It was just two weeks ago that AndroidGuy writer Chuck Falzone issued a call to Android users to take the Paid App Pledge. The pledge seemed to have two purposes: To support Android development and to change the perception of its consumers. What resulted was a discussion within the Android community as to whether or not the pledge is a good thing. I'm not here to convince you one way or another. I personally took the pledge because I agree with the outsider perspective.
We are cheap. Inexcusably so.
Just a couple of days ago, Metago pushed out an update to the hugely popular Astro File Manager application, and it was received with a wildly varying degree of intensity. The update brought ads to the free application and an option to purchase the "Pro" key, which would remove the ads. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that there has been a strong number of users who were not upset by the addition of ads and so far, a couple thousand others have gone ahead and purchased the Pro version. Unfortunately, there has been a noticeable number of users who have expressed outrage at the audacity of the developer to try to make a living off of his product.
Metago is certainly not the first developer to integrate ads into their free application, and they won't be the last. But because of the popularity of this app, the response seems to be more palpable. Consequently, I am sitting here wondering why Android users have come to expect a free ride to the top of the mobile industry. Why do we champion the Android OS to anyone who will listen, and pick fights with iPhone fanboys over whose phone is better, then turn around and spew anger to developers who charge us $3 or $4 for an ad-free experience? Why do we refuse to pay for products that are clearly worth our dollars?
Despite what they try to tell you, professional athletes don't play at the pro level just for the love of the game. See how many of them would continue to play for 30k per year. Even Steve Jobs, who clearly loves his role, would walk away from Apple if they asked him to be the face of the company for free. Similarly, developers are not obligated to code for us simply because they love to code. Some of them can and do, and kudos to them for that. But the vast majority of these guys are working out of their homes with no funding and have to devote hours of free time on top of what they already do for a living in order to put out the great products that we are seeing in the Android market. They deserve some payoff, whether it comes through ad revenue or through paid downloads, or any other method. If an application isn't worth the money, you don't have to buy it.
We pay for cable, because we want more options than the few [ad-supported] channels we get. And if we want more channels, we pay more money. We will even pay an extra $10/month for one, single premium channel. We pay to add accessories (applications) to our cars. We pay for a certain number of minutes and text messages on our cell phone plans. We pay for the added convenience and service of a sit-down restaurant. When we buy groceries, the salaries of the employees are built in to the cost of the products we are purchasing. Do I need to go on?
I wanted to see if I was wrong; perhaps Android users were no more demanding than-dare I say it-iPhone users? So I got in touch with Chris Fagan of Froogloid.com. These guys have brought three great applications to the Android Market, two of which also have a paid version. About two months ago, they took their most successful Android app, Key Ring, to the iPhone App Store. I asked Chris whether or not there was a noticeable difference in the attitude of consumers on the different platforms, and his response came without hesitation. iPhone users are much more willing to pay for apps or to deal with applications that implement advertising. When they find a product that makes their life easier or more enjoyable, they are happy to pay for it.
As a proud member of the Android community, I don't like the fact that this is one area where the iPhone is indubitably winning. The fact that ads now appear at the bottom of my screen when I open Astro has not suddenly made it any less useful to me. Is my user experience a little bit less favorable? Yes, of course it is. But the product is still top-notch and it is still free. I went ahead and paid for the Pro version this morning because I prefer an ad-free experience. I also want great developers like Metago and Froogloid to know that I support their work, because that is what will motivate them to continue innovating the great products they already deliver to us.
It's time for Android users to take ownership of their role. We are not leeches. We are consumers of the best mobile operating system in the world. The best OS deserves the best applications, and it's our job to make it worthwhile for the best developers to bring those apps to us.