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It's after work, and I'm sitting at the bar in a local restaurant in Troy, NY, sipping on my Algonquin, chatting with the middle-aged couple next to me. He has a glass of wine, she's slowly working on a dirty martini. Their drinks were probably $8 each.

We get to talking about our respective occupations. I always have a hard time describing what I do for a living: "I'm a programmer", "I make an iPhone app", "I write software that predicts the weather" — nothing quite sounds right. So I usually just whip out my iPhone and show off Dark Sky, like a proud father[1]. They seemed genuinely interested and we get to talking about how it works. The woman in particular was excited; she walks to work, so Dark Sky would be especially useful for her.

"It's a free app?" she asks, pulling out her iPhone.

"Nope. $3.99."

"Oh." She looks disappointed and puts her phone on the bar, "Maybe I'll get it later."

The conversation turns to other things, but I keep thinking about her hesitation. We see it all the time. Many iPhone users — most, I'd wager — just aren't willing to spend four bucks on an app.

But here is this woman that walks to work! She would derive a tremendous amount of value out of Dark Sky. I look at her martini, and it's half gone. That's how much Dark Sky costs. Four bucks. Half of a dirty martini. Certainly, amortized over the weeks and months, Dark Sky is more valuable than half a cocktail. I wish I had asked her if she thought that were true. I think she would have agreed.

The problem isn't just that people are reluctant to buy apps in general. The claim that Dark Sky can tell you when it will rain at your precise location, down to the minute, sounds almost too good to be true. What's the catch? How often does it work? What if it never works? Well, then I'm a dummy and I'm out $3.99.

The utility of a martini is much less uncertain.

The solution is so simple, so easy, and so full-proof that I'm confident it would, if implemented, at least double our revenue practically overnight: Give people the option of a free monthly trial.

If users could download and use Dark Sky for free for a limited time, their hesitation at spending $3.99 would disappear. It's either worth it or it isn't, and they'd get to decide for themselves rather than take someone's word for it.

Free trials might even be as beneficial to developers as in-app purchases, which are generally the most lucrative app monetization scheme. They would both employ the same strategy: encouraging a large number of downloads and then monetizing some fraction of those.

But there's a crucial difference: a free trial wouldn't have the same sordid and unsavory mouth-feel that you so often get with in-app purchases. A developer who enables free trials is one who stands by his product.

If and when Apple ever decides to implement a free-trial mechanism in the App Store, we'd be the first to sign up. I honestly don't know what's taking them so long.

  1. [1] I'm also an actual proud new father. Check out this little dork

Dirty martini image by Debbie R