How do I find apps for free? by Carisa Kluver and Claudia Haines
Here at Little eLit, we get asked about free apps a lot. While we consider an app’s content, design, technical features, and age appropriateness before we look at price, the reality is that, just like librarians and teachers everywhere, we know money is a factor. In fact, some of you can’t get apps unless they are free. Not to worry! Little eLit to the rescue! If you want to know how to find quality apps for free, and always-free apps, here is the post you’ve been waiting for.
The 5 Types of Free Apps
First of all, what are we talking about when we say “free app”? There are actually five different categories of free apps.
1. Free apps: These are apps that are always free. While some free apps may not meet the criteria we use when choosing apps for storytime or for recommending to families for anytime use, there are some high quality apps out there that are actually meant to be free. The Exploratorium’s Color Uncovered and Sound Uncovered apps, Software Smoothie’s Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose, and the Calgary Public Library’s Grow a Reader are good examples.
2. Free with in-app purchases, ads, and links to full versions: These apps are free but come with strings attached, including links to other apps and even inappropriate content in some cases. However, all of the apps in this category are fully functional at the free level. When we review these apps for programs or for recommendation, we look at the content and how the purchase elements display and are accessed, particularly by kids. In storytime, an ad displayed on the screen is distracting. In-app purchases that are easy for kids to access can get expensive quickly, and they can possibly be purchased without parent or teacher permission. On the positive side, for parents, librarians, and teachers, some of these apps might offer a great opportunity to see how an app works before buying the full version. Note: Most devices have a setting that can be activated to require a password before authorizing in-app purchases. Be sure to know your device and where to find settings like these.
3. Free and it’s just a teaser: These apps are free, but the content of the free version is so limited that the app is not usable without an additional in-app purchase. As usual, be sure to read the app’s description carefully and review the app before using with children or incorporating into a program or classroom so you know what you’re getting.
4. Free temporarily: It costs money to make apps, especially high-quality apps, so some of our favorite apps come with a price tag usually between $.99 and $5.99. If you’re looking for a favorite app, but you can’t buy apps or just want to get the app for free or at a reduced cost, a temporary price reduction is what you’re looking for. Finding apps that are free for a short time does require research and knowing where to find them.
5. Promo codes: A 5th category is also useful to consider when seeking apps, especially for professionals who work with children, families and the community. For every app on iTunes, developers get 50-100 codes that allow users to download an app for free. This system is only in place for Apple, but other formats like Android can also give copies to individuals if you contact the developer directly. These codes are intended for reviewers of apps, journalists and other media outlets, but with frequent updates, especially after a major change to the operating system (e.g. iOS 7), developers often have extra codes that they use for consumer giveaways. They will usually be delighted to hear from a teacher or librarian asking for a free code because of the exposure you can offer their app. The process can also make it possible for you to influence future changes to apps, since the feedback from users is very valuable to independent app developers.
How to Find Temporarily Free Apps
Most app developers reduce an app’s price or make it temporarily free at some point during a six-month period. Traditionally, if developers are going to drop the price of apps, they will do so Wednesday through Friday, or around major holidays like Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, for example. Weekly price drops are usually offered with Thursday evening through Friday evening being the timeframe in which you are most likely to see price changes. With over a million apps in the various markets (Apple, Google Play, Amazon, Nook), it can be difficult to sift through the free apps or reduced-price apps every Thursday and Friday if you don’t have specific apps in mind.
To make the search easier, there are a few sites that can help you keep track of price fluctuations, and some even give you app update notifications. Digital-Storytime, EdApps4Sale (all free, curated for kids apps by Digital-Storytime founder Carisa Kluver), App Shopper, Smart Apps for Kids (+ for Android, for Special Needs), the iMums, App Abled and App Friday are easy-to-navigate sources for price information. We have a full list here, but over time this industry moves fast, so please keep an eye out for new resources and double check to make sure these sites are still active over time:
Recommended Review Sites
- A Matter of App
- App Friday
- Apps for Homeschooling
- Children’s Technology Review
- Fun, Educational Apps
- Great Kid Books
- Horn Book – App Reviews
- Kirkus Reviews
- The iMum
- The iPhone Mom
- There’s A Book
- Touch and Go
- This list is updated on Carisa’s blog & is on the sidebar of every page of her site: http://digitalmediadiet.com
For example, if after searching through the Little eLit Pinterest Apps for Preschool Storytime board you come up with a list of apps you want for your iPad, go to App Shopper and create a wish list. When that app’s price is reduced, you’ll get an email announcing the change. The email will include a link back to App Shopper or to iTunes directly.
Several sources of app price changes can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. Check out @momswithapps or your favorite app developer to see what we mean.
If you need more information about apps, including reviews and storytime, program, or curriculum uses, check out our list of suggested sites.Carisa Kluver created and operates Digital Storytime, a review site for children’s apps; EdApps4Sale, a site that tracks deals on children’s apps; and The Digital Media Diet, a blog exploring new media with a focus on young children. Claudia Haines is the Curation Coordinator for Little eLit and Youth Services Librarian at Homer Public Library.