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This article was published on October 19, 2009

How Much Is Too Much? The Question Of The $50 App

How Much Is Too Much? The Question Of The $50 App
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

wa appPeople can be annoyingly cheap. Whenever I am spending time with other iPhone users, I always try and recommend my new favorite application, whether free or paid. The response is nearly exactly the same every time the app costs a dollar or two: “Ah no man, it costs money? It should be free!”

If you have ever worked with the App Store you know what a royal pain in the arse it is. This particular end user sentiment must make your skin crawl.

One dollar for a fun, recommended application that you already got to play with on my phone is too much? I wish that this wasn’t true, but for many people it is. People always get their knickers in a bundle over the smallest expense, but will wander over to their hyper-local Starbucks and purchase a $5 cup of “coffee” and a $7 “sandwich,” and not think twice. Priorities, people.

Still, through all of that, what is too much? Apple recently put into place a section of the App store that tracks total gross sales, allowing more expensive applications that sell fewer units at a high price point to have a chance. This was an excellent move. Apple also now allows applications that are free to charge in-app for upgrades. The latter will only make free applications less useful, as they will become mere upsell points, asking you to upgrade.

Now, the top grossing application section is going to change the app store in a very positive way. Better apps that take longer to craft, do more, and plug a more important hole should cost more. They provide more utility, and therefore have a greater intrinsic value. Apple is giving them a chance to breathe.

But what is too much? Desktop software is expensive, SAAS tends to have a lower recurring cost, but apps on a phone have yet to settle on a price point like the other two. Free and $1 applications seemed like the future of the app store, but some companies are moving to change that. Enter Wolfram|Alpha, stage left. We knew that they were going to be launching an iPhone application in the near future. They have, and what an application it is.

Clocking in at a massive $50, the application is targeted at people with money, everyone else be damned. Perhaps they are hoping to let universities pick up the tab. According to the application information, it is aimed at: “financial analysts, physicians, scientists, engineers, students, teachers, journalists, parents, economists, nutritionists, systems analysts, marketing managers, pilots, sportsmen.”

An impressive list. The application sports a simpler interface, specialized keyboard, customized output, history, and ‘integration’ with other native iPhone applications.  Did you read that? Sounds to me like it’s Wolfram|Alpha with a button to take a square root. Color me unimpressed.

It is merely a repackaging of the website, which is free, for the iPhone. Problem is, the iPhone has the best mobile browser in the world. Why pay for what I already have for free?

But wait, you think, hypocrisy! Didn’t Alex just berate cheap iPhone users? What about the work that was expounded to get the app built, submitted, and maintained? Exactly, we are getting to this. First, I bet that the app interface is much better than the web interface on the iPhone. The iPhone has the best mobile browser, but does it have a good browser? Of course not, you are working on a small screen with on-screen inputs.

Now, do I want to use the WolframAlpha app? Of course I do. Would I be willing to pay for it? Of course. That said, am I going to pay $50 for it? No. I specifically did not email them to get a review code for the application. It would seem hypocritical to get it for free while discussing that paying for apps is a thing to be applauded.

The problem is that $50 is a bad investment for me. I would probably use the application ten times over the next twelve ten months (when I am moving away from the iPhone), and it is simply not worth $5 a use. No offense, but I can just open my laptop, or do it via the website.

On the same side of the coin, some people are going to use it every day. They are going to depend on the application, and will use it professionally. Will it be worth $50 to a few people? Sure, it had at least better be, or it will not sell a single copy. Take away from all of this, if you price your app only for the top 1% of the power users that do want to use it, you obliterate your profit opportunities.

That said, paying for apps (if you use apps) is something that you need to help your cheap friends get over. And to developers, people will pay for your hard work, but once it gets towards $50 for a single application, I am blowing my month’s app budget all at once. I want to spread the love, let me do it.

Are you going to download the Wolfram|Alpha app?