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What does In-App Purchase mean

Educational App Store
What does In-App Purchase mean

In-app purchases remain a significant source of revenue for app developers. Nearly 50% of non-game expenditure is on in-app purchases, according to one survey. It is even higher for games.

What does In-App Purchase mean?

In-app purchase means users pay for additional features or functionality while using an application.

Educational apps, especially those aimed at children, operate under different conditions from other app types. Enabling effective learning is not the same as entertaining. Schools administer apps differently from families. Your choice of monetisation method could have unforeseen consequences for your app’s educational value and market performance.

The Educational App review rubric, which underpins our certification of educational apps, takes each app’s business model and its implementation into account. Educational apps with in-app purchases have received a five-star rating, but others have lost a star due to their in-app purchase implementation. Make sure that your app is one of the former by reading this guide to using in-app purchases in educational apps.

Types of In-App Purchases

In this article, we are looking at two types of in-app purchases:

  1. Unlockables – one-off actions that unlock a feature or content of an app.
  2. Expendables – repeatable in-app purchases that are used up by user actions within the app.

Subscriptions are a type of in-app purchase, but these will be dealt with in a separate article as their implications for educational apps are different.

Appropriate uses for in-app purchases

Discrete features

Typical users of your app might not need access to all of its potential features. In-app purchases can provide a cost-effective package for those that only need a subset of your app’s full capability.

Using in-app purchases is often a good option for educational tools. Users can activate and pay for only the features applicable to them. This provides them with better value and allows you to remain competitive with similar apps that might be less fully featured but cheaper.

Easily Expandable

If your app suits the adding of new levels or themes, in-app purchases are a way of keeping fans of your app engaged. Our rubric takes the purpose of in-app purchases into account.

In-app purchases in an educational app should always extend or deepen the user’s learning. You can do this by offering new topics or developing the ones you already cover in breadth and depth.

The possibility to extend existing apps can be a positive feature. Kids won’t have to learn to use a new app, they may already have achievements logged by your app, and their parents are already satisfied with your app’s approach.

Parents and teachers do not want to pay for new content that takes up the player’s time but does not help them progress beyond their existing ability.

Educationally speaking, in-app purchases that add only cosmetic changes or add ‘more of the same‘ content are hard to justify. Apps that contain such options would likely be penalised in the EAS certification process.

Casual Games

Suppose your app is an educational variant of a casual game. In that case, your potential customers may expect it to be available in a similar form to many in that genre – for example, as a free advertisement-supported game.

We’ll go into advertisements in educational apps in another article. But, in short, they are not ideal in educational software, and we don’t feature apps that have them in our Parent or Teacher App Libraries. In-app purchases can let you have the best of both worlds.

If you believe that an ad-supported version of your app is essential to build an audience, consider having an in-app purchase option to remove them. This will allow the app to feature in our libraries and make it usable in the classroom, acceptable to more parents and less likely to distract kids from learning.

Free Trials

It is much less common now, but when educational apps first became popular, it was typical for developers to release their app for free in a cut-down form. The idea was that parents would download the ‘lite’ version of the app without any hesitation, and when they saw how much their kids liked the app, they’d pay for the entire app through an in-app purchase.

As a developer, you should understand why this option is less common today:

  • It is difficult for schools to administer these apps.
  • Schools and parents realised that multiple ‘lite’ versions of apps, when combined, provided all of the coverage they needed, so they upgraded less often than developers expected.
  • Other business models, such as subscriptions, let users try the full app for a limited time rather than a cut-down version indefinitely.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this model from an educational point of view. If you choose to submit your app for EAS certification, the full version would be most appropriate. The availability of a lite version would be a positive factor as it lets potential users assess the app for themselves. You should, however, consider the disadvantages of this model to your particular app’s role in education.

When Not to use in-app purchases

Apps aimed solely at school use

In-app purchases are difficult for schools to administer on a per-user and a per-device basis. Apple School Manager, for example, does not help in this regard.

Some app developers mitigate this problem by having a home version and a school version of their app. The school version costs more but includes all of the in-app purchase features. As a full app, it is eligible for Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program and compatible with the tools of Apple School Manager.

A big disadvantage of this two-app solution from a developer’s perspective is that you now have double the app’s to administer and update. You may also not get the advantages you hope for as you have to make sure that your potential customers find the app appropriate for their circumstance.

For example, a parent who sees the school version may not know that they can find a cheaper version with unlockable features. Likewise, teachers might not read far enough to find an alternative full version of an app when they see it has in-app purchases.


Effective monetisation strategies for entertainment apps can be unsuitable features in educational apps for ethical and practical reasons. The previous considerations in this guide have been regarding unlockables — in-app purchases where you unlock a feature.

Expendables are in-app currencies, hint packs, and other options that the player spends. It isn’t easy to see how these in-app purchases could have a place in an educational app.

Schools will not use apps with this business model. An app utilising either In-Game Currency or Pay to Win mechanics is likely to be heavily penalised by our review rubric and expert reviewers. The following points explain why:

  • Children’s success in an educational app should come from their understanding, not from spending power.
  • Purchasing hints and tips are incompatible with what parents and teachers expect an educational app to offer.
  • Having a purchasable cheat/progress mechanic sends the wrong message to learners.
  • As the cost of such an app is open-ended, it isn’t easy to assess its value as part of the EAS certification process.


survey found that almost half of respondents to its survey had accidentally completed in-app purchases. While this might result in an extra sale, it isn’t one you want as it will leave your brand tarnished. Ensure you make the process and content of in-app purchases very clear. Ideally, keep all references to in-app purchases behind a parental lock — this is reassuring to parents and less distracting for learners.

It is tempting to push your in-app purchase options. While this might be appropriate in mainstream games, it is problematic in educational apps. Locked content, pop-ups offering new features, and false blocks to the user’s progress are distracting or frustrating for learners. Be careful not to undermine your app’s educational value in the pursuit of revenue.

Apple has recently allowed apps to make their unlockable in-app purchases sharable among family members, but Android apps still do not allow this. Neither will enable expendables to be shared.

The App Store and Play Store make it clear to potential purchasers when an app has in-app purchase options. However, for some people, this might be something that puts them off from beginning a download.

Parents can disable in-app purchases on their kids’ devices. There will be more friction to put them off from downloading an in-app purchase if they have done this.

How to turn off in-app purchases

Whether you’re concerned about the kids racking up those in-app purchases or you struggle to resist buying a few extra lives on your favorite game, there is a way to turn off in-app purchases.

On iPhones, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Screen Time (with an hour-glass icon)
  3. Go to Content & Privacy Restrictions
  4. Go to iTunes & App Store Purchases
  5. Within this page, you can adjust your settings to suit your needs. You can turn off in-app purchases completely, or require a password for every purchase, not just the first one.

With that taken care of, you should be much less likely to get surprise charges from apps.

In-app purchases are still a big part of the wider app market and can still work in educational apps. There is no general rule about which is the best business model for educational apps. The critical thing to remember is that whichever model you choose, must not undermine or distract from the learning process. If you keep this in mind, your app is well on the way to a five-star certification by the Educational App Store.