Whether it’s with a computer, tablet, smartphone or something in between, we all have our favorites—and it’s fine that we do. Mac vs PC, Android vs iOS, there’s nothing wrong with this. The problem, however, is that today we don’t just use the OSes that come with our devices as-is, we buy apps for them.
We buy tons and tons of apps, actually. Apple and Google have bragged a number of times over the last couple of years about the billions of apps that were downloaded on each company’s respective app store. It’s great to see a thriving app ecosystem, but any consumer knows the pain that comes when considering a new device. If you’ve been married to an OS for too long—be it PC, Android or otherwise—then you realize you have to buy more than just a new device, you have to repurchase your entire app collection. This problem is identical if you own a smartphone and choose to buy a tablet powered by a different OS.
This presents a dilemma. Most customers will do one of two things: They will spend the money and buy the apps they want, whether they be identical apps ported to the new OS, or relatively similar apps available on the app store. Alternatively, they will choose to adopt software that is web-based, and by design compatible with any device that can handle rich HTML. In either case though, the customer is restricting the choices they may want because of the extra cost they will incur as a result.
The problem here is that the app stores, in this scenario, are built by the same companies that are making the OS. As a result, they expect Google Play Store users to stick to the Android platform, and the App Store’s users to iOS. It’s sort of a OS attrition fee that customers must pay, whether it be with buying apps they already own or suffering with free apps in lieu of spending money.
Independent digital content delivery networks like Steam and Humble Bundle, however, do not do this. On Steam, games and applications that work on different platforms are given automatic access to all compatible platforms, including Mac OS and Linux. Humble Bundle takes it a step further, and offers users DRM-free copies of all games on all compatible platforms, whether it is the PC trio or on mobile with Android. Whether it’s because they feel ethically inclined to, or it’s just their idea of good business, it’s great to see how accessible content can be if it’s not bound to the OS it comes with. Lifestyles change, OSes live and die. It may be a benefit to developers and OS makers to keep app stores to a single platform, but it’s bad for consumers. But I don’t see the harm in charging a small fee to gain access to a new platform version of your content. I do see the harm in repurchasing the game at retail price. It may have cost time and money to port a game, but it didn’t require the recreation of an entire IP. I welcome developers to charge for bringing an Android app to iOS, but not the cost of repurchasing the app in full if I already own it.
This is why I think, in the long run, we need to start seeing third-party app stores on all platforms. I want to see Steam come to mobile. I definitely want to see Good Old Games come to mobile, too. I will admit, though, it looks like I am uncaring to the small developers out there. Let me reiterate that I have no qualms with charging a fair price for the time and effort it took porting and updating a game, but that there should be a clear distinction in price between what is paid the first time you buy a game, and the price for each subsequent device you buy it for.
In the long run, this is good for the app ecosystem as a whole, too. If we continue to force consumers to repurchase content, they’ll simply be less likely to adopt a new OS, or even worse, they’ll feel restricted with the kind of apps and content they want to purchase. They’ll choose either only free or web-based options that they know will last without the OS. We don’t see it as a big deal because iOS and Android are prevalent. But it never takes too long for a successor to arrive, and when that day comes, I sure hope the content I paid for will survive.
—Joshua Sherman ’16 is an English major.