Thoughts on mobile app development.

Is there still room for a Lite version?

A few months ago I released an app called Photo Academy. This app aims to help any photographer take better photos, by offering a large amount of tips, sample photos, and camera settings. Soon after release it was featured by Apple in the App Store, spent some time in the overall top 50 charts, and received a nice amount of positive press. Overall, I was very happy with how it all went.

As is usually the case, Photo Academy has dropped off the main charts, and has settled down into bringing in lower, but fairly decent and consistent sales. I’m certainly not unhappy with the income, but I enjoy the business side of iOS development, and business means making more sales. Almost anyone who makes apps is generally seeking out the answer to the age old question – how can I get my app into the hands of more users?

When the App Store was first opened to third party developers, the first answer to that question reared it’s head almost immediately – the “race to the bottom”. All of a sudden we were in a world where quality software was being sold for the bare minimum, a measly 99 cents.

It wasn’t long before the next strategy became commonplace – the Lite version. Developers would release two versions of their app, the full paid version, and the free cut-down version. All of a sudden we were in a world where you could try out the app for free, and upgrade to the full version for a measly 99 cents.

Fast forward to today, and freemium rules the App Store. Today we live in a world where you can try out the app for free, use it as much as you want, and if you’re really keen, buy a few add-ons for a measly 99 cents. But only if you’re really keen.

The future is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Apple one day introduces full version trials, at least in the Mac App Store.

So where does this leave Photo Academy and me? Although I priced it at 99c for a small period of time, Photo Academy is now priced at $2.99, and I’m unlikely to ever drop the price again. I stand behind my product and believe it to be of a high enough quality to justify this price as a minimum. I also don’t believe the app is well suited to the freemium market – I think you need mass appeal to be a success in that arena.

This leaves us with the Lite version. The problem is, Lite versions always seem so tacky. Too many restrictions, ugly icons covered in messages proclaiming their free-ness, and user content which doesn’t transfer to the full version. As you may have guessed, I’m releasing a lite version of Photo Academy in the near future, but I wanted to reduce that icky feeling – I want my users to be just as pleased than if they had paid for the full version. Here’s the things I did a bit differently:

  1. I named the app “Photo Academy: Orientation”. This fits in well with the educational theme, and doesn’t scream “hey I’ve got a cut-down feature set!”. It also means users won’t be stuck with an app called “something something lite” on their phone, even after upgrading.

  2. I chose an icon which looks just as nice as the original:
    Photo Academy IconPhoto Academy Photo Academy: Orientation IconPhoto Academy: Orientation
  3. I gave users an easy upgrade path. They can unlock full functionality right within the app, without needing to download the full version from the App Store. All user content and settings naturally remain without needing to be transferred, and users aren’t left with an app covered in Lite stickers.

  4. I’m overly generous with the amount of content. Using analytics from the full version, I can determine which are the most popular sections of the app – and I give a decent amount of them away for free.

  5. As well as upgrading to the full version, I also allow users to purchase only the items they’re interested in (yes, for a measly 99 cents).

So is there still room for a Lite version? I think so. People like myself will just buy the full version straight away, while those who are a little more cautious now have some options as well. I’ll report back to let you know how it goes.

Photo Academy: Orientation launches on December 15, 2011.

1 Comment

  1. We see most of our revenue coming from the lite versions of our games via conversions, so I am definitely pro-lite. Our assumption was very easy to verify as we have separate lite versions for most titles. When we removed the lite ones from the store, the sales for the full version also decreased significantly. When we re-enabled the lite versions on the store, we got back to our usual sales level.


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