Dear dad, don’t listen to my cheapskate brothers about iPad apps

This letter is to my dad, we got him an iPad for Christmas.

Dear dad,

Alex told me he counseled you against buying any apps that cost money. Sounds like Ben also is of that bent. Sounds great to be a cheapskate, right? After all, you’ll save money. I’d question my brother’s motives, though. Maybe they want more inheritance?

Anyway, to me the best apps cost money and you should expect to spend $200 to $400 in the first year on apps. Here’s some reasons why.

1. Paid apps are better games. Look at Angry Birds. They have free versions on Android, but on iPad and iPhone their versions cost five bucks. The thing is, on the free version you have interruptive advertising. Do you really want to live in a world where every few minutes an ad gets displayed? I don’t. So I invest in apps that cost money and apps that have a real business model behind them (IE, where I’m at least a customer that turned over some cash). Plus, I know that Scrabble is one of your favorite games. That costs $4.99. What a deal.

2. Paid apps help teach science. I know you do lots of tutoring at local high schools. One of the most expensive apps, The Elements, costs $14. This app is magical, though, and will open science up to kids in a new way. I wish I had this back when I was in Chemistry class.

3. Paid apps reward the arts. There’s a photographer, Quang-Tuan Luong. He took 10 years to photograph all the US National Parks. 3,000 photos. And you can own them all for $4.99. If enough people do that? Well, then, it’ll encourge more photographers and artists to share their work in apps.

4. Paid apps help you travel. The best apps, like TripIt, have “pro” versions that cost money. In this case TripIt costs me $49 per year. What do I get? Information. I often know my flight is delayed before the pilot tells everyone else. And it helps me get alternate flights and helps me with finding the best seat, and more.

5. Paid apps help you get better news. The Wall Street Journal costs $17+ a month. I know you buy lots of magazines and newspapers, why would it be any different on an iPad?

6. Paid apps help you read longer items. I paid $4.99 for Instapaper, which helps save web pages for later offline reading, optimized for readability. Invaluable.

7. Paid apps help you find better restaurants. Yeah, you can use the free Yelp app (I do that too) but Zagat’s app is better for finding the best restaurants. It costs $10. What’s a meal at a high-end restaurant cost? $50? Some, like at French Laundry, cost $330 and up. Having one extraordinary experience is worth the app’s price. Why? Because they can afford to have moderators that clean up the content, plus they have hooks into other systems, like Foodspotting and Foursquare, which give them better data.

Anyway, there’s some selfish reasons to pay for apps, too.

1. App developers are watching what platforms make the most money. So, if you want better apps, support the developers and they’ll work on more stuff for you. Otherwise they’ll go work on other platforms that have more customers that’ll pay for apps.

2. It gives you leverage. If they start selling all your private information, you’ll be able to scream about it. People who only use free apps should expect there’s some other business model in play behind the scenes.

3. The quality of the apps is higher when you pay for them. Do you work for free? I don’t. Neither do my cheapskate brothers. Yet they want everything for free. But, who do you think developers will do their best work for? A group of people who spends $5 to $15 on them? Or a group of people who forces them to do unnatural acts like put ads into their apps (which encourages them to sell your privacy down the street)?

Me? I’m a selfish baaassstttarrrrddd. I want the best experiences, and I’ve found the best way to get those is to pay for some apps.

–Your son, Robert


19 thoughts on “Dear dad, don’t listen to my cheapskate brothers about iPad apps

  1. Very true… It’s sometimes strange that people don’t mind going to Starbucks and pay $4 to $5 for a funky combination of Coffee (or other beverages), which anyway is temporary!, but won’t shell out $1 (majority of the apps) or a tad more for some really great apps. It’s all in the mind.


  2. I should send this on to my brother who doesn’t like paying for apps! Rewarding devs is reason enough alone, providing quality of app & information is present


  3. Number 1) Angry Birds DOESN’T have interruptive advertising. Its a banner that sits in the top corner of the screen. Annoying? Yes. Interruptive? No.

    Secondly, I’m calling you out on your real-business-model-behind-them comment. I hardly consider 1 million a month in ad revenues to be without a business plan?

    “By end of year, we project earnings of over $1 million per month with the ad-supported version of Angry Birds,” says Peter Vesterbacka, the “Mighty Eagle” behind the game at Rovio Mobile.


    1. Not everybody wants to sell their users to an advertising company to subsidize their cost. If they provide value, the people who want it will pay for it. “Everyone else” is none of their concern.


  4. I don’t know your dad – heck, I’ve never had any type of a conversation, online or otherwise, with Ben – so I don’t know if he likes angry birds or if he travels a lot. All that I know about him is the one thing that you shared – he likes to read magazines and newspapers. That alone is an argument to purchase at least something – if you like to read traditional newspapers and magazines, you’re not going to be happy with Scobleizer. (Well, maybe your dad would…)

    There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If your dad spends a lot of time on Facebook, then the free Facebook app from the iTunes store is a must for him. And even though their app is free, Facebook seems to be doing pretty well, finance-wise.

