Should iPad apps be free if you already own the iPhone version?


If you've bought [App X] for the iPhone and the developer makes [App X] for the iPad, should you get the iPad version for free?

We've seen developers like Instapaper's Marco Arment specifically making "universal binaries" so users who bought the $4.99 Pro version can download an iPhone update, install it on their iPad, and get an iPad-specific user interface (UI) as well. (Think of it as two similar apps in one handy download).

We've also seen leaked screenshots have shown "HD" or "for iPad" versions of many popular iPhone apps and games that are being released as separate, all new downloads. In many cases these HD apps offer substantial differences brought about by the bigger screen real-estate and beefier processing power of the iPad and will carry their own price tag and perhaps be more expensive than the iPhone versions due to the greater effort put into them (more pixels, more functionality).

Some users no doubt feel entitled to free iPad versions if they already bought the iPhone version while some developers likewise feel entitled to get paid for the work they put into making different versions for a different device.

Can we find some existing parallels? If you bought a Super Mario game for the Nintendo DS, you don't get Super Mario for the Wii for free. Likewise PSP and PS3 games. Of course, the differences between dedicated mobile gaming devices and their console cousins are far greater than between an iPhone and an iPad.

If you bought a Mac app like iMovie you could install it on both your MacBook laptop and your iMac. Likewise for Windows. Of course, the differences between Mac OS X or Windows running on a laptop or desktop are negligible compared to the iPhone and iPad (there's no separate version of iMovie for MacBook vs. iMac, or Microsoft Word for netbook vs. tower).

Again, the iPad falls in between.

Apple announced at launch that most iPhone apps will "just work" on the iPad, either 1:1 or pixel-doubled to fill the screen. So, developers who want an easy out can just point to that as the "free" iPad version of their existing iPhone apps. We haven't heard great things about pixel-doubling's looks, however, but free is free, right?

What about developers who invest time and money into offering something better? For the most part, however, we agree with TUAW's Erica Sadun who suggested that apps with a similar user experience between the iPhone and the iPad could be good candidates for the universal binary approach (i.e. free but tweaked for the end user). Apps that are significantly re-designed and re-engineered from the iPhone to the iPad, however, could be good candidates for the separate HD app strategy.

As to whether or not developers should offer discounts to existing iPhone users for iPad apps, that one's easy for now -- despite hints and rumors, Apple still has no "upgrade" or "discount" option available to developers. Even if a developer wanted to, they can't offer anything but a single, consistent, full price for everyone. (See the Tweetie 2.0 controversy).

We're one week away from iPad launch day, so things can still change, but until and unless they do, tell you what you think -- should iPad apps be free for existing users? And if people won't pay more for better, what incentive do developers have to make more and better apps?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter,, Google+.

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There are 51 comments. Add yours.

Tenor146 says:

I agree that if the functionality is the same, with UI tweeks for the larger screen, then free by all means. But if there is significant feature differences, developers deserve some cash. I'm not a developer, but as an artist, i know how people feel entitled.

Chris102192 says:

I say this is a good idea, but as Tenor146 says, if there are major feature differences it should at least be sold at a discounted price. thats if the price actually exceeds the current price of the iphone app.

Rene Ritchie says:

@Chris102192 Apple DOES NOT allow "discounts". One price to rule (or rue?) them all. That's one of the many challenges facing developers. They'd have to give everyone the same discount making it no discount at all.

BBCurve9300 says:

A small upgrading fee?

Scott says:

If you have money to waste on the ipad than u have money to waste on buying apps twice

InItToWin says:

I agree with Tenor146, if their is no real improvement in the app itself, then it should be free. Only if the app has been completely re-designed with a better UI and offers a significantly better functionality then a small fee would be warranted. Im all for the developers, i am no artist, but i do reward hard work. I feel that this will weed out all the "template" developers out there. There are so many useless apps it's ridiculous.
I would not pay money for a "HD" version of DocumentsToGo, why? Whats the point? I dont care about my documents being in HD on my iPad, unless the iPad is pulling down a staggering 1080i, then there is still no point. Besides, does having Monopoly in HD really matter that much when your playing the game? I also have a Desktop PC and 2 netbooks, yet i paid the same price for my Office 2007 suite, regardless the size of the pc it was being put on.
So unless the app has something COMPLETELY MORE in functionality/design, then i think App prices should stay where they are, AFFORDABLE!

