While having lunch with a person who's been developing mobile phone applications for several years I asked him what kind of phone he would recommend for a teen just entering high school. This is a market where I've witnessed a surprising amount of smart phone adoption and wanted his take. Before the sentence was even completely out of my mouth his response was clear: an Android-powered smart phone. The model did not matter, so long as it was less than eight months old.
"Why eight months?" I asked.
"Because nothing before that is going to be updated."
"A lot of devices released last week are still running Gingerbread but won't see an update in our lifetimes."
"That's okay, too. Gingerbread will run most of the stuff in the Google Play Store1."
"Okay. What applications should kids get to be productive in their studies?"
"Google Docs will do everything a high school needs to do."
"Any other apps? Calendaring, report formatting, photo sharing, stuff like that?"
"Well ... they can install Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, but that's about it."
This struck me as odd. What about Skitch? QuickOffice Pro? Photoshop Touch? Evernote? Heck, I know Evernote's not for everyone, but it would be one of my main go-to apps if I were to ever go back to university for that Doctorate Degree in Bullshit I keep meaning to earn. So I asked him about it.
"If the app is free, then go for it. But don't get the paid apps. They're no better than the free ones."
Wait a minute. This guy is someone who develops for Android. Why isn't he suggesting people spend a bit of money to support the legions of developers that work hard to make quality apps2?
This is a common thread that I've seen time and again, but it strikes me as being very odd. Why would anybody want to develop for a platform where people don't really value the software they use? Sure, a lot of people may buy the full version of Angry Birds and other popular games, but there has to be some sort of value proposition built into paid apps. Truth be told, I'm surprised that people who develop primarily for Android haven't put their foot down and refused to release free software. Development is not a cheap endeavor. It takes time. It takes skill3. It takes vision. If people continue to give away full-featured software tools, then the people who use software will have the perception that coding is cheap and programmers don't need to be paid. This really needs to come to a stop.
Organizations like Google can afford to give their tools away for free despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars the applications might have cost because they get something out of it. The rest of us don't have the same luxury, even if we are keeping people's private data in our own databases. Therefore, to make these projects worthwhile, developers should not be afraid to charge a reasonable price for a kick ass piece of software. People who use Android regularly will undoubtedly complain at first, but I can almost guarantee that developers will start to make money in less time than it takes for an Eric Schmidt prophesy to come true.
Can free versions co-exist alongside the paid applications? Sure, I don't see why not. But it's time developers have a little more self respect for their craft and try to get something back for the efforts they've made solving people's problems.
Am I completely crazy?