It continues to amaze me how so many schools, teachers, PTA groups and parents have made significant financial investments in iPads for use in schools and at home, then work very hard to find just the best “free” apps. Do you buy a new car and spend endless hours looking for “free” gas?

While there are a some nice free apps, more often than not, what is “free” has no real value. Have you ever splurged and bought a quality pair of shoes and found out how comfortable they felt and how long they lasted? I think we all know that at some level, “you get what you pay for”.

Recently I had a booth at a National Educational Technical trade show previewing our elementary apps for the iPad. A very professional lady came up to me and was raving about how much she loved AppTutor apps but thinks they were too expensive. Perplexed and thinking she had the price wrong, I said, “$2.50 per app is expensive?” She immediately replied as if I were clueless, “you have to understand, we have an iPad for every student in our school!” Then I asked, “So, you spent $500 on every student and have no money for quality apps?” She confessed this was the case.

How much education apps should cost?

Although I know finding money for a $5 app can often be tougher than finding money for a $500 tablet (that thinking will always amaze me). We must ask ourselves, “What is the value of having a nice piece of computer hardware?” The only answer is, to run meaningful software! Software is where the magic lies. Have you ever watched a 2 year old using an iPad? It is mind-boggling how they engage with software. It is not just the hardware – leave it turned off and see how long they use it.

Mobile devices are magical for several reasons. One is that we love them and use them all the time. The second is that they offer new solutions, especially in education. We know that great software can change and enhance our lives. I always say, “hardware is the costly necessity, all magic lies in the software”. Still we spend enormous amounts of time and effort looking for free software. This thinking must be reevaluated.

Steve Jobs had his sights set on textbooks as the next business he wanted to transform. He believed “it was an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction”. Just take a look at a kid interacting and learning on an iPad and the beginnings of this will ring true. If we value creative apps and stop being afraid to pay a few bucks for something great, I believe, there will be many more creative educational apps to come. Apps offer tremendous value and the rewards can be astonishing.

Why do we think software should be free? A ream of 500 sheets of paper costs $3, a 500 page textbook costs $50 (or more). What is the difference? You’re not buying the paper, you’re buying the information. And with quality iPad apps, you don’t only get the information but the learning experience as well.