Good move by Apple. The page contains screenshots, links to support documents, and a clear explanation of Parental Controls. Apple knows that In-App Purchases are usually bought by children using their parents’ devices, and they also made sure to explain the differences between IAPs to “remove ads” and “buy virtual food”.
It’s strange that the, in the US, the page is only featured on the iPad App Store.
This doesn’t fix the several other problems with In-App Purchases and developers exploiting the platform. Games like this shouldn’t be approved to begin with. Hopefully a section that highlights clever, genuine implementations of In-App Purchases is next.
Over the past six months there has been a (fairly) quiet tussle between Apple and various publishers and other content suppliers over the issue of In-App Purchases and Subscriptions. At the beginning of the year Apple had demanded that by July, all content available within an app must be available for purchase within the app through In-App Purchasing, for the same price as it was available on the publishers website (say the Kindle online store) and that the app did not link to the website for purchases but used the In-App Purchase system. Apple reversed their policy in May, removing the first two restrictions — but still denied publishers from including a ‘Buy’ link that went to a website and then finally late last month various publishers began to abide by these rules, including the Wall Street Journal, Kobo and the Kindle apps.
This obviously isn’t the best situation for consumers and as many have noted, including Dan Frommer of SplatF, it has made purchasing Kindle books more difficult for the user – despite the premise of In-App Purchases aiming to simplify purchases. Consequently, Amazon today released the Kindle Cloud Reader, a web app for Chrome, Safari and the iPad – with support for other browsers and devices promised soon.
The desktop version of the Kindle Cloud Reader is nice, but it is the iPad version that is most intriguing and impressive. It is a web app but it does an excellent job at masquerading as a native app — particularly features such as offline support and menus that hide/reappear when you tap the screen. It starts from when you first load the Kindle Cloud Reader and it asks permission to reserve 50 MB on your device so that it can store all the necessary elements of the ‘app’ and your books to ensure that when you have no 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity, everything continues to work. To really see how well it does at pretending to be a native app, try it yourself or jump the break for more screenshot’s of the Kindle Cloud Reader — pinning it to the Home Screen as a web app (which it dutifully suggests you do) in particular just amplifies the native app feel by removing the browser chrome.
What Amazon has done by creating this web app reminds me of the Financial Times, which also created a web app for delivering their content to users and subscribers after they also felt Apple’s terms were too restrictive and negative. Unlike the Financial Times, Amazon has not removed their iOS app from the App Store — it remains, albeit hampered by the lack of easy access to the Kindle Store. On the Kindle Cloud Reader however, the Kindle Store works great with a link in the top-right corner and it is made better by the fact that the store has also received an iPad-enhanced design and works much better whilst also looking great.
You can access the Kindle Cloud Reader now, simply by logging in to your Amazon account – all your purchased books will already be there.
In a new report released by Distimo today, the firm highlights how mobile gaming trends have changed over the past year. It found that the prices of mobile games have declined by 28% from $2.01 to $1.44 over the past year. The ‘Games’ category on the Apple App Store is also the most popular category, with 56% of the top 300 free applications being games.
In-app purchases have dominated in mobile games, particularly in free games where 35% use some form of virtual currency to monetize their app. However over the past year the amount of revenue generated by ‘free’ games and their in-app purchases has increased ten-fold. The revenue-share of games that solely charge an upfront cost now only occupy 27% of revenue raised in App Store games, whilst of those, the top 10 publishers dominate with a 56% share of the revenue. An interesting note is that Andreas Illiger (creator of Tiny Wings) managed to enter that list of top 10 publishers and is ahead of others including SEGA and even Gameloft.
When comparing the various app stores to see which had the highest percentage of games in their catalogues, the iPhone App Store came first and the iPad App Store second – followed by the BlackBerry PlayBook, WP7 Marketplace, Palm App Catalogue, Nokia’s Ovi Store, Android Market, GetJar and lastly the BlackBerry App World. In terms of the growth of games in the app stores, only the iPhone App Store and GetJar saw a faster rate of growth for games – the others all saw the number of other applications growing at a faster rate.
