Recently everybody is talking about the problem of Apps on the App Store not making much money for the developers, mainly the Indie developers. This is mainly because of a couple of reasons; one is that since there is a minimum of 99c pricing limit on the App store, bigger companies who can support a huge workforce and can make money by selling a large number of Apps (even if they charge only 99c for each copy), have pushed the App prices to record lows. Secondly Apple's in-App purchase model, though was well intentioned, has led to some developers taking advantage of unsuspecting customers, by making their Apps seem "free" on the surface, but actually is much more expensive (once you get hooked to the App, you have to keep paying to continue to use it). Both these have led to customers not willing to pay for any App unless it is something they have heard of, through someone they trust or if it is made by a developer they know and have been following for a while. The App store's easy publishing model and millions of iOS devices are also to blame for this as the Mac App store has not yet seen this issue crop up on it. Like everything else in life, the same thing that works in our favor can also come back to bite us!
I am big fan of suggesting potential solutions to fix things, than just keep complaining about what is broken and proclaim that "Apple is doomed". So what can we do about this? The first obvious thing to do, is to change the customer's value perception of the Apps. But this is an extremely challenging, if not impossible thing do, more so in the short run. So what else can we or Apple do? The most successful model (other than tricking customers to pay for nonsense using the in-App purchase), that seems to have worked without any trickery is what Marco Arment did with his Overcast App. You get a completely usable Overcast App, albeit with limitations, that you can overcome by paying a $4.99 in-App purchase. He was not the first to do this, but seems have been the most successful one to pull this off. I attribute this mainly to the trust and image he has built up over the years (from his Instapaper days) with his customers and followers. Tomorrow if and when I develop an iOS App myself, I am most probably going to try this model first. But will this work for anyone? Well it remains to be seen. But before I digress too much, again what else can Apple do to solve this problem with the App store.
There might be a lot of potential suggestions that others might come up with, but for me the low hanging fruit for Apple in this situation is to implement an efficient trial period for the Apps. It is pretty much like the model discussed in the previous paragraph, with subtle differences. Why do I think this is a potential solution? Well from my experience, the biggest reason for customers not willing to pay for any Apps on the App Store anymore is the lack of trust. They are not sure which App will suit your needs and when there are hundreds (if not thousands) of Apps for one purpose, you have to pretty much rely on word of mouth or Apple's top lists. Even of you are willing to try out say ten Apps in a category, with each one costing you around 99c, you end up paying $10 and still might not have found the right one. Paying $4 for Starbucks coffee is not the same and is a lame comparison here. Starbucks has established a trust with its customers over years and as a customer you know that you will exactly get what you expect for your $4 coffee and that you won't be burned (no pun intended..) by that spending. So as a developer, it is important to get your customers to trust you and this is not a easy or a short term process.
So say if you have an effective trial period for Apps system setup, then as a customer I don't care which App I buy from which developer as long as I get to try to out before I shell out a few bucks. Believe me, once a customer likes an App, there is nothing that would stop him/her from paying some money for the App. This trial period can be of varying lengths depending on the developers' choice, as some Apps can be tested within a few minutes, whereas some Apps need a few days of testing, before reaching a buying decision. Also this trial period system can be combined with the in-App purchase scheme. An App for example can be free for ever, with some of its features, termed as "Premium" by the developer, be free for a certain timer period after which, the customer has to pay only for the "Premium" functions of the App to be usable after the trial period ends. The more I think about this, the more convinced I am that this is the way to go, at least this is the solution that comes to my mind, as being the most efficient, in terms of time to implement (for Apple) vs. potential effectiveness. I am sure someone at Apple is working on this, but the question is, how high a priority does this one warrant?