Before making your app free-ad based or paid, or both, it’s better to spend some time thinking about how people will use your app.
Ads need a network connection and need to be visible. Your app has to be used under this two circumstances. So, the perfect app for ads is an app that needs to connect to Internet and that the user spends a lot of time using it. Apple has two common business models for ads: “Cost Per Mille” (CPM) which basically counts impressions, that means views. You get money just because the user views the advertisement. The other model is “Cost Per Click” (CPC). You get paid only when the user interacts with the iAd banner (the ad). So, more time using the app, more time seeing the ads or eventually more possibilities to interact with the ads = more money.
For example, news, blogs, feeds, entertainment and social networking are perfect apps for ads. The user will be connected to Internet, and will spend time everyday using the app. For Games, it depends. If it’s a simple game, that people use in dead times, you are sure that they will use it several times per day. In this case, ads are convenient. For more complex and time consuming games, people usually play them when they have time. This doesn’t happen quite often. So, making a more advanced game and the revenue from the ads, maybe is not worth the effort. There is a difference between free time and dead time. I’ll explain it later.
There are applications that the user wants to have but don’t use them everyday or many times per day, like reference, productivity and tools. For this type of applications, following the paid pattern is better. For example take Photographers Rights. If you are a photographer, you may want to have this app because you never know when you will need to know your rights in another country or in your own country as a photographer. For this reason, Photographers Rights App is a good reference, and a must have for a pro photographer. However, it will be used on specific situations. That’s why making it free with ads is not the business model for an app like this. It follows the paid app pattern.
It’s important to understand the concept of free-time and dead-time. When you are in the train, waiting for an appointment, lunch time, quick break in your job, waiting in the airport and so forth. Those moments are forced inactivity moments. You have to stay there, doing nothing more than just wait. Instead of wasting our life as plants doing the photosynthesis with artificial light, people always try to do something during those short periods of time. That’s dead-time. You didn’t plan for it, and it’s imposed to you by the circumstances. You usually don’t know how much time will take a dead-time period. That’s why those dead-time periods are perfect for a time-free app (I’ll talk later about time-free-apps and time-fixed-apps). Dead times are perfect for ad based apps. People have countless dead time periods during the day and that’s the moment they will look for some app to spend that time with. For example, reading a blog, playing a simple game, using social network or checking some rss. It’s OK to interrupt these activities at any moment. You really don’t know when the dead time is going to end, so you also don’t know if you will have full concentration during that dead time. Perfect to put ads on them.
Free time is different. You know when you have free time and you usually know how much free time you have. During free time, people will, eventually, decide to use a more immersive app. In this case I think that ads based apps, like reading news, blogs, rss, social media, multimedia entertainment, are more profitable. The user can use them in dead and free time as well, because the user can spend more than one hour reading news or just 5 minutes. On the other hand, games played when you have more time ahead, usually are more immersive, complex and content rich. In that case, maybe it’s better to go for a paid model. People willing to spend time playing games, usually spend money on games. Ads, in these cases, are a distraction that nobody want to see. Remember people hate ads! So, usually an ad is accepted on something they don’t give a huge value, like a time-dead app.
All this is related with other two concepts: time-free-apps and time-fixed-apps.
Time-free-apps are those that you can interrupt at any moment because the task never ends. For example, reading the news. You can read them later as the process of reading news “never ends”. Everyday you have more news to read. Watching a movie also is a time-free activity, you can interrupt and continue it at any moment. But time-fixed-apps are related with activities that you cannot interrupt without loosing something. For example, even if every app can be stopped at any time, nobody likes to stop a game in a very important moment. If you are a game player, how many times did it happen to arrive to the destination station, and get out of the train and keep playing? Players also hate to receive a call in the most exciting-adrenaline-consuming moment! Think also about edition apps, from writing or image editing, which, in reality, are time-fixed apps. You start writing and at a certain point the concentration flow is full. If you interrupt the process in that very moment, it’s hard to come back as fresh as you were before. That’s why, usually time-fixed apps are used during free-time and time-free apps are used during dead-times.
Of course it depends on everybody. There are people able to dictate several letters at the same time, like Napoleon. But those cases are exceptions. Usually people loose concentration very easily.
During free time, people tend to use time-fixed apps and not always an ads based model makes sense. Reading news, rss, blogs, social media and entertainment are the best for ads because those apps can be used during dead times and during free time.
During dead-times, people tend to use time-free apps, that they can interrupt at any time and continue later on. Furthermore, simple apps that are just less boring than waiting staring at a wall, go under this category. These apps are good for ads, because people have countless dead-time moments.
I didn’t want to use the the terms of synchronous apps and asynchronous apps, for time-fixed and time-free apps. Mainly because all apps in a phone are asynchronous. The user can always interrupt them and come back to the same point later on. The synchrony is just psychological, not related with the apps.
This has nothing to do with LITE apps. These apps have a different approach. When to use ads on a LITE app or create a LITE and a Full app is a topic for another post :-)