It appears that Apple has finally decided to start forcing apps to abide by its new in-app purchase and subscription rules that became enforceable at the start of this month. It appears that the first big casualties will be the Wall Street Journal and Kobo apps. The Wall Street Journal has reported that their apps will soon remove all purchasing options from their apps and Kobo, the Canadian e-Book retailer, has already done something similar. Both apps had been linking users to their website to purchase subscription content which had been forbidden in Apple’s new rules, as detailed below.
Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchasing content to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected.
Neither app has or had been rejected, instead Apple seems to have opted to talk directly with Kobo and News Corporation, as both have or will soon be updating their apps to remove the offending links. Curiously both apps will not be using Apple’s own in-app purchasing system to allow users to purchase content or subscriptions. Both firms still feel as though the terms are too onerous, despite Apple relaxing the restrictions in June to allow content to be sold through the in-app purchasing at a different price. Previously the rules were going to require all subscription content to be available for purchase through the in-app system and at the same or lower price (despite Apple’s required 30% cut).
Kobo’s Mr. Serbinis said to the Wall Street Journal that roughly 50% of their iOS app users already bought content through their website, but that this change “will inconvenience those customers accustomed to buying their books directly from our apps on Apple devices”. Similarly, a News Corp spokeswoman said “We remain concerned that Apple’s own subscription [rules] would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms”. Both companies seem reluctant to offer in-app purchases and cede 30% of revenues to Apple, despite even being allowed to charge customers more if purchasing in this method. It follows other publishers such as The New York Times and various Conde Naste magazines, which have embraced Apple’s in-app subscriptions and purchases.
The National Gamers Survey, compiled by research firms Distimo and Newzoo from March data has revealed that there are roughly 63 million gamers on the iOS ecosystem who (individually) download, on average, 2.5 games per month. Games represent half of all apps downloaded across the iOS and Mac App Stores with more than 5 million games downloaded per day – based on the survey that included the US, UK and five other European countries. A clear majority of 4.6 million are downloaded for the iPhone or iPod Touch whilst just over 400,000 are for the iPad and just a sliver for the Mac with 41,000 per day.
The survey also revealed that in-app purchases within games is becoming an increasingly common feature found in games with revenue from in-app purchases also representing a large proportion of total revenues. 88% of the top 300 games on iOS are free, but across and free and paid games, two fifths of the revenue is now coming from in-app purchases. On the iPhone and iPod touch it represented 40% of gross revenue and 32% for the iPad. These high figures may give reason to why Lodsys has recently started to target developers that implement in-app purchases; it would certainly raise a lot of revenue if they received license fees from even just a portion of developers.
Some more statistical data about the spread of iOS devices was also revealed, noting that across some of the countries surveyed, including the US, UK, France and Germany, between 6% and 7% of the online population have an iPhone. Whilst of those iPhone users, between 50% and 75% play games. As for the iPad, the report claims 15 million Americans actively play games on it, whilst 7 million Europeans do so – exceeding the number of people using Sony’s PSP.
After a series of updates that brought fullscreen video calling with “dynamic quality” and cheap calls to landline and mobile phones, the latest version of video calling + IM service fring for iPhone, released earlier this week, allows users to switch between the rear and front-facing cameras. Like in Apple’s FaceTime, you can switch cameras with the tap of a button and show your friend on the other end what’s around you and what are you looking at.
Another new feature of fring 1.2 is the possibility to purchase fringOut credit using your iTunes account. The developers have complied to Apple’s terms and have enabled in-app purchases as the easiest way to buy additional call minutes without even leaving the app.
This update also includes bug fixes and “improved battery efficiency”, but it’s no universal yet. We don’t know if the fring developers are planning to release an iPad 2 version, but we think it’d be perfect to extend the service to other iOS devices. You can find fring for free in the App Store.
