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App piracy: the good, the bad and how to reduce it

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
App piracy: the good, the bad and how to reduce it
A surprising news emerged these days: Installous, an app for jailbroken iPhones and iPads that allowed users to install pirated apps for free, has been discontinued due to lack of enough user interest. Does that mean that people have started spending more money on apps? Is this a sign that app piracy is in decline? While the end of Installous sure is a win for developers and publishers, we feel this is a perfect occasion to share some of our thoughts with regards to app piracy as a whole.

You've probably noticed that the title says "the good," as if there's something good in software piracy. This is a very complex topic, and while we're not the ones who'll defend piracy, or completely anathematize it, we'd still say that in some special cases, it's better to have it than not. Simply put, modern app stores do not have proper trial/demo version policies. It's up to every developer to decide if they want to provide some kind of a demo or limited version of an app or game, so what are users supposed to do with those apps that only have paid versions? Well, you're obviously supposed to buy it, and then decide if you like it or not, which isn't very cool, as many of the apps or programs out there are of very poor quality, and it's not always guaranteed that what you buy will get the job done for you. This is probably the biggest value in app piracy - try before you buy. To be honest, it seems to us that many of the developers that aren't providing free trial versions are simply aware of how mediocre their app is, and know that they would get much less purchases should they offer a free version as well. By only offering a paid one, they hope that users will decide to purchase their app, hoping that it won't be bad.

Well, if you're downloading paid apps to your smartphone relatively often, then you've surely felt that feeling of dissatisfaction when you've purchased an app or game that turned out to be below your expectations. That's how it is right now when it comes to purchasing apps, and in case the developers aren't kind enough to offer free versions along with the paid ones, we'll be forced to take those small leaps of faith.

As much as we try, it's hard for us to find any other good side of piracy, as long as we're talking about mobile apps. If we add desktop software to the subject, we may add another good thing to piracy - it lets you learn to work with a program without having to shell out serious cash. Of course, you can always get a job, save money, purchase the expensive software and then learn it, but why don't more companies provide special "student editions," which will let you learn the basics, but have limitations that will prevent you from using the program for anything else? Anyway, enough ranting!

The bad thing about app piracy is quite obvious - developers aren't getting the money they deserve for their hard work, preventing them from creating even better apps, or even worse, from staying in business. While this causes the whole app industry to suffer, there is another negative side to pirating software - people can't really appreciate the value of the stuff they "own," because they simply don't own it. We here at PhoneArena believe that if you want to receive something, you also have to give something in return... except for when you're receiving a gift. But let's get back to Installous for a moment.

For those who don't know what Installous is (was?), it's like a third-party app store for jailbroken phones, which grants access to all apps found in the official App Store, for free. It was very well made and easy to use, it even had a good-looking user interface to keep things clean and tidy. However, although it was a great software achievement dressed in fancy clothes, it was also utterly corrupted - same as every other pirate store. Stealing from developers and giving it to consumers... but why? It's very easy to turn the "try before you buy" mantra into "You paid $2 for this app? You mad? I get mine for free from Installous." All of this is so seriously wrong.

Of course, a lot of measures can be taken that would reduce app piracy, but here's one that we can propose: app stores should force developers to offer free trial/demo/lite versions of their paid apps. This way "try before you buy" will no longer be a reasonable argument, and it will also make some developers think twice about trying to sell you a sub-par software product. After all, it's not the users who are guilty for the poorly-drawn graphics, or lack of audio, or bugs, or something else.

At the end of the day, we're happy that Installous is down, but as you may already know, there are still other ways to get pirated apps on any operating system. And this will probably be so until we learn to appreciate the things we have, and some fundamental things get changed in the way most developers and publishers make their business.

Pirate image credit: AskNinja

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