[Opinions] The real reason why people won’t spend $0.99 on a mobile app

Don't you sympathise with this poor lady who has to buy yet another app that promises to change her life?
Don't you sympathise with this poor lady who has to buy yet another app that promises to change her life?

Do mobile app developers buy every USD$0.99/SGD$1.48 app that strikes their fancy? You frequently read about this grouse in interviews with app developers – “People will buy expensive avocado toast/lattes/pedometers, but they balk at spending just a dollar on an app!” – and I just read one such interview a few hours ago.

I suspect that app developers buy more apps than the average mobile phone user – because they can charge it as research expenses rather than as luxuries. Which is what a $0.99 app is, by the way – a luxury, since it’s often compared to avocado toast and lattes.

In that case, before they became app developers, did they buy every $0.99 app that struck their fancy? I would suspect not – I would suspect they read about apps, about app development, but surely they wouldn’t buy apps as casually as they would expect customers to.

You know why I hesitate before buying a $0.99 app?

This is very expensive.
This is very expensive.

Because I have already spent a whole lot of money on my iPhone. An iPhone X costs $1,888 (there’s a 64GB version, but come on – why would you skimp on storage space for the latest iPhone? There are only two options anyway, 64GB or 256GB). I don’t have an iPhone X, but I remember my current iPhone (bought 3 years ago) was still pretty expensive.

And if I’m paying so much for my iPhone, I expect it to work. I expect it to have a lot of functions. I expect it to cover every conceivable need I have.

To some extent, the iPhone does cover almost all my needs out of the box. I tried to get this productivity app called Edo Agenda – then I realised that my Calendar function worked just as well. I used Evernote until they started slamming all these paid restrictions on the app – then I realised that Notes worked just as well.

Do we really need so many apps?
Do we really need so many apps?

So when I see an app that’s $0.99 that promises to change my life, I feel manipulated into wasting money.

Didn’t I just pay close to a $1,000 for a phone that was supposed to change my life? Shouldn’t that iPhone have already come with such apps preinstalled? Isn’t that what that gargantuan price tag is for?

By the way, my article also applies to Android users. Just so I don’t alienate my Samsung-using best friend, who is still my best friend despite the fact that he convinced me to buy a Samsung phone (and suffer with it for two years). That crappy phone was the Omnia, and it was the worst piece of technology I have ever bought.

It’s left me with the impression that Samsung is only interested in pushing out unfinished, untested products to make a fast buck, and their exploding phones have only served to prove my point.

QR codes are just silly.
QR codes are just silly.

But back to the $0.99 app. It feels like yet another form of manipulation. More specifically, commercial manipulation.

Just like how the new iPhones don’t come with a headphone jack, so they can manipulate you into buying new earphones and earphone adaptor dongles.

Just like how the new iPhone X purposely only has 64GB or 256GB options, so you either spend a little bit more for a decent amount of storage space, or you spend less now so that they can manipulate you to pay for iCloud storage later.

Just like how the current MacBooks only have USB-C ports, so they can manipulate you into buying more dongles and adaptors and introduce more points of failure.

Just like how there’s so little storage space on the current MacBooks, so they can manipulate you into buying iCloud storage later.

Maybe it’s just an Apple thing, but if I paid so much for it, why can’t it all work? The reason I started buying Apple products in the first place is because it all worked so well, but now it feels like endless commercial manipulation to buy products I don’t need. In the words of a production friend, “I don’t think I’ll buy Apple for my next laptop because it’s not customer-focused any more”.

So even though it’s just $0.99/$1.48, I don’t want to buy the app because I feel I’ve been tricked into spending so much on a phone that requires me to spend even more money.

Don't you sympathise with this poor lady who has to buy yet another app that promises to change her life?
Don’t you sympathise with this poor lady who has to buy yet another app that promises to change her life?

I acknowledge that this is how the app market and business model works, and I don’t have a perfect solution for this. I also don’t want all the app designers to go out of work, and neither do I want to see ads spammed in my face like YouTube does now (since they always say that the only other option is to display ads)

And all the good, free apps (like Facebook and Instagram) are subtly harvesting your information and profiling you, so you’re paying the cost in another way.

But ultimately, a $0.99 app is a luxury, not a need. So is my expensive smartphone. I buy a luxury to make my life better, not to feel manipulated into having to buy more of your products.

Which is what the $0.99 app feels like.

If you disagree, then tell me – when was the last time you bought a $0.99 app on a whim?

Follow Marcus Goh (yes, referring to myself in third person) on Facebook and Instagram for more (presumably) good updates!

I’m a Singapore television scriptwriter who’s written for Lion Mums, Crimewatch, Police & Thief, and Incredible Tales. I’m also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find me on social media as Optimarcus and on my site.

Send me an email if you want to get in touch!


Then it’s time to take your writing seriously. Good writing opens up the doors to success. Download Secrets of Quick and Painless Writing to get started now!




Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.