The Nearly Impossible Task of Managing User Expectations

A typical Starbuck’s drink costs somewhere between three and five dollars. Most people will (at times begrudgingly) pay it, meaning that they’ll drop between fifteen and twenty-five dollars a week just on their morning drinks. Interestingly enough, most of those same individuals are hesitant to spend more than $1.00 on a mobile application that they might use every day for months—if not years.

Unfortunately, the ones that do spend that dollar have disproportionate expectations on what their ninety-nine cents should afford them.

For their one dollar purchase, most users seem to expect:

  • Infinite updates
  • Timely, and infinite customer support

For any other industry in the world this would be laughably absurd, and yet somehow it has gained widespread acceptance in the world of mobile apps. It’s unreasonable, but it’s how mobile users have been conditioned since the dawn of the app store. You may have spent tens of thousands of dollars and hours to get your app to completion, but the user can’t really see this—and in truth, he doesn’t care. The average user of the average mobile device sees only his immediate needs, and he sees an ocean of apps that can meet those needs. Sometimes a dollar just seems too expensive.

So let’s say you DO lock in the clients, even with a $1.99 or higher price tag, you’ll only get that money from them once, and yet you’ll be expected to make sure the app is working properly, up-to-date with regular changes, and the users’ emails are answered…indefinitely. In more extreme cases, I’ve heard of developers getting refund requests from users because the mobile app was made free a year after the original purchase…A YEAR! So that means the user downloaded and used the app for an entire year and yet, because it was made free at some distant later point, they felt “ripped off” if they didn’t get their $.99 back.

Sooner or later your client market will be saturated, and you’ll need to figure out how to generate ongoing revenue, and of course the answer isn’t always as simple as offering advertising. As mentioned before, users have been conditioned to expect a one-time purchase at an absurdly low price that entitles them to years of support and updates.

Even in desktop computers, people are more than willing to shell out twenty, forty, or even hundreds of dollars for software…and yet something is different with mobile devices. Perhaps it’s the temporality of it all, how it seems that hardware is constantly being updated, and the device for which they paid hundreds of dollars is becoming increasingly obsolete every day.

Regardless, users need to be reconditioned from this mindset. Users need to understand and appreciate the hard work that goes into the development of applications, and the incredible value of something that they use even a few times a week, let alone every day, sold at such a low price.

Generating long term revenue can be done through subscriptions, in-app purchases, and ads, but users get fed up with all of those things. They don’t feel they need to pay more than once.