Editorial: In-App Purchasing Shame - $1-per-Minute GPS is Here, is Psychic Friends Next? | iLounge Article

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Editorial: In-App Purchasing Shame - $1-per-Minute GPS is Here, is Psychic Friends Next?

What does it take to get a 1-star rating in the App Store—a place where phony positive reviews are de rigueur? Ask Networks in Motion, makers of Gokivo, a $1 app that appears to be the first iPhone OS 3.0-specific guided turn-by-turn driving directions program, and has amazingly been chosen by Apple as a featured app for the Store’s main page. Why is this amazing?

* Gokivo doesn’t actually provide guided turn-by-turn directions when you buy it from the App Store for $1.

* Once you try to use the app to show you a route, Gokivo brings up an In-App Purchase screen that requires you to cough up $1 per minute, $3 for ten minutes, or $10 per month for directions.

 

* In a test of Gokivo, the directions it provided were wrong. Way wrong. As in, we asked it to take us to the Apple Store, it said that it would, then provided directions to deposit us on a dead-end street in the middle of a residential neighborhood 2.5 miles away. This, despite showing us the actual address of the Store on screen—it apparently just couldn’t figure out how to actually get there.

 

* User reviews of the app have been overwhelmingly negative; the app was averaging 1 star when we downloaded it, and is now at 1.5 stars.

 

To be fair to Networks in Motion, Gokivo will make a trip to even the wrong destination interesting. It provides a voice-over as it guides you. And it pulls traffic information so that it can tell you if there has been an accident somewhere along the way. And it even stores its downloaded directions, briefly, so that you can come back to them once if you quit the app mid-way through your trip. We tried to come back a second time and found the In-App Purchase screen there again, waiting to charge us for the same directions.

 

But to be fair to consumers, it’s high time for Apple to adopt reasonable policies for the marketing of In-App Purchases. The types and prices of all In-App Purchases should need to be conspicuously disclosed before a consumer is enticed to purchase the app, and if they change in an app update—a way some developers might weasel around full disclosures—the consumer should be informed, and not be forced to upgrade to the new version. Would this be a challenge for some developers? Maybe. But companies shouldn’t have the ability to surprise users post-purchase by requiring them to dig deeper into their pockets to keep using the software they bought.

 

And it’s also time for Apple to offer a straightforward refunds page for App Store purchases. Buyers of Gokivo have used their reviews to pine for their money back—the action they’re taking because the Store doesn’t have a “Request Refund” button. Apple’s recommended way to request an App Store refund is here—these instructions are buried on the Apple.com web site, and not in any way obvious from within the iTunes software itself. We followed them, and the Store passed the buck to the developer to resolve the issue.

 

It’s like a store that has a bunch of cash registers up front, a single customer service desk hidden away in the ladies’ bathroom, and a broken robot sitting at the desk when you get there. Users may be able to get better refund satisfaction through this similarly buried iTunes support page, filling out the form at the bottom.

 

Operating the iTunes Store as a “you bought it, it’s yours” shop is fine—so long as the content meets Apple’s technical audio, visual, and compatibility standards for what it was supposed to be, that’s no problem. But selling turn-by-turn driving applications that charge by the minute and provide bad directions, besides? Refunds should be available, and easily—through Apple, not through user negotiations with developers. No one wants to see Apple become the 1-900 provider of the 21st Century, but with stuff like this in the Store, could 99-cent-per-minute Psychic Friends Network apps be too far off at this point? Would the App Store stop them, or just collect its 30% share and look the other way?

[Editor’s Note: In a subsequent blog post to address angry customers, Gokivo’s developer now describes the per-minute pricing as a “mistake,” and notes that the initial charge for the application is for “access to the maps and all of the local information provided by our partner Yahoo! Local, as well as one-click access to the great discovery features in the app.” An update to the application offering only $10 per month access to driving directions is pending.]

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Comments

1

Sounds a lot like Nokia Maps. They give you free maps but charge per month for voice navigation. I’m hoping tomtom and the others come out soon though so I can pick one GPS program and stick with it!

Posted by SimbaK2K on June 18, 2009 at 9:07 AM (CDT)

2

That’s one good thing the Sprint store had; instant, no questions asked, refunds for crummy apps.

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on June 18, 2009 at 9:08 AM (CDT)

3

@SimbaK2K,

You only told half of the story and this app is nothing like Nokia Maps. You are told upfront that the turn by turn is a paid service and with some phone it is included for free for 2 years. You can use Nokia Maps for a day, a week, a month, and a year. All paid for with no hidden costs.

[Moderator’s Note: Please do not attack other readers. Keep your comments on topic and not personal. Thanks.]

