You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

From the Diary of an App Developer: To Demo or Not to Demo?

June 17, 2010

If you're new to From the Diary of an Application Developer, this is a weekly column where I will share my experiences, tips, and overall expertise on application development with you. This is the sixth week, so you aren't too far behind, but you'll probably want to start out with the first article.

As you start to wrap up your app's development, there is an important decision that you have to make. Although it may seem like more of a marketing decision, and it is, you have to decide now because this choice will determine your next developing move. This decision is whether or not you will provide a free version of your application in the App Store. This post will discuss the numerous options you have, and which ones I think you should take.

Option #1: No Demo Version

When the App Store was brand new in the world and everybody was willing to blow tons of money on all kinds of applications, there was no such thing as a demo app. But, developers quickly realized that they could submit the same app twice, but one at a cheaper price with some stripped down features. This would allow for consumers to test out their product before they had to offer up that non-refundable dough. Demo versions are a good thing. You will not lose any money providing a free version of your application, and it will lead to more sales. Anybody who enjoys the free version of your app will buy the full version—simple as that. Also, you won't sell any apps if you don't let people try it out first. Nowadays, App Store customers are used to demos—they won't even think twice about skipping over your app if they don't see a demo version. Sure, some people will only use your free version, but the majority will download the full after trying the demo. Not providing a demo version of your app has no upside to it (besides, I suppose, not having to re-program the demo version). Have a demo version of your app. You will thank me later. Option 1: Not even an option!

Option #2: Demo Version (Without Ads) + Full Version

This is probably the most common thing you'll see in the App Store: a $0.99 app that can be downloaded completely free, but with stripped down features. Whether this be access to only a quarter of the levels in a game, watermarks in a photo app, or restricted access in a utility, features will be missing. This is done to give the customer a taste of what you have to offer before they give you any money. It's a demo, and it's a good thing (but only as long as you mention in the demo app that all of the other great features will be offered in the full version—that is key). While this is not my favorite option, it is definitely a good choice, and is far better than having just a paid version. Option 2: Go for it.

Option #3: Only a Free Version (With Ads)

This option is a bit risky. I haven't tried out application advertising applications yet, so I don't know what kind of revenue it produces, therefore, I don't think I would recommend this option. Advertising will always be hit-and-miss, and you didn't work this hard on your application to have it be shoved into the nether-regions of the App Store, generating $0.005 each month. Unless you are positive that you can get a wicked crazy advertising deal, I'd stick with the classic combination of Free Version+Paid Version, or the next Option, #4. Option 3: Eh. Better not, unless your cousin runs the ad company and will give you a crazy good deal.

Option #4: Free (But Full) Version (With Ads) + Full Version

This option is one that I just thought of while writing this post. Although I haven't tested out any app advertising yet, I know that it must produce some revenue. Therefore, I say, go for it. If your user dislikes the ads, they can buy the full version. If not, at least you get ad revenue. Now, this option is contingent on each free app generating at least the price of your full version in ad sales, and, like I said, I'm not too well-versed in that area. Therefore, I am going to say go with this final option... Option 4: Check out #5 before you commit to this one.

Option #5: Limited Demo Version (With Ads) + Full Version

Money from ads. Money from the full version. And even more incentive for the customer to buy your full app. Even though it's the most greedy, and I haven't tried it yet, I'd say go with this option. It seems like it'd be your safest bet to both generate money and attract more users to your full version. Option 5: Do it. Now you have a choice to make. You know my opinion, but the ultimate decision is up to you and your partner. How you choose to create these two different versions of your app will determine how you market it. And marketing is a very, very difficult thing to do, so choose wisely. Once you decide on what the demo version will be, have your programmer create it. It should be far easier than creating the app—all they have to do is strip down some features, slap some ads on, and add a banner saying “DEMO” to the icon. Still, it'll be a good day's work, and it's important that it's done right. Next week, we'll discuss finalizing your app, going through some beta testing, and, ultimately, submitting it to Apple.

Related articles