Thoughts On Universal iOS Apps

May 2, 2011

I knew from when I started work on Lens•Lab that I wanted it to be a Universal iOS application, that is, a single binary that runs on the handheld iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch) as well as the iPad tablets. This is different from having two separate binaries targeting the two separate families of devices.

With a single, universal binary your users can use the same app with all the devices they may happen to have. You can purchase Lens•Lab once and you can install it on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch without having to repurchase it.

Many apps have separate, typically higher priced “HD” versions of their apps for iPad. These iPad specific versions tend to cost 2 or 3 times what their smaller brothers cost. I think this kind of sucks and I’ll give you my reasons why:

  1. There is nothing particularly challenging about making your app work on an iPad. In fact, one could argue that it is easier to create apps for the iPad because you are not constrained space-wise nearly as much as with the iPhone or iPod Touch.
  2. The iPad does not have significantly more pixels than an iPhone 4. The iPad has 786,432 pixels (1024 x 768) while the iPhone 4 has 614,400 (960 x 640). For reference, the older devices (iPhone 3G, etc.) have 153,600 pixels (480 x 320).
  3. The only challenging part about creating a Universal app is maintaining separate code and interface files for the separate devices. But this is a burden that is shared for all devices and shouldn’t demand a higher price for the iPad version.
Let’s just look at some of the apps that have a separate, higher priced version:
  • Angry Birds: 99¢
  • Angry Birds HD: $4.99
  • Cut the rope: 99¢
  • Cut the Rope HD: $1.99
  • Full Fitness: 99¢
  • Full Fitness HD: $2.99
We’ll look past the “HD” misnomer (iPhone 4 has much higher pixel density than iPad) and just take a look at the prices. the iPad specific app is anywhere from 2x to 5x the cost of the iPhone/iPod Touch version. Especially for games, developing iPad specific versions is trivial (in the sense that it is pretty easy to do) yet people are being charged 2 to 5 times as much for the same app. If I have Angry Birds on my iPhone 4 and want to play that game on my iPad, I have to pay 5 times as much for the privilege. I think this is wrong.
I think the only justifiable reason to charge more for the iPad version is if the iPad version is significantly different in functionality than the iPhone version. I have seen plenty of apps that differ in UI between the two versions but none that differ in what the app actually does/accomplishes.
Anyway, I plan to keep releasing Universal apps that work great on any device you might have for a single reasonable price. What do you think? Can you convince me that it’s cool to charge more for iPad versions? That’s what the comment box is for!
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