Updated: Apple Introduces In-App Purchase for Free App -- Buh-Bye Lite, Hello Demo!


Apple has just sent out a letter to developers introducing in-app purchasing for free apps.

UPDATE: Developers Erica Sadun on TUAW, and Marco Arment delve deeper into the subject, as does Techcrunch (twice).

ORIGINAL: Here's what Apple had to say:

In App Purchase is being rapidly adopted by developers in their paid apps. Now you can use In App Purchase in your free apps to sell content, subscriptions, and digital services.

You can also simplify your development by creating a single version of your app that uses In App Purchase to unlock additional functionality, eliminating the need to create Lite versions of your app. Using In App Purchase in your app can also help combat some of the problems of software piracy by allowing you to verify In App Purchases.

Visit the App Store Resource Center for more details about how you can add In App Purchases to your free apps.

So in one email, Apple ends the clutter of Lite apps, provides a real possibility for demoware (a developer can provide 1 level of a game, for example, for free, and 10 more via in-app purchase), and offers developers the carrot of anti-piracy measures at the same time.

Previously, Apple was resolute about "free apps stay free" so as to avoid user confusion. What changed their mind, all of the above? And will in-app purchases in free apps be extra-carefully marked to avoid just such confusion?

[Thanks everyone who sent this in!]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Updated: Apple Introduces In-App Purchase for Free App -- Buh-Bye Lite, Hello Demo!


Yeah was pretty surprised to see this. Not sure quite how to feel about it. Free demos would be nice though. Guess we'll have to see how it plays out (whether the App Store gets filled with free shovelware).

Sounds good to me. Perhaps now instead of having one app per book on the App Store, we'll just have the one free client with which you will download premium books to? This of course would apply to many other things as well.

how does this work with apps that are shared within a household, using itunes' new app sharing functionality?

I hope they use the same method Tap Tap Revenge 3 uses, in which all your downloads are linked to your account, so even though you restored your device or perhaps downloaded it on your other iPod/iPhone you could still download the content you already paid for.

I'm really concerned about this because they need to require developers to explicitly state what Add Ons you can (or have to) purchase for the free ones.
I can foresee a lot of bad reviews for apps where people downloaded something not knowing it requires an upgrade within the app because it wasn't disclosed.

I think this is a flawed move, but at the same time, I think it's a case of apple looking at what they have, and what people are demanding, and trying to figure out how to get from 'have + want' to 'satisfied' in the least amount of 'making something new' possible.

I thought I heard Apple stated when they first introduce the iPhone Firmware 3.0 that any Dev with free Apps can't charge there customers for any In App Purchases?

Provided it's disclosed upfront, and that's certainly the case with all inApp purchases now, this is a good move.
We may see the AppStore application count drop a little too.
Whether this works out well or not, at least Apple is trying to fix peoples concerns.

This is the only sensible answer. There are legitimate business models that require to give the app away, and sell content within. No brainer if you ask me.

Now if only The iPhone Blog could allow in-blog purchases! Get the first few sentences free and have to pay for the rest if the story :-P

I swear Apple must read this blog.
All the bItchin about this lately, even getting mentioned in the podcast a couple of times and Boom its there.
This is very nice.

@OneOfDaKine :

"I thought I heard Apple stated when they first introduce the iPhone Firmware 3.0 that any Dev with free Apps can’t charge there customers for any In App Purchases?"

You did. That is why this is news!
I wonder if the in-app purchases can be for a fixed length of time, allowing for a subscription model?

Boxcar has already been re-released as a free app with in-app purchases for services after the first one.

No, in-app purchases can't have an expiration date, but they do allow for subscription models.
"2.3 Content and services may be offered through the In App Purchase API on a subscription basis (e.g., subscriptions to a magazine, comic series, or financial reporting service); however, rentals of content, services or functionality through the In App Purchase API are not allowed (e.g., use of a particular game item or digital book for a pre-determined, limited period of time)."

I think it's a good idea in that we can get real trials of a whole game but now that the light ones will be gone, you can't just play those for free instead of the real game which cost because future trials will only last for so many days and then they won't work

Wait, so what happens to previously purchased apps? Will users now be required to purchase add-ons that previously came with the paid app? Or will developers be forced to maintain two different versions of their apps, the "old" full version plus the "new" a-la-carte version?

"I swear Apple must read this blog."
LOL. That's plausible until you consider how many posts have been about backgrounder, winterboard, SBSettings, tethering, etc...

Hmm, sound great but i have one think. If all developers make there apps free and selling it with in app purchase, won't all apps be in the free section then??

Im so glad to see this! Im also happy that Apple is suggesting developers do away with Lite apps. While its nice to try apps, Ive always hated how lite apps clutter up the appstore. I really hope we can do away with lite apps altogether. It is also interesting how this might help out with piracy. Good idea. I look forward to this change.

Thansks for that good info.
Also Wired http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/10/tablet-print-2/ has story about in-app sales combined with the putative iTablet being geared toward rescuing the Print Media.

The Wall Street Journal will later this month begin charging for most of the content it delivers through its free app, and the Financial Times has an app that only offers up to 10 free stories a month without a subscription to the newspaper. But for the most part, publishers have loathed charging for an app, even if it then enabled them to try to charge for content within that point of sale. Reducing the cost barrier of that business model to zero changes things considerably. At least one small publisher, Scarab Magazine, has already taken advantage of the change.

As I've said many times here, if the iTablet does nothing but change the business model of the Main Stream Press, it will be ground breaking, and all the nay-sayers will be out buying an iTablet within a year.
This change to in-app purchase capabilities is the tip of the iceberg.

My 2 thoughts:
1. This is good. The reason they had this rule is because they didn't want people downloading a "free" app that costs $5. That's good, but instead, they have "$1" apps that actually cost $5, and you're already out the $1. A boneheaded move that thankfully has been fixed.

  1. This is the last nail in the coffin for the non-pirate JB community. Can't personally confirm this, but according to Tapulous, IAPs don't work on JB devices. And this move has the potential to completely flip the App Store economy upside down, making jailbreaking a dumb move.

Oh, and that quote-looking part of my comment wasn't supposed to be a quote. It's my second thought.

As a developer with a combination of free and paid apps on the App Store, I'm concerned about ownership migration. As I see it, in order to transition, I will need to add in-app purchase support to my paid apps, then remove my "lite" apps from the store and change the pricing tier of the paid apps to "free." At this point, I see no clear path to unlock in-app features for those who have bought the paid apps already.

I don't see the big deal. It seems like its worse to pay something (even a small amount) for an app and then realize that you have to pay more for it to be useful. If you get a free app and then find out you have to pay more to really use it, you may have lost a few minutes of time but you haven't lost any money if you just decide not to use it.

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