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In-app purchases – what is it?

Today, many developers offer their applications free to download. However, they have to earn money in some way. Resigning from the payment for the app, developers introduced in-app purchases, which have their enthusiasts as well as opponents. 

In-app purchase allows the user to unlock content or additional options in a downloaded application. It isn’t however done in the official store (like App Store or Google Play), but in the application itself. As a result, all of these purchases can’t be shared through Google Play Family Library or Apple Family Sharing, as they are not individual applications. In such a situation, it may be wise to consider downloading the paid equivalent of the free application, which contains all locked features and options. That way it’s possible to save money if many people were to use the same software.

Generally, it’s very easy to tell apart paid and free applications; paid ones have their prize shown under the icon and the free ones don’t. But how to tell if the free application offers in-app purchases? It is also not very complicated. After entering the full description of the chosen application, look into the first section. If the application offers in-app purchases, then there should be a small text stating that next to the name of the application and other general information about it.

Different types of in-app purchases.

The internet market for the digital purchases is constantly changing. With it, the ways to pay for them are changing too. There are at least two types of in-app purchases available for a customer.

The first one is based on the subscription model. For the monthly or annual payment, the application will function or will unlock additional content or features (usually called “premium” accounts). In some cases, that means the application will not work at all if the payment is not made. That’s why the developers offer time-limited free trials to test the application and decide if it’s the one we were looking for. Others allow people to use their applications for free, but with advertisements showing every now and then; if the user wants the ads to stop showing, the “premium” account has to be purchased. These subscriptions may be found in the video and music streamers (such as Netflix or Spotify), as well as in any sales enablement app. Often the purchase of subscription allows the users to share one account on many devices.

The second type of in-app purchase is the so-called microtransactions. The user can buy additional content for the application, paying individually for each of them. This business model is the most popular in free-to-play games but is seen more and more in other software, even in the paid applications. It allows to buy in-game currency (for easier and more enjoyable gameplay), game expansions or extra application features (for example editorial options in pdf reader), or other features (such as additional items in the game or custom themes for the app). Those payments are not necessary to use the application or play the game, but make them easier or more interesting.


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