Jan 17

In 2013 the App Store top charts where dominated by free apps with in-app purchases. This was especially true in the games category. Recently I’ve seen indie developers experimenting with freemium and paymium models in non-game apps. This is good.


Sunlit by Manton Reece is a traditional free with in-app purchases style app. The idea of the app is to collect your best photos into stories along with geo check-ins. (Seems like several similar services just launched around the same time. Must be an idea who’s time has come.)

The App Store listing shows that there is a $4.99 in-app purchase available for “unlimited stories”. Thankfully the app doesn’t beat you over the head with messages to pay. An upgrade message is shown when you try to create your third story. This is unobtrusive and elegant. There is also a small link to upgrade when you create a new story. This is great for fans who may not run into the limits of the free app, but still want to give you money. Well done.


Justin Williams released his Photos+ app in December and he explained his business model in a blog post where he likened it to the auto industry. The idea is to sell a base model of the app. In the case of Photos+ it’s priced at $2.99. Then you can purhcase add-ons, i.e. new features, with in-app purchases. I think this is a really interesting model to get around the fact that you can’t charge for app upgrades.

In the current version of the Photos+ app there is supposedly one in-app purchase to add more sharing capabilities. But I can’t actually find it… Maybe it was something that didn’t make the 1.0 cut but was still mentioned in the help screens. Anyway, I still like the idea of this business model.

Side note: The app name “Photos+” is impossible to search for in the App Store. Totally unrelated apps like “Yahoo Weather” and “Match the Dots” are listed way before Photos+. It’s just another reminder of how really bad search is in the App Store. But given that this is the reality, don’t name your apps after a generic category, and avoid giving it a name that is similar to hundreds of other apps.


I’m bullish on the idea of freemium and paymium for non-game apps. The two apps above are just two examples that recently came to my attention. What interesting app business models have you come across recently?

written by Nick

One Response to “Interesting app business models”

  1. Chris McSorley Says:

    Hey Nick

    I stumbled across your blog here – thought I’d let you know that our company recently made the switch from paid to free.

    We’ve been on the App Store within a few months of it opening up to the public with a productivity app named Pocket Informant (manage your tasks, events, notes and contacts). Obviously, in the beginning, being a paid app was the only option, but because our app is more of a “premium” app ($15), we got a ton of requests to have a demo or a lite version, etc.

    At one point we did dabble with a “PI Lite”, but that was never ideal (it was a separate app, required separate updates, you had to move your data over to the paid app if you bought it, etc). With iOS 7, Apple gave developers the tools we needed to know if a customer bought our app back when it was paid, so after a ton of planning, we made the jump in January. Our model now is simple:

    -Download PI for free and try it out with a few limitations (only a single calendar, only 15 Reminders, various premium features are disabled).

    A single in-app purchase unlocks Pocket Informant Premium for unlimited events, tasks, etc and all premium features are available.

    So far, the transition was very smooth (there’s always a small percentage of cases that require manual intervention with a major change like this), and it has been a very positive move for us.

    Not sure if you were interested in all that – but since you asked, I thought I’d tell you our story.

Leave a Reply