What are Universal Apps?

For those wondering – no these aren’t apps made by Universal Studios.  What are Universal Apps?  The word Universal, when referring to apps, notes that the App is available for download on both the iPhone and iPad under one instance, instead of two separate instances.  This means pay once and download to both devices.  This also means you get an iPhone and iPad App for one price which is normally designed separately for each device.  Kind of like a two for one.

An example is the easiest way to explain.  Let’s say you want to download the popular app IMDB Internet Movie Database.  Simply go to the App Store on either your iPhone or iPad and find the app.  Below you will see the app in both the iPad and iPhone App Stores.

On an iPad, you will notice there is a tiny + sign on the top left of the Free/Install.

On the iPhone, the + sign appears to the left of the words Free or Install.

This + sign you see in the images indicates that the app is universal and will be available for download on both your iPhone and your iPad under the same app instance.  Even if it’s free, I find Universal apps to be more enjoyable than iPhone or iPad specific apps – and here’s why.  First, the pay once download everywhere model allows you to get more apps for less.  Second, the new iCloud functionality on iOS allows you to choose to have downloaded apps automatically put onto other devices which are logged in with the same Apple ID.  This means if I have automatic app downloads on my iPhone and iPad enabled, once I download an app on either one, the same app will download, in its device native form, on the other devices.


Using IMDB as an example.  If I download the app on my iPad from the app store, I will find it downloaded automatically on the iPhone as well.  And not only is it downloaded automatically on the iPhone, it is the iPhone specific version of the app. Wow!

IMDB Universal App shown on iPhone and iPad

So what if it is not a Universal App?  There are a few downsides here.  The first and most obvious is having to pay multiple times to have the app on  your iPad and iPhone.   It’s never fun when I download an app and have to pay, for example $2.99 on the iPad and another $0.99 on the iPhone. Many apps, like Angry Birds Space, uses that type of pricing model.  Second, even if the app is free on both devices the next downside still exists – you will not receive the other device version of the app automatically, or any version of the app, on your other devices.   If I download an iPhone app on my iPhone, that same iPhone exclusive app will not appear on my iPad, nor will its separate iPad app counter part.

Universal apps provide us, the users, with both affordability and convenience.  They provide app developers with more money in their pockets.   It’s my hope that more app developers will head towards the Universal App route, even if it means increasing the price a little.  In that case, while we may miss out on the affordability play, we still get the convenience of pay once, download everywhere.

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