StuartJJones says:

If you already own the iPhone version and are reluctant to pay for an iPad-optimized version then there's still the option to enlarge the iPhone app on the screen.
It costs developers time and money to efficiently utilise the iPad's extra power and screen-size. If they've taken the time to adjust their app (some build from the ground up, not just altering their iPhone apps) then they deserve to be compensated for their time.
I hate that people have this false sense
of entitlement when it comes to apps.

Northstreamer says:

Yes, the iPad apps/games should be free if there isn't a big graphical change. says:

Yes they should be free, the next best thing would be for apple to implement a way to discount apps for those that own the iphone/itouch version.

Chris102192 says:

@Rene Ritchie: Figured they wouldnt, it would be extremely complicated to differentiate who owns the app and who doesnt. well i believe this is going to stay the same no matter what now. The better graphics, detailed apps, and everything else would be worth the higher price. but we would have to see what price they are talking about first. i mean a price bump from $0.99 to $1.49 for the same app is nothing but if its going from $0.99 to the $2.99 range, there may be some concern.
and @Scott, you know, you really do have a point there.
In the end, im gonna guess that they will keep the prices how they are. Because it is two different platforms, they could charge more for the better item.

cardfan says:

I think this is part of Apple's responsibility. They marketed that the iPad will run almost all of your iphone apps.
What they don't say is that most of them will look like crap on the iPad. Or that you'll most likely need to repurchase them made for iPad.
It's a bit deceiving to the mass consumer IMO.
That said, of course you should have to pay for iPad apps. My approach to the iPad is that i don't own any iPad apps as of now. I might try some of the iphone games that i own but many apps are made irrelevant by the much bigger safari browser or having no camera.
We know iPad will load up iphone apps. But will the iphone load up iPad apps? I doubt it. But i could be wrong.

Todd says:

No. Developers still have to take resources, time and money to create apps for the iPad. Of course they should pay. If you had a Nintendo DS and then got a Wii it would be idiotic thinking that you would get the Wii version free if you already owned DS version. There's no difference.

Mike says:

I'm with StUartJJones. There are far too many grasping individuals who believe they're 'entitled' to all sorts of things but the reality should be (as with most other platforms) one fee for one device. The fact that the App store doesn't restrict us in this way is a bonus but it's done at the cost of the developer rather than Apple.

cardfan says:

True, but we're talking iphone OS apps. Both devices run iphone OS. Would you like to pay for all your apps again if you bought an ipod touch or the next version of the iphone? The iPad is simply another iphone OS device.
The Wii in your example is a Mac.
I guess we could argue whether the iPad is another iphone OS device. But to many, it will be. A big ipod touch.

Ben Drucker says:

It really depends. Games should absolutely be priced separately, since they take the most time to redesign for the iPad (I'd assume). For other apps, it depends on exactly what is being changed. If there is not much work going into updating the app for the iPad and a few buttons are being rearranged or something minor, I'd like to see it be an update to the existing app.
In the case of Instapaper, the redesign is so great looking and well put together that I'd easily pay $10 for it. Same for something like NetNewsWire which will presumably see some sort of redesign for the bigger screen real estate.
Apple should probably devise a better system for this though. I have no problem paying for iPad apps, but ideally iTunes would only show one app and allow you to purchase the iPhone version, the iPad version, or both. The addition of that and paid upgrades to the App Store would sure be nice.

cardfan says:

Just to be clear, i think you should pay for iPad apps. My main point was i don't think Apple makes this obvious in their marketing.
Should apple rename the OS for the iPad..iPad OS?

Tom Stephens says:

"Can we find some existing parallels?"
The most obvious parallel: you bought an app for your MacBook and the developer makes an iPhone version. Do you really think you will get the iPhone version for free? Of course not... a silly proposition. Of course if a developer designs another version for another Apple product, the developer is entitled to be paid.

