Will mobile applications become more expensive as functionality increases?

Published: April 19, 2011

Applications are arguably the backbone of the smartphone and tablet worlds. Without the hundreds of thousands of applications available for our touchscreen pocket computers, they would be nothing but over-sized feature phones with an enhanced browser. In a sense, they are what makes the smartphone...smart and a tablet even worth buying.

Applications come it two basic forms: paid and free. Free applications are typically supported by ads which earn the developer of the application a residual income. Over time, this can earn the developer much more money than a one-time paid application can. But for those developers that prefer to see the fruits of their labor in a more timely manner, they can and will charge for their application.

The more common price range for applications runs between $0.99 and $5.00. Even a small price tag like that can be hard to pull the trigger on, not to mention those that run up the bill a bit more. In Android Market, expensive applications are far less common and a majority of the applications, though riddled with ads, come free of charge.

On the other end of the spectrum, Apple's App Store has always been home to some fairly expensive apps. Take Apple's own office suite (Pages, Keynote, Numbers, etc.) for instance, each application runs for $9.99 – as opposed to QuickOffice's entire suite for $9.99. The App Store is also filled with countless high quality games that can run from $5.00 to $20.00.

But what about future applications? What about applications that come with desktop-like functionality?

Mobile apps have evolved over the past two years and have changed the way we do mobile computing and gaming. They have grown and matured into complex, extremely functional, software that greatly extends the capabilities of smartphones and tablets. With more time and effort put into each app, it's only a matter of time before developers feel their work is deserving of a little more compensation.

There are some apps in the App Store ranging from $100 to $1000, but they have unique abilities and target small, specific demographics like doctors, dentists, and even "high-net-worth individuals." These apps aren't what I'm referring to. Instead, I'm referring to the concept Adobe Photoshop iPad app that was shown off last month at Photoshop World. While only a concept, it demonstrates how mobile applications can have similar functionality to the same program on a full-fledged computer. Comparable software is still several months, if not years, from reaching consumer hands. But when that day comes, we will likely see a large surge in the price of some mobile applications.

A current example would be Wakeful in BlackBerry App World. It isn't exactly desktop-like in any way, but it does add a unique function that the developer deems worthy of a rather large price tag. Wakeful is a simple alarm clock replacement application that comes with an added perk: it speaks the local news and weather to you based on your ZIP code. Pretty cool, but is it worthy of $15? Most other alarm clocks are either free or under $5.

Just imagine photo editing software that shares the same functionality as the desktop version of the same program, or a text editor that truly parallels the infamous Microsoft Word (because we all know the current mobile editions are only half-functional). What say you? Will these super apps meet the market at a prime rate? Or did the day of expensive software meet its end with mobile applications? Could you see yourself paying $50 for a smartphone or tablet application?

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