    Now I’ll step back and let the brothers fight it out… 🙂


  5. Good analysis, Robert. You’re exactly right: you get what you pay for. I’d much rather pay a few bucks and receive something that’s well-designed and worthwhile than pay nothing and receive the aggravation of ads or poor design and/or mediocre content.

    I’m an iPhone/iPad App developer (Creative Whack Pack When I make money (and I do), I improve the product and release new versions (I do this as well). Many other developers are in a similar position.

    BTW, it’s AMUSING (to me at least) that you write this post as a letter to your father, and you call yourself a bastard. Fun! What did he say about that?


  6. All good points Roberto. I agree too. I used to be a freeware junkie until I got to work with developers closely and learned how hard they work on all types of apps. They truly deserve to be compensated for what they do in some manner. That’s why I’m glad to see the free lunch daze of Web 2.0 come to an end…successful web apps have learned how to offer freemium versions and if we like it we can get the premium/pro edition….Evernote being the best example here. App developers are doing the same thing…offering a limited lite edition to give us a taste or a trial run and full paid versions. Nothing could be more fair.
    Just because there are many free (usually inferior) apps available doesn’t mean no one deserves to be paid for their superior apps. The old adage is true…you get what you pay for. We need to support those that do good work…much like we tip good service.



    1. What you missed is that I bought almost every Twitter app out there, too. Things like Osfoora and Tweetie (I don’t believe that was free at first). But I like these three the best, which proves that sometimes free is best.


  7. Excellent letter, but you should send it to the whole fanboys and phandroids on the net, I believe that all good things must have a price, there’s not argument when a free app deleted or trashed your private information, there’s nobody to request help from or any solution. Excellent Article.


  8. Now if @scoble is a good son, part of his Xmas present to his Dad would be to give him a $200 itunes card 🙂 That should be enough to get him buying good apps without the ‘guilt’ of spending his own money – once he gets through $200 of apps, he should be quite comfortable buying more using his own.


  9. Dear Robert’s Dad,

    Robert’s advice is half-way correct. He is right in that if you find a particular comfortable digital lifestyle need that can be best handle with an iPad app that costs money, by all means, spend the money (within reason).

    On the other hand, the are a lot of good or great apps that are free, so do spend time searching for them on the App Store, but also elsewhere, on Twitter, Quora 😉 or let a Google Search “do the walking”.

    Robert neglected to give you a very important warning, however. (I am very disappointed). Your son forgot to advice you to stay away from purchasing most content from the Apple Store because if you do, like buying iTunes Store books, movies and even music, you will be locking yourself into the Apple ecosystem where this iTunes Store content that you would be buying and own would only work on Apple-only mobile devices (and on iTunes clients on Windows and Mac notebooks, as if anybody stalk reads books and watches movies on laptops).

    Don’t do it, Mr. Scoble.

    Don’t lock yourself into buying only Apple mobile devices to keep enjoying the content that you buy at the Apple iTunes Store jailhouse. Apple is not like Amazon that let’s you wad Kindle books on the iPad and Android tablets. Apple is not like Microsoft and Adobe, which let most any notebook and mobile device use their multimedia and digital content. No, Apple want to lock you in for good.

    Good job raising your kids, Mr. Scoble.

    Greetings from Chicago,

    — Ed Garay


  10. True, but the examples I gave are NOT available for free. I do, like Louis Gray noted, use lots of free apps too (although I bought almost every Twitter client to try them all out. That’s an investment I don’t regret making but that’s cause I want to keep up to date).


    1. The examples you gave are not free, but there are plenty of good substitutions to those apps that are free. Although I am willing to pay for some apps, and have done so, I’m not about to pay for a $49 app when there a free app that can do most of what that $49 app can. True enough, ads that pop up every other screen are completely irritating, but that’s a compromise many are willing to make.


  11. That’s absolutely true though. Although, admittedly I tend to always look for things that are cost free, but those are just mainly for miscellaneous stuff. There is a middle ground though, there are apps that offers great service for free, while there are specific services that offers more efficient delivery but comes with a price.


  12. Robert, you have a false dichotomy here. Free apps = lost privacy vs. paid apps = privacy.

    But paid apps have been accessing iPhone users data and there are now lawsuits about that. And any company can be bought out and have your data sold as part of the deal, even though you paid for the app. Websites and web services that have been purchased have had these issues in recent years.

    Also, there are lots of free apps that don’t collect data about you and lots of paid apps that do.

    So buying apps doesn’t guarantee any more privacy.


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