iPhone/iPad In-App Purchase Feature Upgrades for Free Apps

The ability for iPhone developers to provide in-app purchases is less than a year old. It was introduced along with iPhone OS 3.0 last summer. Traditional magazine publishers like Time and Popular Science seem to be unable to figure out how to use this feature. The $4.99 I waster spent on the first Time magazine app for the iPad which provides just a single issue will be the last magazine-in-an-app I buy until these publishers figure out how to use in-app purchases to reduce the clutter on my screen and the need to uninstall their magazine every week.

Other developers appear to have successfully figure out how to make in-app purchases work in their apps and, more importantly, how to make additional revenue from it. Two examples that come to mind are:

1. Comic book reader apps which let you buy new comic book issues from within the app. The Marvel Comics app is an example of this
2. Apps that let you buy virtual goods are another category that seems to have done well. Flower Garden is an app in this category

I just noticed another in-app purchase category over the past week: In-app feature enhancements. The first one I ran into was the free Voice Memos app I used to recorde Mini-Podcast 18 on my iPad. This free app lets you record and playback audio recordings on the iPad. However, if you want to get the recording off of the iPad for archival purposes or, in my case, to use as a podcast source, you need to pay 99 cents to get the feature to email the audio file.

The second app that uses in-app purchases to buy feature enhancements is Quick Graph. I noticed it featured in the iTunes iPad Apps Staff Favorites list. The free app provides “standard” feature modes. The enhanced mode with advanced features can be added through a $1.99 in-app purchase.

Using in-app purchases to turn a free “lite” edition app into a full-featured pay app is, in my opinion, a good technique to use and less “messy” than the convention that developed to provide a free “lite” edition that could be replaced by a full paid version. However, developers should be very clear which features belong to the “free” starter versions compared to the enhanced features available through a purchase. The 99 cent and $1.99 upgrades in the two apps discussed here are small ones. But even so, there are some people who may become upset if the “free” versus “fee” features are not clear from the beginning. I thought the Voice Memo app’s iTunes product page did a good job of explaning this. The Quick Graph product page, on the other hand, is not very clear at all.