Investing in apps? Ensure you get a bang for your buck!

The App Store launched in 2008 and revolutionised the way consumers use their iOS devices by allowing them to download and use third party applications. Today, there are more than 1.5 million apps available, the vast majority of which are free. Within that, there are over 75,000 educational apps designed specifically for iPad. This means that educators now have a vast array of tools available to them and their students, which are only a few taps away. With this in mind, apps have become a vital part of the workflow in many 1:1 classrooms, so choosing the right apps is crucial.

Making use of free apps
With seemingly ever tightening budgets, it’s no wonder free apps have become very popular within education. There are amazing tools available for free through the App Store. Out of my core apps that I use frequently, half of them are completely free: the app is free to download, it does not require In-App Purchases to function fully or need some sort of subscription. However, I am always cautious when choosing to use a free app. In the past, I have used free apps and found that as their popularity has increased, developers have seeked to monetise their applications: who can blame them? Therefore, when choosing free apps, I always consider two key questions:

– Why is it free?
– How long is it likely to stay free for?

There’s very little we as consumers can do to stop developers transforming their apps from being freely available to suddenly employing a model that charges users. However, there are some things we can do to ensure that we’re not stung by unanticipated charges for an app or service that we have become reliant on, further on down the line.

Consider the developer who has made the app. Many of the top free apps used by educators are made by huge, well known developers like Apple (iMovie, iTunes U, iWork etc.), Google (Classroom, Drive, Docs etc.) and Adobe (Adobe Slate, Adobe Voice, Adobe Post etc.). It is unlikely that major corporations like these are going to switch their apps from free to paid because they’ve became popular and they wish to make a quick buck. In fact, Apple has more recently done the opposite and made apps that consumers previously had to pay for, like iMovie, GarageBand and iWork, available to download for free (see here for more info). Others, like FiftyThree, even followed suit by making the additional tools in their app Paper, which previously had to be bought as an In-App Purchase, free to all (see here for more info).

In my opinion, the bottom line is not to become over reliant on a free app (especially if it’s from a small developer) and always be prepared incase it suddenly disappears.

Investing in paid apps
There are some paid apps which are essential and worth every penny you pay for them. Two examples of this are the fantastic Explain Everything and Book Creator apps. Both can be used across the entire curriculum and foster creativity amongst students, allowing them to use technology in ways which traditional methods simply can’t compete. Purchasing enough copies of this app for all students and staff may seem like a significant financial outlay initially, however it is an investment that will be worthwhile in the long term.

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If you are going to invest money in paid apps for iOS devices, then signing up for Apple’s Volume Purchasing Programme (VPP) is a must! VPP allows your institution to bulk buy apps (quantities of 20 or more) and receive a 50% discount! These can then be distributed to devices either through your Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution or by allocating redeemable codes. One of the advantages of using an MDM for this purpose is you can also recall and reassign apps. For example, once Year 11 cohort leaves, any paid apps you have assigned them can be revoked and reassigned to the incoming Year 7 students, resulting in significant savings in the long term. Whilst VPP was once a standalone service, it is now coming under the umbrella of Apple School Manager. If you would like to find out more, check out the Education Preview website.

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This will require an element of luck, but keep an eye out for apps being discounted or made available for free as part of a promotion. In the past, I have saved money by downloading paid apps for free during promotions, including Stick Around (usually £2.29), Scanner Pro (usually £2.99) and Timeline 3D(usually £7.99). Every week, the App Store features a Free App of the Week, whereby Apple promote an app by making it freely available for one week. These cover a wide range of applications, but every so often, an app that can be useful in the classroom crops up, so it’s worth checking out. In addition, last year (2015), Apple ran a promotion in early May as part of Teacher Appreciation Week, where a range of educational apps, including classroom essentials like Book Creator and Explain Everything, were available for half price: definitely something worth keeping an eye out for.

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Social media can be a great way to find out about apps that are being promoted through the App Store. There are a range of websites and social media accounts which post updates about apps which have been made available for free or at a discount, however many are irrelevant to educators meaning you’re often looking for a diamond in the rough. I think one of the best is the EducationalAppAdvice Twitter account, as it focuses on educational apps, making relevant apps easier to find. However, for me the best way is to follow those interested in #EdTech on Twitter. Once a great app appears for free or at a discount, the news spreads amongst this community like wildfire, meanign you’ll certainly be in the know!

Something worth knowing: if you have signed up to VPP and a paid app has been made available for free or at a discounted rate, you can bulk purchase as many licenses as you need at this time! As a result, you could potentially get a copy of a paid for app for free for every person in your institution; big win!

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