If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people generally don’t like to pay for apps. If there’s a free version of an alternative app that is free, chances are people will flock there. I’ve had people I know refuse to buy apps “on principle” (what exactly the principle is, I don’t know), and I generally see more lite or free versions of apps on people’s phones than I do anything else.

Personally though, I tend to buy apps. Not just apps that I need to buy in order to unlock certain features, but also any app that I end up using regardless of whether I need the paid version. I don’t have tons of money, rather the opposite, but for me it’s also a matter of principle: People should get paid for their work. I don’t expect the mail carrier to deliver my mail for free; I don’t expect to go to the grocery store and leave with enough product samples to cook a three course dinner; and I don’t expect people who learned to program to offer their services for free.

On Android, the ability to see how many apps downloads an app has is a major feature for realizing just how bad the reality is for some developers. I have quite a few peculiar apps on my devices, a lot of tools and utilities for things that most people don’t even realize is there, and I’ve actually seen the 10-50 download count on apps several times – and not only new ones. More concerning, however, is when I see numbers in the 1000-10000 range on apps that are much more complex and time consuming, and cost only a dollar or two. $1000 is a nice prize to win on a lotto scratch-off, but it’s hardly the payday of a lifetime for something you work on week after week, and you don’t even get all of that yourself.

Of course there is ad revenue from free apps, but you’re lucky if the type of adds seen in mobile devices end up being clicked enough to compensate. There are even people out there who use ad blockers for such apps, and at that point you might as well go get a pirated version of the full app as the end result for the developer is the same.

The biggest problem with all of this is that when people don’t pay for apps, there are apps – and updates to apps – that never see the light of day. The reason why Android is lacking so many of the apps that iOS has is that it’s not as profitable to develop for Android according to developers. You skip paying for one app, and all of a sudden, 3 other apps weren’t made because it’s not worth it. There was a discussion in a support forum for Tasker yesterday about Microsoft’s new on{x} app, and how Microsoft probably has a dozen people working on the thing, while the developer of Tasker – who hasn’t done badly for himself by Android standards – is handling development, support, and user guide creation on his own. Tasker also doesn’t have a free version, so if people want it they have to pay. But that only means more people won’t get it at all, while on{x} draws people like flies. From what I hear, Tasker is quite a bit more powerful, but harder to use, which comes back to how you have to manage your time when you’re the only developer. Somehow, people seem to want an app that does a lot, has hundreds of hours poured into usability, and is free. Well, don’t expect that from developers that aren’t supported by a multi billion dollar software company.

The mobile app revolution changed many things in the world of software, and pricing was one of them. You can fill a tablet with apps for the cost of even the simplest software for Windows, and yet people complain. I’m running a trial version of RoboTask on my PC right now, and I almost had an accident when I saw what it would cost me to buy it at the end of the trial: $120. I only use a very small fraction of the app, far from enough of it that I’m willing to pay $120, so in a few weeks it will have to be replaced. Considering the cost of programs like that, it’s quite amusing that we now consider $5 and $10 mid-range and top-level prices for apps. The biggest game releases on Android and iOS often cost less when brand new than even the most indie of games do on Steam when they’re on sale.

Those prices are possible due to large quantities. Large quantities of nothing is still nothing though, so I think we need a massive change in the way people act towards apps, with several pay levels. There’s just something wrong when people don’t think twice about chucking down a can of Coke in 4 seconds on a hot day, but have a hissy fit when asked to pay the same amount for an app they’re using daily.