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When a Free Trial is not free, really!


In the weeks leading up to the Windows Phone 7 launch I was excited to read that most all apps would include a “free trial”. That news tidbit has turned out to be a real disappointment, at least for me. Of the 75 apps and games I have downloaded to date, 24 have been paid apps. Of those, I would estimate nearly a third had no trial offered, at least another third had a trial so lame I don’t know how it could be considered one, and about a third had respectable trials based on ad banners or time limits. So what’s up with this. My understanding was that the new code used to write WP7 apps, along with the Zune Marketplace interface, made it easier for developers to incorporate trials. So why are trials no more prevalent than they were in the Windows Mobile Marketplace. And honestly, with WinMo I had a much better chance of finding a free trial at a developers site than anywhere else, something that you can’t do (today) with WP.

Are developers being lazy or do they simply lack the skills to incorporate a good trial format. When I see a no trial $$$ app in the Marketplace, especially an app with 1 or 2 five star, single word reviews, the “Missouri” skepticism in me pops out saying, “what are these folks trying to hide”. No trial paid apps are just wrong, plain and simple. But the lame trial apps run a close second. I downloaded a shopping app that permitted only two entries. How is one supposed to really get a feel for the flow of an app that you may be making dozens of entries to per week with that kind of limitation. Another, that I will review later this week (because the trial is so lame but the app appears good), and costs $4.99, only allowed me to do the absolute bare minimum, making it impossible to fully appreciate it’s functionality without laying down the bucks. Problem is, seeing screen shots or being privy to a limited trial is like seeing a 30 second clip of a new movie. Sometimes that 30 second clip “is” the movie and the other 89.5 minutes are loaded with filler and crap. The Marketplace is still young so most paid apps don’t have more than a small handful of reviews which often range from very good to very bad, making it hard to evaluate based on other opinions.

From my perspective, ALL paid apps should include a free trial, one that is comprehensive enough to give the user the time required to fully evaluate it’s positive and negative features. Personally I prefer “time limit trials” of no less than three days and preferably around seven. Ad supported trials are another method that works for me. But no trial should have feature “limits” built in as this is an indication that the developer is trying to hide something that does not work all that well. Sure some users will take advantage of a fully functional trial to do something they need and then dump the app, but that’s not a good enough reason to discriminate against all of the users (ala TSA) who just want to know how well or poorly an app performs before taking hard earned cash out of their pockets. Microsoft has done a good job, so far, of protecting developer’s interests by preventing side loading, etc. It’s time for the developers to step up to the plate and just do the right thing.

So what do you think? Are no trial and lame trial apps just wrong. Or can you evaluate an app simply based on screenshots and reviews. And, if you are a developer am I way off base here. Are there limitations that I don’t understand.