Apple has finally fixed one of the biggest complaints about its Mac and iOS App Stores: free trials. Developers can now offer free time-limited trials of their apps, with a one-time in-app purchase to unlock the full version. This little amendment to the App Store guidelines may prove to be huge, paving the way for developers to make much better, pro-level apps for iOS.
Shareware and free trials
Free trials have been essential to software pretty much since home computers existed. You download an app, use it for a week or two, for free. Then, the app locks itself, and you have to buy a license to keep using it.
It’s an almost perfect system, letting you try before you buy. Compare this to the App Store, where you have to buy an app at full price in order to try it out. This model is largely responsible for the lack of big, in-depth, pro-level apps on the App Stores. A developer may want to charge $50, $100, or more for their app, which is cool. What’s not cool is having to pay that up front, with no idea if the app is any good, or if you will like it.
A recent workaround has been for subscription-based apps to offer a free trial, after which the customer can choose to keep paying. But that requires committing to a paid subscription that will auto-renew unless cancelled. It’s messy, at best.
New guidelines allow free trial periods
Now, in a new amendment to the App Store review guidelines, Apple has added a section on free trials. Here it is, in section 3.1.1 In-App Purchase:
Non-subscription apps may offer a free time-based trial period before presenting a full unlock option by setting up a Non-Consumable IAP item at Price Tier 0 that follows the naming convention: “14-day Trial.” Prior to the start of the trial, your app must clearly identify its duration, the content or services that will no longer be accessible when the trial ends, and any downstream charges the user would need to pay for full functionality.
You can see the previous version on the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine.
So that’s it. With one simple change to the rules, Apple may have revolutionized its own App Stores. Now a developer can put in the time and resources to make a truly deep and full-featured app, and charge a fair price for that work. The user, meanwhile, can take that app for a full test drive before deciding whether to pay the higher price.
This is a win for The Developers Union, a group that recently formed to ask Apple to allow free App Store trials. Of course, Apple’s decision may have had nothing to do with this collection of developers.
I think this is a fantastic move, good for users and good for developers. Now, Apple only has to address upgrade pricing…