By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
May 15, 2009

For people who had been waiting since January to watch TV on their iPhones, price doesn’t seem to have been an object.

Within a day of its release Wednesday, SlingPlayer Mobile for the iPhone had shot to the No. 10 spot on Apple’s (AAPL) closely watched Top Paid Apps list.

The $29.99 program, which communicates wirelessly with Sling Media’s video streaming Slingbox to display TV programming on the screens of iPhones and iPod touches, is the most expensive application to have ever climbed that high.

By Friday morning, SlingPlayer had dropped to No. 12, but it was still the only app among the top 100 bestsellers listed for more than $9.99 — a price point that, until now, seemed to be the upper limit for iPhone bestsellers.

According to Jeff Scott, editor of 148Apps.biz, the closest any other high-priced apps had come to No. 10 were Jaadu VNC ($24.99), which made it to No. 19 in September 2008, and LogMeIn Ignition ($29.99), which hit No. 74 last December.

The vast majority of sales on the App Store are much smaller. Of the 38,356 applications currently active, according to 148Apps.biz’s stats,

  • 23.4% are free
  • 67% cost less than $1
  • and 97% cost less than $10

Prices have been drifting down since the store opened 10 months ago. The average in November 2008 was more than $3.50; today, it’s less than $2.50. The mean price for games is even lower: $1.44. See chart below.

The most expensive item in the store, by far, is Lextech Labs’ iRa Pro, an $899.99 application that displays live video feeds from up to 6 security cameras simultaneously. Apparently its users find iRa Pro worth the price. Six of seven reviewers gave it either four stars or five. The seventh complained about the price and gave it only one.

The runners up:

SlingPlayer for the iPhone, which was first demoed at Macworld in January, has been available for months on a variety of other mobile devices, including certain BlackBerry (RIMM), Palm (PALM), Nokia (NOK) and Windows Mobile (MSFT) smartphones.

But it never got the kind of attention on those devices as it has on the iPhone. See, for example, the fuss stirred up this week when reporters discovered that the iPhone version worked only on Wi-Fi, and not over AT&T’s (T) cellular networks.

A spokesman for EchoStar (SATS), which owns Sling Media, declined to release sales figures. But applications in the top 10 paid apps list have been known to sell hundreds of thousands of units.

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