Regarding Free Trials in the App Store

With the recent launch of The Developers Union there has been renewed discussion about whether or not Apple should allow developers to offer free trials of their apps on the App Store. I wanted to offer a few thoughts from a beginner’s perspective.

My app, Snapthread, is a utility. In general, utilities aren’t great candidates for subscription pricing. So while devs do have the option to offer a free trial for their subscription-based apps, the only way to offer a trial experience for paid upfront apps is to implement some type of in-app purchase to unlock full functionality or upload a separate, “lite” version to the store. There’s really no good way for non-paying users to experience your app in its full glory without significant compromises.

The in-app purchase method works well enough for a lot of folks, especially if they implement it from the beginning. Unfortunately, Snapthread has been a paid app since it launched, meaning it has a chunk of users who have already paid for its features in full.

If I want to switch to a reduced functionality, in-app purchase model, I have a lot of hoops to jump through. First, I have to decide what goes behind the paywall. Do I add a watermark to the videos? Do I limit the number of clips the app will merge at one time? Once I choose and implement some restrictions, I then have to write a bunch of in-app purchase code to remove them.

But what about those users I mentioned who have already paid for Snapthread? For them, I have to perform receipt validation. There are two options: to validate receipts locally on device, which requires some sort of cryptography-related mumbo jumbo that I don’t understand, or validate using my own server.

Look, I don’t have any computer science background. I can barely describe to you in my own words what a server even is, let alone set up my own. I’m not saying Apple should make this easier just for someone like me. I’m under the impression that all of this is a pain in the butt even for people who understand it perfectly well. (A quick note: this isn’t a request for explanations regarding receipt validation. If you have a beginner level tutorial you’d like to send my way, that’s fine, but otherwise I’ll be okay. Really.)

What I’m saying is: Apple could make this a heck of a lot easier on everyone by allowing for time-limited free trials. There could be a simple list in Settings of all the trial apps you’ve downloaded, and how much time you have remaining on each. When a trial expires, maybe you’d see a pop-up when you launched the app asking if you’d like to buy or delete it. If you chose to delete it and later returned to its App Store page, there would no longer be a trial option.

Developers could choose from some pre-set trial lengths, and trials in general would be completely optional. It would take a lot of work on Apple’s end to do this—to bolt this on to the App Store’s crusty old backend. But holy cow would it be helpful for folks like me!

An interesting question for discussion: if Apple did something like this, should users be allowed to submit app ratings or reviews during the trial period? Can they do so now, with subscription trials?

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