Let's think back to the very beginning of the App Store. Nobody knew what an iPhone app should cost, so developers felt out the market, with $10 Twitter apps, and the like. Then, over the course of a year, the average prices of apps cratered so that cheap and easy ruled the market, and the App Store economy became a problem for developers trying to compete in a world of "ringtone apps."

It makes sense that with a bigger screen, a more capable platform, and more sophisticated applications, developers might try to reset the ringtone app mindset. The iPad is a real computer thing, not a totally mobile device. People are going to be engaged—deeper attention, for longer periods of time. Apps for that kind of attention will require more resources to develop, so developers will rightfully try to charge more, and there's going to be another period of feeling out the market, as people figure out how they're going to use the iPad. (Though Apple's effectively set $10 as the de facto price for a full-featured iPad application with iWorks.)

Illustration for article titled The iPad App Price Pump

Here's a few apps with iPhone iterations, juxtaposed against what their iPad counterparts appear to cost. The jump's dramatic in a few cases—notably, WeatherBug Elite had better make me want to lick the sun, since the iPad version costs 5x what the original does. Without knowing what's new and different in these apps, it's hard to gauge how justified the bump is. But there's definitely price juicing for a fair a number of apps.


A really interesting contrast case, actually, is Marco Arment's Instapaper Pro for the iPad. Originally, he planned to wait out launch day, but will likely be one of the first out of the gate after witnessing the textual travesty of iPad upscaling. A beloved app, he could quite easily charge again for the iPad version of Instapaper, but it's going to be a universal iPhone/iPad app, and everybody who owns the $5 Instapaper Pro on iPhone will get it for free on iPad. I suspect more than a few developers will follow his lead, so we could see a decent number of universal apps, in addition to the developers going for another scoop of App Store loot (which is, quite fair, really, given the additional development costs).

A smaller point is the nomenclature for apps, in all of their various permutations. The pre-iPad App Store gave us multiple versions of the same app, based on whether it was a free or paid version: Lite, Free, Pro, Premium, Trial, and so on. Now imagine that doubled, to distinguish iPad-only apps. Already we can see HD, for iPad, iPad, XL and Deluxe. It could get messy.


Whatever happens, expect the App Store to look way different in just a couple months than it does the day the iPad launches. There's a lot of stuff that's just not going to get figured out until iPads in people's laps, so we're all going to come along for the ride.

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Like Matt mentioned, the iPhone app prices also started out a lot higher than they are now. Developers would be stupid NOT to shoot for higher prices for iPad apps given the chance to do so. It's all a clean slate now.

But I'm certain that the same market forces will come into play again, once the iPad apps start pouring in, and many will be of the same kind. That's when developers will start lowering the prices. It'll all level out eventually.