Trial is as Native to Windows Phone as Metro

Several days ago Scott Hanselman has published a great (and long) blog post on the experiences developing his first Windows Phone app. If you are new to Windows Phone it’s a must read. And even if you are an experienced WPdev you will probably find a few interesting things in there.


Scott has developed what looks to be a nice and useful app to write on your lock screen wallpapers. He even created a nice promotional website for it, which includes a very humble testimonial from the author himself 😉 He decided to price it at $0.99 and he decided not to have a Trial.

I’ve commented on the blog post:

Great work and a great walkthrough, Scott!
I would encourage you to make a trial version though. Windows Phone users frown at paid apps without trials in general. To make the trial valuable to you (in marketing terms) I’d make it fully functional but stamp your logo or something like “made with Lost Phone Screen”

And Scott replied:

Alan – A trial for a $.99 app is silly. Sorry. It’s a dollar.

That’s a valid point. It makes a perfect sense and it’s every developers personal decision. You are free to have a trial or not have a trial. You are also free to decide not to adhere to Metro. It’s perfectly legal. It’s just not what Windows Phone users expect.


Paid Windows Phone apps should have a Trial. Period.

The same way users expect non-game Windows Phone apps to be Metro, they expect paid apps to have trials. Installation of an app is supposed to always be free. Purchase decision comes later. Even for 99 cent apps. It’s not about the amount of money, it’s about workflow.

Scott might be able to pull it off for some time. He is a mega-celebrity in .NET world. (That said, I’ve witnessed 3 developers in Lithuania loose in trivia where they had to guess a person by the photo and the task was Scott’s photo, as well as a Windows Phone developer in London who didn’t know who Scott is). But here’s how I imagine a real average user evaluates apps for a specific [casual] task:

  1. Download all the Free matches. Evaluate.
  2. If no good free app found, download all the Trial apps. Evaluate. Buy, if good app found.
  3. If still no good free app found, consider paid apps.

Correct me if you do it in some other way. I bet with 60,000+ apps the number of people getting to step 3 is very low and it will decrease as Marketplace grows and is filled with good free and trial alternatives to paid-only apps.

According to Microsoft, trials “generate 10 times more revenue, on average, than paid apps that don’t include trial functionality”. I don’t think they have any reasons to twist the numbers on this particular point, do they?

What about Cocktail Flow?


Cocktail Flow – one of the most successful Windows Phone apps – until recently didn’t have a trial. And it’s not like they were too lazy to implement it. They did it on purpose and they argued their case in the talk at MIX11 conference. Their argument was that they’ve built a complete experience and they don’t see a way to limit the app without sacrificing the quality of the experience. And if they sacrifice the experience, people will be less likely to buy it and are likely to leave negative ratings. And, if they leave the experience intact, but limit the app in some other way, will people still buy the app when they played with it and seen the whole experience? While I definitely see their point, it’s important to note that that’s an exceptional app. It was ready at launch, it was hyped about on every corner and it is “an experience”. And now they have implemented trial mode since the hype has settled down.

I agree, that Scott could ride a similar wave for some time based on the fact that he is a well-known person, but it won’t be for long.

So, I think an exception just reaffirms the rule, and if you want people to buy your app you should implement a trial mode. Especially since it’s very easy to do. Windows Phone users expect apps to look Metro and paid apps to have trials. In the end it’s not about logic, it’s about matching basic expectations.

What do you think? Do you consider paid-only apps along with trial apps or are they only a last resort?

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