Free apps vs paid apps: Which should developers choose?

Tue 1 Dec 2020

As a developer, creating and launching a mobile app with minimal technical issues is only half the challenge. Making money from your product is the next big hurdle. With over 90% of apps available in app stores for free, many smartphone users are accustomed to downloading their app of choice without reaching into their wallet. However, app development is not a cheap process and developers need to monetise in order to recoup their initial costs and sustain a healthy profit. Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of paid app and free app options.


Paid Apps

Also known as premium apps, traditional paid apps cost users a one-time fee (with the average paid app costing around £0.70) to download from the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store.


  • Revenue – By charging users a one-time fee, developers get a guaranteed revenue stream from every download (although Apple and Google will take 30% of most earnings through their app stores).
  • Engagement – Users who pay for an app are more engaged with the product because they want to get their money’s worth.
  • Competition – Since fewer developers go the paid app route, stores will have fewer competing products. This also means that app developers can obtain a higher store ranking under the ‘paid’ category by default.
  • Brand Image – Paid apps are associated with higher quality so can help to create a premium brand image for a company. Depending on the type of app a developer is creating, this may be an advantage.


  • Expectations – With a high likelihood that another developer is offering a free version of a similar app, paid app developers need to ensure that they offer high value content, superior features, and excellent customer service in order to avoid low ratings and reviews.
  • Download quantity – Users are accustomed to downloading free apps and many are unwilling to pay for an app, no matter how low the cost. By the nature of the product, a paid app will receive far fewer downloads than its free equivalent.

Free Apps

The majority of apps in the Google Store and iTunes App Store are available to download at no cost to the user. Developers can monetise free apps using several proven methods.


  • Download quantity – With no risk, users are far more willing to download a free app than a paid app – this can help new developers grow their user base at a quicker rate. Without any need to input payment details, the download process is faster and more efficient with free apps.
  • Lower expectations – Users are generally less critical of an app they didn’t have to pay for, which can mean better reviews and higher overall ratings. This can help new app developers establish an industry reputation.



  • No guaranteed revenue – Developers who choose the free app route need to have a solid monetisation strategy in place (e.g. in-app advertising) because they will not receive any income from user downloads alone.
  • Lack of user loyalty – Users who haven’t paid for an app are less inclined to use it regularly. This can result in a high number of dormant users, which may negatively impact store ranking.
  • Competition – With more free apps than paid ones, developers are more likely to face intense competition for users’ attention in the app stores.

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