An oft cited advantage of Android Market (or Google Play, as it’s now called) over Apple’s App Store is that most apps are free. The more accurate term for them would be ‘freemium’ though, as developers try recouping their investments with advertisements embedded throughout their apps.
However, recouping investments isn’t the only reason for developers to choose to make their apps freemium.
The piracy issue in the Android OS has been a frequent grouse for most devs, as it’s extremely easy to sideload app APKs into Android devices.
In fact, the likes of Rovio have gone down the freemium path with their incredibly successful Angry Birds game as well. The game’s latest iteration, Angry Birds Space, costs $2.99 in the Apple App Store, but is free and bundled with ads for Android platforms. When a major developer like Rovio Entertainment has a sureshot success up its sleeves and still chooses to make its latest game free on Androids, you know that there is something rather amiss with the entire matter.
This brings me to Papermill, created by an independent developer named Ryan Bateman. It is an Instapaper client for Android devices, filling in a role that the original Instapaper client’s developer, Marco Arment, refused. Instapaper is a paid service for iOS devices, but has been phenomenally successful owing to its sleek and stylish design philosophy. However, Arment insisted on avoiding Android devices as he felt there wasn’t any money to be made off the platform.
When Arment issued a challenge to developers to create a well-designed Android Instapaper client (that had a functioning revenue model as well), Ryan Bateman got together with Matt Legaspi (a designer) to create Papermill.
There had been no dearth of Android Instapaper clients in the Android Market. But all of them had a common feature – extremely poor design, and limited functionality. Hence, the duo laid a special emphasis on following the official Android Ice Cream Sandwich design guidelines, namely, the Holo theme.
On completing development, Bateman priced the app at $3.99 in the Google Play store. He refused to create a freemium version as he believed that it would take away from the quality of the Papermill experience. His target audience was essentially a group of Android users who’d been deprived of well-designed apps, and he felt that they would be willing to pay if they got an app that provided a superior experience to any other Android app.
As it turns out, Papermill’s sales were rather poor. There were a total of 441 purchases in the first few weeks, of which 79 got refunded or cancelled. The net revenue after market fees was $1140.00. Taking into account other expenses such as web hosting, etc., Bateman made a profit of just $590. In his opinion, taking into account the man hours he put into the app, the total expense incurred in creating Papermill was about $30000. At the rate Papermill was bringing in revenue, it would take him 5 years to recover his investment!
Ryan Bateman concluded his rather detailed analysis into Papermill’s lack of success on a somber note, saying: “I think this unhappy end-scenario – of applications that either compromise on quality or have not had the necessary time invested in their design – is as a result of Android users not being willing to pay for an apps whose focus is quality and whose price reflects this. Instead, these users opt for a free but less refined experience. This has led to a race to the bottom, with independent developers creating applications are de-facto free instead and relying on ads for profit.”
It’s due to cases like this that leave plenty of developers with a sour taste in the mouth when it comes to Android. As for the Google Play store, the current app scenario is quite a vicious circle. Developers are hesitant on committing their time and money into developing Android apps owing to a fear of piracy and lack of revenue (as with Papermill), making Android have lesser apps than iOS, which in turn weans away developers from Android to iOS even further. Eventually, all Google Play is left with is a series of poorly designed and sluggish apps that tend to reduce customer confidence in the Android OS in general.