App rentals could be on the way for iOS devices

Apple (s aapl) could be on the verge of unveiling a new content delivery strategy for apps, according to some code uncovered in the latest iTunes beta. Specific references are made to app rentals in iTunes 10.5 beta 9, released on Friday, according to iOS developer Sonny Dickson (via The Tech Erra).

The code in question references app rental periods, after which apps would automatically be removed from your device and/or computer. Apple uses the same system for rental movies on iTunes. Renting mobile software is an admittedly unusual concept, but there are certainly instances when time-limited access to content makes more sense than buying the whole hog.

Take, for instance, turn-by-turn navigation apps. For the¬†occasional¬†road-tripper who only sets out by car once a year, or who’s travelling in a foreign country for a one-time trip, renting a navigation app makes much more sense than forking over $50 for the full app on a permanent basis. Likewise with travel guide apps and apps that you may need as study aids in preparation for a big test.

Another possibility is that Apple would make the rental system available to developers as an option for trial software. That way, users could test app as a free rental prior to making a purchasing decision. In truth, this might not work out in either Apple’s or developers’ favor, however, since it could limit the amount of impulse buys made by App Store shoppers. If this feature does make its way to consumers, I expect we’ll see it carefully and judiciously applied, and not incorporated automatically across the board.

If app rentals are on the way, they could make an appearance at the iPhone media event Tuesday alongside other iOS 5 announcements. Apple hasn’t made mention of the feature in its preview of its next mobile OS, but we often see a few previously unannounced software features accompany new hardware reveals. Tune in with us tomorrow live for a live blog from the event starting at 10 a.m. PDT to see whether or not it gets a mention.