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How Do Free Mobile Apps Make Money?

  • By Farrah Shawky
  • 06-09-2018
  • Variety

I’m sure that ever since mobile applications have been a thing we have all wondered how free-to-download apps make money. In the past decade free mobile applications made millions and they are only on the rise. So, how do any of these apps make money? We are going to quench your curiosity now.

As we all know, free apps dominate the market. If you try to go on any app store you would find that the majority of applications are free, even the ones on the top 10 lists.



It comes to no surprise, we are all very aware of the mobile app advertisements. They come in many shapes and forms: from banners, to pop-ups, to those infuriating unskippable videos. You basically pay with your patience instead of your money. Ads are the easiest and most common (and most annoying) way for any app to make money.


Some mobile applications come with a free trial period, then once that period is over it asks you to pay a fee per month. Looking around, I found that many of the language-learning apps use this strategy. In other cases an app may have limited free content, enticing you to pay extra for that sweet gold/premium/deluxe version of the app. If you’re thinking “at least it isn’t ads,” then you might be dismayed to know that more often than not the 2 strategies are used in tandem.


Think of the big red angry bird plushie, or those cute cut the rope stickers. If your app has a big loyal following, a way to get some extra cash off that app is use it to sell related merchandise such as toys, shirts, and memorabilia.

In-app purchases

If you know anything about in-app-purchases (often abbreviated to IAPs) then I’m sure you let an audible grunt now. The gold mine of any gaming mobile app. The choice is yours: waste your life grinding an insurmountable amount of time getting that in-game cash, or whip out your credit card. Once a game has you in its clutches, it will start asking you if you want to up your game with really attractive upgrades, powerups, or whatnot. I’m sure many of us were more than tempted to fall for this tactic.

Collecting and selling data

While controversial and - arguably - unethical, many apps track your use behavior and patterns data to sell to other entities. And while we have made progress in this regard (most apps now at least tell you that you are under surveillance) the idea of someone tracking your every move can be uncomfortable. This data allows the entity holding it to know the preferences of users and can be used to show more relevant ads to people who would care most to see them.


If you’re reading this and thinking that all these options were not exactly neat, think of the alternative. I complain all the time about it, yet I’m not really willing to support many of these apps with my wallet. It’s a real conundrum, but at the very least we need to support those developers who make beneficial apps that don’t push shady practices on us somehow.