In an effort to drive more customers to its monthly subscription plans and experiment with the App Store distribution platform, the Wall Street Journal is launching “single-issue” downloads in its official iPad app, Paid Content reports. The option, not available yet in the free iPad app, will allow users to download a day’s WSJ content for $1.99 on their iPad, and according to Dow Jones’ digital head Alisa Bowen the new system will better invite users to subscribe to the full-access digital subscription plan. Single-issue downloads will offer a relatively cheap way to sample content and decide whether or not a full subscription is worth it.
There will be limitations in the single-issue downloads, but the WSJ hasn’t provided additional details. These new downloads won’t affect in any way the current $18 subscription that gives readers complete access to the WSJ website.
Right now, any current WSJ subscriber with a log-in can get full access—to the site and all the apps—and that won’t change. In addition, the WSJ recently began offering a digital bundle offer. Basically, for $3.99 per week, you can get full access to WSJ.com and its suite of digital products (iPad, Android Tablet Edition, iPhone and BlackBerry apps), all of which works out to roughly $17 with tax for a full month.
Bowen told me that she believes readers are more likely to subscribe once they had a taste of the content. But it’s not the first time they’ve tried that approach. For example, WSJ content is available for free to users who log on to Starbucks’ digital network as part of the coffee chain’s free wifi access.
Last week, controversy arose around the New York Times’ subscription plans that will force readers to choose between three different packages for website access, smartphone and tablet apps. Many think the NYT’s plans are too expensive and complex in differentiating between smartphones and tablets; it is unclear at this point whether the WSJ will consider a unified option for iPhone, iPad and Android users or take a similar approach to the NYT by launching different subscriptions across devices. The single-issues downloads are expected to be implemented with a new version of the iPad app, which was last updated in February.
Apple’s “Greedy and Unjustifiable” In-App Purchase Rules
Finally someone who gets the problems with Apple’s recently announced subscription / in-app purchase policy. Instapaper developer Marco Arment nails it:
But one argument that Apple should care about: this policy will prevent many potentially great apps, from many large and small publishers, from being created on iOS at all.
A broad, vague, inconsistently applied, greedy, and unjustifiable rule doesn’t make developers want to embrace the platform.
Android’s installed base is now large enough that a huge, compelling new service could launch exclusively on it. (It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s possible.) What if the developer of the next mobile killer app decides, for political or economic reasons like this, to release it only on Android?
A few curious paradoxes:
And what about a situation like Amazon’s Kindle app that will presumably be targeted for not selling Kindle books via IAP, even though Amazon’s catalog is so large that it surpasses Apple’s own limits on how many IAP items an app can register?
There are a lot of first- and third-party apps that access Salesforce, LinkedIn, and 37signals’ services, all of which have paid service tiers. Will all of these be removed from the App Store if they don’t build in IAP?
As Arnold Kim puts it, Apple’s policy is as clear as mud. I’ve said this earlier today in regards of the Readability rejection, and I’m going to say it again: it’s ridiculous to enforce IAP for “software as a service”. Not that Apple can’t: they have all the rights to do what they want with their platform. But it doesn’t make sense.
Apple needs to clarify many points of In-App Purchases for developers and content publishers, and quickly.
Following this morning’s news that Apple is officially launching App Store subscriptions for all developers, All Things Digital reports that a memo sent to publishers earlier this year indicates a June 30 deadline for developers to implement subscriptions in their content-based apps:
For existing apps already in the App Store, we are providing a grace period to bring your app into compliance with this guideline,” it reads. “To ensure your app remains on the App Store, please submit an update that uses the In App Purchase API for purchasing content, by June 30, 2011.
As John Paczkowski notes, this leaves 4 months to services like Hulu and Netflix to rebuild their apps to follow Apple’s rules and implement the new iOS subscriptions at the same price (or less) for all customers. Similar rules seem to apply to ebook reading applications: developers will need to update the apps to integrate Apple’s in-app purchases, where Apple takes its usual 30% cut. It is unclear, however, whether the memo refers to in-app purchases for single downloads (example: books in the Amazon Kindle books) or recurring subscriptions announced earlier today.