Why charging for developer tools is stupid

I saw today that Apple has started charging for Xcode. For the non-developers out there, Xcode is a tool from Apple for building software for the Mac, iPhone and iPad. It used to be free, now it costs $4.99.

Seeing this reminded me of a Microsoft focus group I was invited to be a part of a few years ago. As a CTO who had decided to build everyone on top of free software, they wanted to know what it take to make me to switch to a Microsoft stack. I told them they were 10 years too late. You see, I made the decision to use LAMP stack not because it was cheaper, but because it’s what I knew. And the reason I knew LAMP stack was because that’s all I could afford when I was 15. The question for Apple isn’t whether businesses or experienced developers can afford their development tools, it’s the teenagers they should care about. And while $5 is still well within the average teenagers reach, it’s still a lot more friction than free. This is especially true since many teenagers don’t have a credit card of their own. What kid wants to take the time to explain to mom why he needs to borrow a credit card for something called Xcode, when he can jump over to Google and get Android tools for free?

Apple already charges $99/year to be a member of their developer program which you need to be able to distribute applications on the App Store. While this pricing hasn’t seemed to hurt them much so far, it’s short sighted even if the effects aren’t immediately apparent. I’m a huge Apple fan and I hate watching them repeat the same mistakes Microsoft made years ago.

  • Joseph Scott

    I'm not sure that $5 is much of an additional hurdle since you have to be able to buy an Apple system first. And if price is the largest factor then those teenagers will go to non-Apple systems anyway, because the initial hurdle is lower (cost of a computer system).

    I think you are right to talk about encouraging the teenage crowd, but when you look at from the perspective of what they've already done to get to that point that $5 is a baby step.

    • Fair point, but they're also way more likely to be using their parents computer or one that their parents purchased for them.

  • I think an even bigger hurdle would be owning an iOS device.

    The cheapest one is $229. That's a rather large hurdle for teenagers, and many won't settle for the lowest-end iPod touch. They want more storage, RAM, etc. Or they want an iPad, which is $500.

    Sure, they can learn without one, but you know they won't.

    • Tom Cat

      Xcode isn't for iOS only; it's also for Mac OS X.

      • True, but I was think more along the lines of iOS. Either way, you still need an expensive Mac.

        • Tom Cat

          I had a hackintosh for a year or so before getting a Mac. Little kids can be very persistent in their pursuit of education 😉

          That is, until mommy and daddy's wallets come into play. IDK how I can get a credit card to pay $5 =P

          • It's also available in the iOS (and I'd assume Mac) Dev Center if you are registered there.

            Also, you can buy a prepaid debit card or an iTunes gift card (they work in the Mac App Store!).

  • Maybe the $5 cost is to discourage 50 million people from downloading a 4.3Gb app 🙂 It's too easy to download it from the app store and a bunch of people who never intend to code would get it just cause it's free.

  • I actually don't disagree with your blog post. I'm just trying to think of good reasons to charge $5. I do think you are correct and keeping it free is better for Apple long term.

  • Tom Cat

    For those in Vietnam where even the idea of a credit card is strange (cash and/or domestic debit card at most, no Visa or MasterCard in most families I know), Xcode 4 has just become something many kids (and adults) can't afford.

  • necuz

    I don't see any reason to jump to the conclusion that they will stop including Xcode on the OS DVD.

  • I agree with your post, but there's another issue here. I've read that for various accounting reasons Apple has to charge for these apps. They've already done it with FaceTime ($.99 when I was free before the MAS) and they've had to do the same with some of the iOS upgrades in the past.

    Regardless, to your main point, if that's the case they could have made the price even cheaper.