There comes a time when those free smartphone apps just don't cut it. Before you pay for a program, however, you should see whether you can get it at a discount. In fact, you can have this information delivered right to your phone with a price-drop alert. Here are a couple ways to set up these notifications about new app sales.
Create an IFTTT alert
This trick only works with iOS apps, so if you have an Android device, go ahead and skip to the next section.
If This Then That, better known as IFTTT, lets you build connections between different apps and services. This enables you to, for example, receive text alerts when bad weather threatens, have your Facebook pictures automatically post to Instagram as well, or turn your Fitbit achievements into tweets. Essentially, IFTTT lets you create mini-programs, called applets, that dictate: When a trigger occurs on one app (if this), an action will result on another (then that). In this case, we'll want an applet that sends you an alert every time an app's price goes down.
First, visit the IFTTT website and sign up for a free account. Once you've logged in, click your account name in the top right corner and then select New Applet. Now you get to choose a trigger (the app you want goes down in price) and an action (whatever alert you want to receive).
To set the trigger, select This and pick Apple App Store from the grid of options. If you can't find it, look it up with the search box up top. IFTTT may not work with the App Store yet, so click Connect to let the two services work together. Next, choose App price dropped and enter the name or App Store URL of your chosen app. You can find this URL by performing a quick web search for the app's name plus the word "iTunes" or "iOS." As an example, this is the link for Alto's Adventure and this is the one for Gmail. After entering the URL, pick Create trigger.
Now we need an action that will occur when IFTTT notices a price drop. Click That and choose your delivery method: SMS to get a text, Twitter to send yourself a DM, or Email followed by Send me an email. We recommend the latter option, because IFTTT will compose an email template for you, with a default format that includes important App Store information—the app's name, developer, and change in price—in the subject line. If you'd prefer, you can edit this template, adding more information about the app by hitting the Add ingredient button. When you've chosen the alert that works best for you, click Create action.
The final screen lets you review your applet. At this stage, you can also tell IFTTT to send you separate alerts each time the applet receives a trigger: It can do this via email or, if you've installed the app version on your phone, push notifications. Finally, click Finish.
If you want to keep your eye on multiple apps, then repeat the process for each one. You can review all of them on IFTTT's My applets page. Run a manual price check by clicking an applet, then choosing Check now. Or delete the applets for apps you've already purchased (or lost interest in) by clicking the cog icon, followed by Delete.
Check a website
IFTTT is convenient, but it only works on iOS. For an alert system that's available for Android and iOS alike, try a website that tracks app prices for you.
AppBrain for Android apps
Aimed primarily at developers, but available to anyone, this website lists of all the apps on the Google Play Store. Use the options on the left side of the page to browse by category, country, popularity, ranking, or total downloads. Once you've selected a method of organization, you can click Price Reduced to see currently-discounted programs. The site is handy if you aren't looking for anything in particular, but want to acquire something at a bargain price. For more details, click on any app to see recent drops and increases in price. Unfortunately, AppBrain won't send you alerts, so if you want updates, you need to keep checking the site.
AppShopper for iOS apps
This website works a lot like the previous one, but it covers iOS rather than Android apps. AppShopper includes a dedicated page that lists all current Apple App Store discounts, so you can browse through the list to see if anything catches your eye. As with AppBrain, you can sort the list by various categories; these options appear on the right-hand side of the page. AppShopper will also send you price-drop alerts: Sign up for an account and start adding your favorite apps to a personal wishlist. Then you'll receive an email whenever one these apps undergoes a discount.
AppSales for Android apps
Android fans should also bookmark a couple different pages on the AppSales site: its collection of currently-discounted apps and its list of currently-free apps (which used to cost money). In addition, the team curates a list of their favorite apps, and you can sign up to receive updates when the items in this collection go on sale. This can introduce you to interesting deals you might not spot otherwise. Although it lacks sophisticated search options, AppSales has the advantage of its own phone app (for Android only), which can send you a push notification when an app you're monitoring goes down in price.
Beyond dedicated sites, social media can help. Most developers have accounts on Facebook and Twitter, where they share special offers and sales on the apps they produce. Follow them to take advantage of these discounts.