[dtse][/dtse]If you’ve ever considered the switch from PC to Mac or vice-versa, you’ve undoubtedly faced a slew of decisions before opting to take the plunge. One of the biggest that is not readily apparent to many is the cost of software purchased for your platform. Depending on computing needs, the software dollars pumped into one’s platform of choice can range from next to nothing if you are internet only user to thousands or more if professional applications are in the mix. But what about switching mobile platforms?
At the begin of 2009, Apple was the only real player in the mobile app market, and today there is no argument that the platform still holds the lead by a huge amount for quality, useful third party applications. But as we push further into 2010 and app stores for Android, Palm WebOS, and even Blackberry and WinMo gain market share, users considering jumping ship will face a similar plight for the first time. How many invested dollars in platform specific apps do I stand to lose by jumping platforms?
The cost of mobile apps and the .99 cent phenomenon
An interesting factor to consider is the actual cost for these apps. Amazingly, the iPhone App Store has somehow managed to make the one dollar purchase a new cultural standard. There are three unspoken rules for price point that near every app purchaser follows, whether conscious or not. If it doesn’t offer incredibly deep functionality, it should probably be free. If it does offer something useful, it should be .99 cents and have incredible customer support to boot. If it costs more than that, it’d better either be something for a niche market or the latest 3D game from EA. Anything else will get low ranked into submission, and subsequently the .99 cent price point always seems to show up eventually. The interesting result of this is that the average user may have up to 50 apps loaded in their device, and have only paid in the neighborhood of 20 dollars, if even that. For these users, the cost involved with switching platforms is low enough that the cost barrier doesn’t outweigh enough of the device cost to rule out the switch.
Higher cost apps
Low cost apps may ultimately be less of a concern, but what about higher cost apps? Navigation apps are an obvious first contender here, with dollar figures as high as $99 and up. But even if we disregard this app category, $5 apps add up very quickly. A mobile professional using a few more expensive apps can be looking at an app bill up to the $50-$100 range to get their existing applications onto their new device.
Even free apps still pose issues. In the past, the worst part of getting a new device was re-entering all of your contacts into your shiny new device (on a monochrome screen, no less). Thankfully those days are generally over, thanks to desktop sync or carriers handling the move for you. But for the first time users may face a new transition nuisance in the form of setting up their apps all over again in their new device, if the app (or an equivalent one) even exists in the new platform’s store. There’s both learning curve considerations and the time required to re-enter all of your preferences and logins. It can be a full days venture or more depending on the apps in question.
Pulling the trigger
For most, the deciding factor will be cost, and it’s likely a percentage. If a user is looking at $150 for a subsidized phone and then immediately face an additional initial outlay of $50 or more in app costs right from the get go, plus a day to get their device setup with those apps, it may be enough to make users think twice about the switch. I’d wager that if the total app cost is less than 30% of the device cost, it’s negligible to the user. It’s a phenomenon that we haven’t truly experienced yet, with the exception of possibly legacy WinMo users who may have purchased software for the platform and jumped ship to the iPhone. But the percentages of users will grow exponentially this year as Apple faces what is likely to be a much larger platform and apps push than they’ve seen yet from Android and Palm. Inevitably a portion of users will consider the switch. What is unknown is whether those users will have the foresight to realize the app transition cost and, if so, if that will be enough for them to stay with their existing platform instead of jumping ship.
It’s an interesting notion to think that perhaps Apple intended this all along, anticipating the competition that was guaranteed to emerge. Unlike on desktop OS’s, mobile platforms don’t follow the serial number registration paradigm. As such, it is near impossible for third party developers to even allow a free or low cost transition between platforms, as many desktop software providers do today. Time will tell whether platform agnosticism will begin to appear in third party app purchases, but for the time being, as users continue to download and purchase more apps, they are effectively creating more vested interest in sticking to their existing platform, making the inevitable question of jumping platforms all that much harder to stomach.
So what do you think? What would be your threshold for switching platforms being simply too much to contend with? Sound off in the comments.