Kate says:

Its a different device. I can't argue for it to be free. It doesn't make any sense to me.

websyndicate says:

Let's say u buy an app for ur MacBook and dev says u want to use it on ur iMac oh yea that will 10 more dollars for HD since u have a bigger screen. NO WAY

websyndicate says:

This is what we call early adopter tax. I will no do this again Iile the original
iPhone of 599

Matt(sZ) says:

Great parallel Tom Stephens. You don't HAVE to use the iPad specific version, if your issue is having to pay for an app twice, then you have no issue at all because you can use the VERSION YOU PAID FOR, I want to pull my hair out sometimes because of the audacity that some of these people have.
Apple isn't making you buy the same thing twice, you should be greatful that an entirely different device even supports the smaller res versions in the first place.
Parallel time: I purchased Madden for my PS2, the ps3 came out, and wtf, it has it's own version of Madden, I purchase the PS3, should Sony give me the PS3 version free??
No, but difference with Sony is that you may be screwed given the fact that every PS3 console doesn't even support PS2 backward compatibility...
Apple at least gives you the option to run your iPhone versions, they EVEN give you the option to run pixel doubled versions.. This false sense of entitlement is not only present in games, this is why we still have 40 year old men living at home in mom's basement who (DESERVE) to be waited on hand and foot because they can't step away from WoW for 5 mins to fill out a damn job application [/rant]

Matt(sZ) says:

Wait wait wait, websyndicate.... Wait wait wait?????? Really... No ... Really????
Was that you being serious!?!
I'll just smh, and hope that somewhere in your heart that you have sense enough to know that, that scenario is a hyperbole if there ever was one, it would never happen for obvious reasons that I'm sure no one should have to point out to you...

Francis says:

"If you bought a Super Mario game for the Nintendo DS, you don’t get Super Mario for the Wii for free"
The Wii and the DS are fundamentally different platforms. They don't have the same underlying architecture, do not share a common operating system, and games are developed using different tools.
"Again, the iPad falls in between."
I don't believe it does. They both run the same operating system, and are almost architecturally identical. I believe an iPad is to an iPhone what an iMac is to a MacBook.
I think it's a ripoff to charge one person full price for both iPad and iPhone versions, since the amount of work to convert one version to the other is very small compared to the effort of developing an app.

ninjamattic says:

I'm not getting an iPad, so it doesn't really matter to me. I think some of the analogies here are off though. The comparison to the differences between the Wii and DS don't match up, and while the PS3 one is close, it still misses the point.
Will the iPhone and iPad be running the same OS version at some point? Your 32 bit software won't run on a 64 bit machine, so you buy a new version. Conversely, however, when changing between two 32 bit windows systems, your software will work just fine, and you just download whatever necessary updates to the new machine. No charge (in most cases).
As long as Apple keeps the OS versions significantly different I can see charging again, but not if they're the same and the only difference is size. Making software that's compatible with multiple versions of the same platform is just part of business. The only users who pay for software upgrades (in general) are the ones who own high end professional software, not the ones who play solitaire.

peter says:

As a developer, I would say "no". However, I would preface that with, I would love to offer a discount. It's certainly not free to do the job right, and for games, represents around a 20% cot over initial development to reprocess art, reposition screen elements, retest, etc.

tekgawd says:

They should just use the in app purchasing method to give discounts to previous owners. Example...I have NOVA for iPhone, and when I look up NOVA HD or whatever they call it in the App Store it goes for 9.99. However, I can go into NOVA itself and upgrade to HD for 4.99 through in app purchasing. It makes sense...

Michael says:

The fact that you use the term "iPad Version" means it is a different version. If you buy iPhone App X 1.0, 2.0 is not guaranteed to be free. It's a different version.
Same with the iPad vs iPhone versions. Enough new development went in to it to qualify it a different version. As such, it should not be free, but perhaps offered at an upgrade price.
Install the iPhone version, in-app purchase to upgrade to the iPad UI.

icebike says:

Anyone who thinks the iPad will run the iPhone OS for very long is delusional. This is strictly a stop gap solution while the Apple OS people come up with a real OS custom tailored for the iPad.
Something more closely resembling OSX is this devices destiny, not some hacked, restrictive, and crippling phone os.
It will take Apple about a year to do this right. In the mean time about a dozen linux tablets will hit the market.

Greg Braddock says:

Uhm...speaking as a consumer I think I'd like everything to be free. If the iPhone version will work on the iPad, then that's your free version. But if you want full screen resolution from the app and to be completely compatible with the iPad, then you'll need to upgrade to the iPad version of the app.
Developers aren't working for free guys or let me rephrase, they like to get paid too!

Don says:

With most software if you buy it for your desktop you must purchase another licence for your laptop. That's the way software licencing and copyright works.
You have NO ENTIRLEMENT to run the program on another device.
Granted, there are many programs with more flexible licences (and people who ignore the intellectual property of others) but that is at the copyright owner's discretion.

