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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