The true costs associated with free apps isn't limited to free-to-play-games, or the consequences to just our wallets. Michael Jurewitz, who up until last year worked as a developer evangelist at Apple, has outlined another profound cost on his blog, Jury:
Last week brought a couple high profile announcements in the tech world. Google announced it would shutter Google Reader on July 1 and Dropbox announced it had acquired the hugely-popular-but-how're-they-gonna-make-money Mailbox app. At face value, these were two separate and unconnected events but they bear a lesson for all of us to take to heart: Running a sustainable business requires generating sustainable revenue. Charge money for what you create.
Both during and after his stint at Apple, Jury has been a consistent voice on this. Make a great product. Charge a fair price. Align your interests with your customers. It's a virtuous cycle.
Free can be done well and done right. But free is also a dependency for everyone involved. Companies that make free products cede control of their own destiny to venture capitalists and those who would acquire them. Customers who use free products cede control of their data to servers that are more likely to change hands, perhaps multiple times, or disappear entirely.
With Google Reader, we ultimately lost out to their Google+ agenda. With Mailbox, their customer was ultimately Dropbox and not us. Something even better could replace Google Reader. Dropbox could make Mailbox the email client of the future. But we didn't buy either of them, and ultimately we got what we paid for.
Whether you're a developer or a customer, read Jury's piece and think about whether investing your money is better deal than investing your time and/or data.