Brian says:

I would think of it like nintendo advanced vs ds. I bought an advanced game, I would want it to work on the ds (at the same resolution/ features) but if I want new functionality for the ds then I should pay for the new ds version of the game. Although with in app purchases I would think there should be a way to fix it.

creiij says:

I sure hope so. Unless they have some major upgrades compared to the iPhone one. If the only difference is improved resolution to fit the iPad better then I sure hope we don't have to pay again.
But aside from the question my guess is that this will solve itself in the long run. Apps will get cheaper as more developers release similar programs and once they get to cheap they will start to bundle them together in order to appeal to more and more people.
My guess is the first few months apps will be expensive, as in +$5, but after the initial rush they will level out in price and my guess is that they will end up around $3-5 for an iPad app or a bundle.

Dave01568 says:

Yes you should pay more. But you should be able to use iPhone app on ipad but in small window. Developers have to get paid for the work they put in to update there software.

Mitchell says:

I want to be able to put my iPhone apps onto my iPad and play them as normal with the new iPad features. They say on the keynote ; just sync your iPhone apps onto the iPad and your good to go

Louie says:

No. Developers need to paid for the work they do. Stop whining and quit complaining about it. If you can't pay for an app then don't buy the iPad. They are not for everyone, specially cheap asses!

aaron says:

Yes, you should. Paying for a license for each computer you install software on is nothing new. If you don't want to pay, jailbreak it. However, I'd like to be able to transfer it from my iPhone to my iPad without any fee. I might browse the app store on my iphone, find something I'd like on my ipad, and buy it on the spot. I can't always have my ipad with me.

Freiteez says:

Instead of thinking of it like nintendo ds to a woo. Think of it like the ds lite, you can still play the games you bought for game boy advance. And with xbox. If you bought something on the original xbox, you will still have it on your 360. I think you should get the iPad version free

Dimwit says:

I think everyone that thinks ipad versions should be free should learn to write code and develop apps themselves. Then I bet we'd see a change in their opinions. As an iPhone (and soon to be iPad) owner, I personally am disapointed in the app store altogether. Where are the apps that cost $20? I want to see developers get paid to be creative and make apps that blow us away. So far, there only seem to be a few high ticket apps and those are typically very narrow in appeal. I'm an electrician, I would love an app that let's me communicate with a PLC, or even a complete version of the NEC (fully searchable of course) those are just 2 apps I would be willing to pay real money for, and I am probably not alone.

Mitchell says:

Wait someone reply to me please, do we have to rebuy our apps for iPad? Or can we just resync them?

Dimwit says:

Mitchell, you will be able to sync them to the iPad, they will run in an iPhone sized window, or you can run them pixel doubled. That should allow them to run fullscreen, but it may look blocky. That's why the developers need to create new versions for the iPad, they are inserting high Rez images.

Ryan says:

I think @VZW86 has come closest to a practical solution. The comparisons of DS to Wii or PS2to PS3 are not addressing the fact that the iPad's power is so similar in terms of OS and hardware that is really is best restricted to the Mac/iMac comments.
So, bummer that the App Store won't do discounts. But I remember last year when iTunes finally caved on the issue of DRM. As Simone who had reluctantly purchased music in .m4p format and then converted it, I was willing to pay a relatively small surcharge to convert all my
music to .m4a format.
Since the mothership is aware of all of our app purchases, perhaps each user could sign into iTunes and be greeted with a "Thanks for getting an iPad! If you'd like to upgrade to the HD iPad versions, click here and pay only $x.xx!"

Mitch says:

I just got an update to a couple apps, IMDB for example, that showed it as "made" for the iPad. I assume it means it should work right away on the full screen of the iPad. Now the At Bat 2010 app, I expect to be charged again unless I want to keep the little window size. There will be massive updating with that app. Nonetheless, 2 days.

RawApps says:

There may be an additional cost for those who are upgrading their iPhone apps to iPad apps and understandable that the developer would want to make up for the resources it does consume. In either case, if you start with vector or vectorized graphics you can sale a lot easier but in the end it still takes up time and resources.

Ryder says:

This is a stupid question.
The apps should be made available to users exactly and precisely as the owners (developers) of the apps wish them to be.
Developers that put apps on the market will trade (or not trade) with their potential customers based on the product and the offer they make. It's called free trade.
No need to mindf*ck it... it will go the way it needs to go.

americas got talent says:

I wrote a related write-up about this topic but you did a better job :)

online personals says:

that's a great article. I will be sure to frequently check Should iPad apps be free if you already own the iPhone version? | TiPb for new posts!

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