App pricing – messy and difficult

I launched Realtime Trains for Android today. It’s mostly gone down well – and I’m pleased with the results of what we have created over the last couple of months. I’ve priced it at £3.99 to reflect the development and ongoing costs of operating something like this – but this highlights a problem in the app market.

A recent article in Forbes suggested that there are around 800,000 apps on Google Play. It seems, to me, that the heavy majority of these are free. My ideology around apps is that they should be clean, simple and easy to use. Free apps are, typically, funded through advertising, venture capital investment or are done as a hobby. If the RTT app for Android were to be free, it would have to contain advertising – and this represents an ideological clash.

I do not think it is possible to have advertising that does not clash with the app, unless you apply heavy restrictions. Once you start to apply heavy restrictions, the ability to maximise revenue of an app becomes a harder position to reach. This is why all the mobile apps that I release are likely to have an associated charge. The RailMiles Offline apps, for instance, require an ongoing subscription to the RailMiles service.

From what I’ve seen, most apps on the market are able to be self sustaining without any additional involvement required by the developer. This is either by being a standalone app or by contacting a third party system. There are some that require a lot of additional ongoing involvement by the developer. Realtime Trains is one of these.

I spend around an hour per day working with various bits of data in order to increase the quality of the data that is displayed on the site. Over the last few days, I’ve been spending a lot of time investigating Huddersfield station and some issues that are arising from it with respect to the unique approaching/arriving/at platform feature.

Once I’ve taken into account all of the costs of developing the app (a significant figure) and the costs of having it on the store (Google take a 30% cut), it leaves me with a very small amount to pay for, effectively, the server usage of each app purchase and my time in doing these developments. In order to allow continued running of Realtime Trains ecosystem, I have to be able to make all the revenue and cost channels balance in order to make it self-sufficient.

Some people have suggested that a lower price point may be more viable – and that is a good point. By selling at a lower price point, I may well increase the number of sales. However, if there are increased sales then there is an accompanied growth in usage – which could pose an interesting problem. If the revenue I receive is low, then there is likely to not be enough money available to increase capacity on the servers as necessary.

There are more features coming. The apps will be integrating non-passenger services and freight services in the coming months. There are a couple of other features in the workshop too – and I genuinely believe that these will change how people see and use the railway.