Free < $0.99 < $3.99

About 4 months ago, I released an iOS app called SSL Detective. It was an novel app that allowed you to probe certificate chains on iPhone or iPad. While you can sometimes view a certificate (like when installing a profile), it is not possible to see what certificate chain that the iOS device is using to validate the certificate. It came from firsthand experience how frustrating it can be troubleshooting certificate and certificate chains on iOS when trying to configure MDM, VPN, or other services. That is how SSL Detective was born.

It originally was an iPhone only app, but before releasing it, I created a full iPad version figuring it would add value and I could charge a bit more. I figured that if I could charge $0.99 or $1.99 for an iPhone app, then it seems reasonable that I could charge $2.99 or even $3.99 for a iPhone and iPad app. That is what I did.

Sales were lethargic. I promoted it a bit via twitter and email, but sales eventually trickled down to 1 or 2 a day (or less). After a few months, I dropped the price down to $0.99 to see what would happen. In short: nothing. Sales were still at about 1 to 2 a day. I figured that the problem was that the app was too specialized and that few people cared about probing SSL certificate chains on iOS.

Here is where it gets a bit interesting. 3 days ago I decided to make it free. I figured that since it was making so little revenue, why not just give it away? I didn’t think it would change the number of people downloading it and it would be a nice gesture to the IT community that my company serves. If the market was indeed that slim for this niche app, then whether it was $3.99 or 99 cents or free, then the number of downloads would be the same.

I didn’t pay much attention for a couple of days, then I checked iTunes Connect. I changed it to free on 9/1. You can see that I had 2 sales on 9/1, then it drops off to 0 since it is no longer a paid app.

On 9/1, about 80 copies were downloaded. Then it spiked to over 300 copies download:

So it looks like people viewed saw SSL Detective as something that was worth trying out, but not worth trying out for $0.99. I looked back on when it was first released, and it peaked at about 21 sales per week (3 per day).

I suspect that I could put ads into SSL Detective, but even if the amount of downloads were to stay in the hundreds per day, I doubt ad revenue would amount to much. I am just happy that more people are seeing my software, and I’ll continue to watch the trends. I may view this as an experiment and try different models and see how it affects downloads and revenue. I expected downloads to be about the same when it went free, but an order of magnitude larger was definitely not what I was expecting.