Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are easily the fastest-growing sector of the electronics marketplace today. Bloomberg magazine tells us that smartphones in use alone passed one billion worldwide in 2012, and that number is expected to double by 2015.
Marching hand-in-hand with the expanding mobile device marketplace is the industry of mobile applications, or apps. These clever and compact programs entertain, direct, inform and organize our lives with a simple tap of the screen. As the saying goes, “There's an app for that.” And if there isn't, app developers are busily striving to make sure there soon will be.
As a result, the apps market can be a little overwhelming to the average consumer. There are lots of apps out there, and in many cases several that do the same thing. According to Appsfire,there were over 339,000 apps created for the iPhone in 2012 alone—and that number is sure to increase with growing popularity and availability. What's a mobile device owner to do?
We're glad you asked! This article will help you arm yourself and make informed decisions when you dive into the deep end of the crowded apps market. We'll review the important topics you should consider when shopping for just the right app. So, let's get started!
When budgeting for what you spend on apps—which run from totally free to hundreds of dollars —you should consider that “free” and “paid” apps are a little more nuanced than that. Here are the seven main types of mobile device apps, by price category:
ñCompletely free. These are apps that never cost you a red cent, ever.
ñFree with Ads. Again, these apps don't cost the end user a cent. The only caveat here is that these apps often include banner or pop-up ads. The bottom line is that app developers are in the game to make money. Even “free” apps without ads often have behind-the-scenes sponsors who pay per download.
ñ“Freemium.” Initially, these apps cost nothing...but in order to get premium features (such as unique levels or characters in games, or access to special functions), there is a charge. Many free downloads offer “freemium” paid versions that don't have ads.
ñFree trial. The download is free, but after a specific period of time (such as 30 days), you must pay in order to continue using the app.
ñSubscription. These are apps that charge a specific monthly amount to access the special services the app provides.
ñPaid. (Also known as “licensed”) You purchase the app with a one-time payment for a specified price, with no further charges applied.
ñWhite Labeled. This term refers to apps or app functions that are created by one company, then re-branded by another to appear as a separate and unique product. While this strategy is invisible to the end user, it's another method of monetization used by app and feature owners.
It goes without saying that you should approach app purchases with your budget in mind. Additionally, if you can put up with a banner ad at the bottom of your game, or reduced access to certain functions in a program, free downloads often fill the bill. On the other side of that coin, it may turn out that the perfect app for you will include at least a one-time purchase.
Storage limitations vary by model, of course, but all mobile devices have their limits. While it's fun and convenient to fill your device with dozens of apps, after a certain point it can become a headache. The functionality of your device can be compromised if it becomes overloaded; some smartphones actually delete apps automatically when this happens. Also, just as with PCs and laptops, some apps feature programs that are “resource hogs,” and can slow down or stop other functions when they are in use.
The rule of thumb here is to shop around; having several apps available that do the same thing works in your favor. Chances are you can find a great app that does exactly what you want it to without a lot of added bells and whistles, saving you precious space.
More than any other point on this list, this is all about you. Consider this: will you actually use any given app or gain any value from it? Impulse buying kicks in with apps just as it does at the mall—perhaps even more so, since the downloads are usually cheaper and easier. It's just like that awesome $1200 Franklin Mint Star Wars chess set you had to have, or that can't-do-without food dehydrator that now houses a family of mice in your garage.
If an app is just going to sit there and gather electronic dust on your mobile device, what's the point? So, before devoting time or money to a new app, ask yourself if you really need, want, or will even use, that fart-noise generator or German language thesaurus. If so, go for it!
When in doubt, go to your peers. Most apps that have been around for any period of time will have reviews written about them. Just pop the name of the app you are curious about in a search engine, along with the word “review,” and you'll find information about it from users who have already given the app a spin.
But a word to the wise: we have two points to keep in mind when reading consumer reviews:
ñAs is true with any product or service, negative reviews will almost always outnumber positive ones. Customers who have a complaint are more motivated to speak out than those who are satisfied, so remember to read negative comments with a grain of salt.
ñWhen you search for apps in an app store, the description of the app itself often also has customer reviews. The reason we recommend independent searching for reviews on a search engine is this: reviews in app store listings are often “scrubbed” by the app developers to cast their product in a more positive light. So, remember to read overly positive reviews with a grain of salt, too.
Sorting the wheat from the chaff can be a challenge, but you'll get the hang of it—and you'll be rewarded with a clearer picture of the app you're seeking.
Mobile device apps are, for the most part, “clean” when it comes to malicious software. But as any technology-savvy user knows, there are black hats out there who, for profit or just for kicks, like to introduce annoying or harmful junk to your system. As an example, this article by NBC News lists the six worst offenders when it comes to smartphone malware. And there's more out there. This article by Business Insider claims that almost half the apps available contain pop-up ad malware.
Before you despair, take heart! Here are two ways to avoid malware on your mobile device:
ñFirst, download smart. By using reviews and your own tech savvy when shopping for apps, you'll be able to spot red flags quickly. For example, apps that ask for permission to too many functions on your phone can be an alert. Researching the app, as mentioned in the “Customer Reviews” section above, is also very helpful. Believe us, if users find malware in an app, they will shout it from the mountaintops.
ñAs smart as we like to be when it comes to technology, there are still attacks that can slip through the cracks. Plug those cracks with an effective anti-virus and/or anti-malware program. One quick search will tell you: there are lots of apps for that!
Your mobile device alone contains more computer technology than the Apollo 11 capsule that carried man to the moon for the first time. As pretty much every Kung Fu movie ever made states, “With great power comes great responsibility.” By using the app shopping tips in this article, you'll be able to harness that power and use it to its fullest potential.
Go forth and conquer! Or at least find a nice coffee shop in your neighborhood...
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