Why should I pay twice for an app?

My new Manoeuvres app is essentially an updated version of the old one. It looks the same and it behaves the same, but it has the two new manoeuvres which have been added to the driving test in 2017.

Many people would expect to receive these two new manoeuvres for free, and I wouldn’t blame them. We expect to get apps for free, and even though sometimes we have to pay for them, we at least expect the updates to be free. At the same time, the two new manoeuvres in the app did not create themselves. They are the result of actual work by somebody (namely me); frustrating, time-consuming, focused, hard work.

What do we ADIs say to people who expect us to work for free? I won’t print it here as this is a family-friendly website.

This issue has become a common theme in the app development community in recent years. In no sense am I the first developer to write a blog post explaining why I’m charging for a new version of an old app, and I certainly won’t be the last. Let me try to explain, as briefly as I can, why it is sometimes necessary to buy a new version of an app you already own…

First of all, why do we expect apps to be free? Simply because so many apps are free, including the apps you use the most. Anything by Apple, Google, or Facebook, for example, is going to be free. Those three companies probably account for quite a few of the apps you use on a daily basis. Why are their apps free? Because these are massive corporations, bringing in more money than it’s possible for ordinary folk like us to imagine. Apple makes a ton of money by selling you the device in the first place. Google and Facebook make their fortunes by invading your privacy, hoovering up as much of your personal information as they can get their paws on, then using it to target advertising at you. And that’s just what they publicly admit to. Who knows what else they’re doing with your data behind closed doors?

You can be sure, however, that the engineers who worked on those apps got well paid. Those mega-companies may be making out like bandits and dodging taxes all over the world, but their engineers do not work for free. Developing apps is skilled work, and good developers don’t grow on trees.

Another reason why so many apps are free is because there are still quite a few hobbyist developers. These are people who make a simple app just for the sake of it, for fun, or as a learning project. They will often give their work away for free because they are not running a business and that was never their intention. This is how I got started with app development originally.

The problem with a hobbyist’s apps is that they are not likely to stay current. Apps need updating regularly. Even if you are not adding anything new to your app, periodically Apple will do something that breaks it, and you will have to sit down and work on it for a few hours, or days, or weeks, in order to get it working again.

This is the reality of app development these days. In the beginning there was more room for hobbyists. Nowadays, if you are serious about making and maintaining apps, you need to have a business model. You need to be able to ensure that your wages are still getting paid while you’re hunched over your laptop, tearing your hair out, trying to resolve a bug from hell that Apple’s latest version of iOS has introduced into your app.

Facebook and Google can update their apps every other week if they want to. They can have a team of highly-skilled developers working round the clock, because they’re making so much money out of knowing the details of everything you search for online and everybody you communicate with.

I am not exploiting your private data, and I am no longer a hobbyist. I gave up working as a driving instructor, and the stable income that goes along with it, to write software full-time. I need a business model that ensures I get paid for the work that I do. Releasing apps that you pay for once and then get unlimited free updates for life is not a business model that works. This is one of the lessons that has been learned during the first ten years of the App Store, and this is why you see more and more companies trying to switch to a subscription model, or charging again for new versions of their apps.

I have personally paid again for several of the apps that I use. If it’s a good app, and the developer is keeping it well maintained so it continues to work well despite Apple’s best efforts to break it, I am happy to pay again every two to four years or so. I do not expect a developer to work for me for the rest of my life on the basis of a single purchase I made from them.

Here’s an example we should all be very familiar with. When we buy a car, we accept that it won’t stay current forever, it won’t keep working forever, and it won’t have a lifetime warranty. We need to understand that app purchases are no different. That car company is not going to be at your service for the rest of your life, with no additional charges, just because you bought one car from them. You know that there will be repairs, depreciation, and eventually a new car. You understand that cars do not design, build, maintain, and fix themselves, and that everyone involved at every step of that process needs to eat and pay bills and have a holiday once in a while.

It really is as simple as that. Just like cars, apps do not design, build, maintain, and fix themselves. It’s an ongoing process, with ongoing costs.

Considering they are the best quality teaching aids you can get as a driving instructor (I believe), I think my apps have always been reasonably priced. Each time you buy an app, after paying all taxes and expenses, including Apple’s sizeable cut, I eventually get just under half of what you paid. Even though £3.99 is very little to ask for a quality app that helps you to do a better job of teaching your pupils day in day out, in the end I receive less than £2 from you for my efforts. If that is too much to ask, the good news is that nobody is going to force you to spend that money. Your old app will continue to work until Apple breaks it, and then, just like when you car is finally ready for the scrap heap, you have the choice to shell out and replace it, or to just carry on without.

Personally, I love a good app that makes my life easier, so I will always shell out if I feel that app is doing a good job for me. This is especially so if the app is produced by a small, independent developer rather than a giant, tax-dodging company. But that’s just me.

Want to help support a tax-paying, independent app developer? Get the new Manoeuvres app here: