Considerations When Choosing iPhone Apps
Some obvious but also some less obvious
and very important issues
You can move the default
apps about on the phone screens as well as moving the new
apps you add to the phone to give you the most convenient
groupings and access to the apps you use.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
There are some potentially very
costly pitfalls involved when adding programs to your iPhone.
For sure, the program itself
might be free or nearly free, but using it, particularly when
out of the country, might end up costing you literally thousands
of dollars in data roaming fees - or, if you don't use the data,
might render the program useless.
So be sure to carefully read
the issues that you should be aware of here before choosing and
adding applications to your iPhone.
Extra Things to Consider When Adding
Apps to Your iPhone
When you are choosing
programs to add to your iPhone, you of course need to consider
all the same sorts of things you do when buying programs for any
However, there are some additional
considerations that are more relevant to iPhone apps than they
are to regular programs on a regular computer - things you might
never think of when buying 'normal' programs for 'normal'
Data Connectivity and Usage
Does the program need to
communicate over the internet to work properly? Sometimes
otherwise identical seeming programs might be very different in
how they work - for example, one GPS program might have a local
set of mapping data, on your phone, while another GPS program
might always download the map data from a central server as and
Another example is a
translation program. Some translation programs download a
dictionary to your phone, others will go out to a central
dictionary somewhere on the internet for each translation.
Which is the better
approach? Both have pluses and minuses.
Locally stored data, on your
iPhone, will usually mean faster/quicker program operation.
It also means that you don't have any problems if you are
somewhere that has no data service, and if you are traveling
outside the US, you're not going to have to pay the ridiculously
expensive rates (sometimes as much as 1,000 times more expensive
for you when internationally roaming than what local people in
the country you're visiting pay themselves!) for data
On the other hand, a
remote/central data store can be kept more up to date by the
service provider - this may particularly be the case of mapping
data for GPS programs. And it can save storage space on
your iPhone, too.
If 99% of the time, your
iPhone is always in an area with 3G or Wi-Fi data service in the
US, some of these issues probably become very much less
important. But things like translation programs are
probably things you'll want to use outside the US, and things
like GPS programs are perhaps things you might use when driving
outside your local area, so in such cases, the location of the
data you need to access becomes much more critical.
Cloud Computing Resources and
That's a fancy way of again
referring to whether a program uses the local data and
intelligence of the iPhone, or if it uses a remote service
somewhere on the internet, or if it 'mirrors' data both ways.
Some programs will keep a
copy of information on the iPhone as well as a master copy
somewhere else on the internet that can be accessed and updated
by other devices and services too. An example of that
might be a calendar program or a contact listing program -
perhaps it synchronizes with your various other laptops,
desktops, and perhaps it also has a web based interface to allow
you to access and add/change/delete data from anywhere.
These are very useful
programs, but there is one important difference between some of
them and others of them.
If the program does not keep
a local copy of the information on your iPhone, you again become
reliant on being within range of a good fast data signal, and
you again become liable to outrageous costs if you want to use
that program when traveling outside the US.
Ideally, any/all programs
that synchronize data with other sources and with a central
location will also keep a 'mirrored' copy of the data locally on
the iPhone too, so it will work when there is no data
connectivity as well as when there is.
Reliability of - and Reliance
on - Supplier
This is another issue that
takes on a bit more importance with iPhone apps than with many
other 'normal' programs. The cost and challenges of
getting a regular program published and available for sale
through regular computer stores, etc are substantial, such that,
almost by definition, only large and substantial companies can
publish software for normal computers. Exceptions to this
rule exist if you go through non-traditional distribution
channels such as, eg, tucows.com, but for normal 'boxed
software' you have some moderate degree of assurance that the
company who authored the software will be around for a while to
provide service and support.
However, the costs and
challenges of publishing an iPhone app are very much lower,
making it easy for pretty much anyone to publish a program
through the Apple iTunes store. Clearly, a person who
wrote a program that they then give away for free, or sell for
perhaps $0.99 (and Apple gets to keep about 30% of the selling
price of all programs) has little financial motivation to
continue supporting the program, and may disappear at any time.
This doesn't matter if
you've simply bought or downloaded for free a program that you
don't rely on for important things, and/or if it isn't a program
that now stores your personal data.
For example, maybe your
downloaded a weather forecasting program. If the program
developer stops supporting the program, perhaps the program
itself will keep working until such time as possibly a new
version of the operating system invalidates the program, and
whenever that might occur, there's no real problem for you other
than the need to choose and download another weather app.
But what say you're using a
program that stores your data somewhere other than on your
phone. You've a very small vulnerability right from day
one if the data is personal/sensitive - you want to be sure you
can trust the company that is holding your data on your behalf.
And you've a larger vulnerability from that point forward - if
the company goes out of business, have you just lost all your
data? You need to be sure that you have a local backup of
any data that you are storing remotely.
Free or Paid Apps?
Sometimes you'll find a
program that is available in both a free and a paid version.
Other times, you'll find different programs that seem to do the
same thing, with a range of different prices, ranging from free
up to possibly even $100 or more.
Which is best?
I'm no more altruistic than
anyone else, and if someone is willing to give away programs for
free then I'll happily accept them. Of course, few things
in this world are truly free, and many times you'll find that a
free program either is festooned with advertising or else is a
'loss leader' for the developer, intended to introduce you to
other programs they sell - either more fully featured versions
of the same program, or completely different programs.
There is one thing to
consider though when accepting a free program. A free
program has to be considered as having little or no support
available to it, and the developer may disappear at any time.
If there's no profit potential and viable business model; if
you're reliant on the goodwill of a developer who wrote
something for fun, then you can never be sure of what the future
will offer for the program.
So free programs can be fine
if they don't require ongoing reliance on the developer (for
connectivity or whatever) and if they can easily be replaced by
other programs if support for the program ends.
On the other hand, if you're
choosing a program that will provide an important-to-you
application, maybe you're better off paying some money in the
hope of getting some support and longevity in return.
Most importantly, keep a
sense of financial scale about these things. Most of us
think nothing about spending as much as $5 on a fancy coffee at
Starbucks, and have nothing to show for it 20 minutes later
except perhaps a mild caffeine buzz. So don't become
enmeshed in chasing down the very cheapest program when they are
all priced somewhere between $0 and $5. You can almost
certainly afford to spend $5 if it is something that you want
and can receive value from.
Generally, you should choose
the best program, not the cheapest one.
Ongoing Fees for Programs
Most programs have a one
time charge, and it seems that it is common that this one-time
charge entitles you to use of that program in perpetuity, with
no further payments required.
But some programs will
charge you a monthly (or annual or whatever) fee for using their
service, perhaps after an initial free trial period. Some
GPS programs in particular do this, as do some other types of
programs that give you access to remote data storage services.
So be sure, when considering
between different programs, to understand both the upfront cost
and the ongoing cost. You might find that the $100 GPS
program is actually better value than the $10 GPS program,
because the $100 program has no further charges, whereas the $10
program then requires you to start paying $10/month to be able
to continue to use it into the future.
New Version Policies
Although companies like
Microsoft are now largely reliant on selling new versions of
their software to continue to generate income, it seems that
most of the iPhone developers have not evolved to that level of
Perhaps this is because the number of new
iPhone users is growing so astonishingly that there isn't yet
any perceived need to generate ongoing income streams from
current users, whereas, for Microsoft, its sales of new copies
of, eg, Office, are becoming harder because most potential users
already have a copy, so they perforce must sell new versions to
keep the income stream flowing.
Look for this to change in the future. But until those changes may
occur, most apps will allow you to upgrade to new releases at no
Licensing Issues on Multiple
There are three issues here.
The first is if you have two
or more iPhones at present - can a program you've purchased once
be used on two iPhones simultaneously?
The second is if you have
two or more iPhones at present, can you transfer a program off
one iPhone and onto a second?
And the third issue is if
you subsequently replaced your iPhone with another iPhone -
perhaps because it is lost or broken, or perhaps to upgrade it
to a newer iPhone - do you have to buy a new copy of the
Apple and the various
developers have an amazingly liberal policy at present.
Apps are not restricted or sold only for one phone. You
can load an app onto multiple phones, and so the answers to the
three questions above are yes, yes, and no. The best way
to do this, according to Apple, is to synch your apps off the
iPhone they are on, onto a regular computer, and then resynch
them onto each extra iPhone you have.
In addition, if you
re-download an app from the iTunes store, onto the same or a
different iPhone, it will tell you that you've
downloaded/purchased it before, and give you the option to
download it again for free. Note that this option
disconcertingly appears only after you've agreed to buy
the program rather than before, but it does/will appear.
We're not sure how long this
situation will last either, but for now, and as was told to me
by an iTunes App support rep from Apple in chat on 8 December
2009 (transcript available if needed) this is the case, and, as
she said, 'Enjoy!'.
Please let me know if you
come across any revisions or exceptions to this policy.
Part of a series on the
Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed
at the top on the right
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11 Dec 2009, last update
26 Aug 2018
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