Posted by the right way on June 18, 2009 at 9:15 AM (CDT)

4

Good to see a refreshing article and a public calling-out of a horrible app.  Apps like Gokivo represent the shady consequence of the 9,930,222.34 apps available: most suck.

Posted by Hot Karl on June 18, 2009 at 9:31 AM (CDT)

5

This application will be massacred by TomTom.

Posted by Cobalt Jacket on June 18, 2009 at 10:01 AM (CDT)

6

I realise that Nokia Maps do give away free licenses with some phones (when your spending hundreds on a new phone) but its basically the same thing. You can’t do any routing with nokia maps without paying a subscription and you can’t do any turn by turn based routing without a subscription for Gokivo.

I admit $1 a minute is very steep but $10 isn’t so bad. Nokia Maps charge about $15 a month for subscription so this is actually cheaper.

Before you start moaning at the developer I think you should start moaning at apple. Apple forced developers to make apps with addons chargable, so I can see this being the norm for a lot of programs. Pay your 99 cents and then want to play more levels? songs? Then you’ll pay for it. Its not possible for a free ap to have paid addons.

Admittedly they probably made the description clearer so people know before they spend their 99 cents but still.

Posted by SimbaK2K on June 18, 2009 at 10:05 AM (CDT)

7

I’m sorry I really fail to see how Apple should be held responsible for the reprehensible behavior of a vendor. Clearly this kind of action is dispicable, but it’s only right that Apple pass that support on to the software vendor.  They are best equipped to answer the question of why they are charging per mingus for directions.

Posted by Trasken on June 18, 2009 at 1:21 PM (CDT)

8

You said Nokia Maps give away free licenses when you “spend hundreds on a new phone”. How much does the iphone cost throughout its term? Closer to thousands rather than hundreds. And to boot, you’re getting a horrendous app that doesn’t do what it should, and having the audacity to ask for additional hidden charges.
I’d rather spend the extra $5 on something that works

Posted by Manish on June 18, 2009 at 2:47 PM (CDT)

9

Hopefully Apple, if not the app creator, will learn from this fiasco. But I can see the in-app purchase functionality very quickly becoming a one-way train to Ripoffville—and a major turnoff for a lot of currently-loyal iPhone users.

Posted by Jacflash on June 18, 2009 at 3:46 PM (CDT)

10

This is not the the first iPhone OS 3.0-specific guided turn-by-turn driving directions program.
Check out “Sygic” in AppStore.

Posted by Aleksander on June 18, 2009 at 4:27 PM (CDT)

11

Gokivo is made by NIM—- a very legit navigation app maker that also created the Verizon’s VZ Navigator and AAA Mobile Navigator.  They also charge the same $9.99 per month for VZ Navigator and AAA Mobile Navigator.

There is no scam here.  I would accept that it’s an honest mistake for them to not make it clear that TBT requires the subscription fee.

What’s more interesting is how Apple responds to refund request if people complain that it’s not accurate?  NIM makes good accurate TBT navigation apps for other cell phones.  It’s not Goviko’s problem if the iphone hardware feeds the software incorrect GPS data.

Posted by Janet on June 19, 2009 at 1:53 PM (CDT)

12

@simbak2k,

Show me this subscription policy from Nokia. You are still wrong. They charge 69€ for the entire year or give you one or two years service depending on the phone. Another fail. Dude, do your homework before posting incorrect information

Posted by the right way on June 19, 2009 at 8:21 PM (CDT)

13

Yeah, but Nokia’s annual package of 69€ doesn’t come with live traffic information (which Gokivo’s app, Verizon’s app, AAA’s app and AT&T’s app all include live traffic updates in their $10 a month subscription fee)—- which is another 20€ extra a year.

89€ = $124 US.

Posted by Janet on June 19, 2009 at 9:31 PM (CDT)

14

I will be interested in seeing the Tom Tom pricing, but right now all of these apps seem inferior to a $100 standalone GPS device like a Garmin Nuvi or whatever the entry-level Tom Tom device is.

And charging by the minute is silly and dangerous.

Posted by PeterWimsey on June 20, 2009 at 10:42 AM (CDT)

15

You also need to buy the FM receiver for the Nuvi and a lifetime subscription for traffic updates.

As in the editor’s note, it was a pre-release version that contain the per-minute pricing—- which was mistakenly included in the final release.

They were testing it to see if apple’s backend works with $2.99 one day subscription business model which NIM also sells on Verizon’s VZ navigator and AAA’s navigator and TeleNav’s AT&T navigator.  Their developers don’t want to wait for 24 hours to see if the subscription expires—- so in the beta version, they had the 1 minute and 10 minute test cases.

Posted by Janet on June 20, 2009 at 12:32 PM (CDT)

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