In-App Purchases for iOS games. It’s a bit of a sensitive topic really, not many people like them at all, and quite a few people hate them and the impact they have had on the iOS games market. But today I want to explore the reason for their prevalence and explain why it has become an important part of the market for developers. I also want to reframe the discussion from one of “In-App Purchases are a problem” to one where we consider how they are being used and what developers could do to improve their implementation.
Below the break is Part 1: The Economics, in which I tackle the reason for their prevalence and importance in the iOS games market. Following that is Part 2: “Developers and Goodwill To Customers” in which I discuss how they are being used and perhaps what might be some best practices.
It’s not hard to talk about the latest and greatest features of Instacast 2.0 when the developer has dutifully written his own epic walkthrough of his app’s new features. Instead of having to decipher release notes and a summary of bullet point features, Martin Hering of Vemedio has already published an in-depth write-up of everything “version two” has to offer, which includes a couple pro-tips here and there for those who aren’t skimming paragraphs and looking for bolded words. The mini-manual will be a handy reference for getting adjusted to Instacast’s tap-and-hold friendly UI and advanced features.
With the features already explained in great detail, I don’t feel the need to recap everything Instacast 2.0 has to offer or explain how it works, but I do want to share some of my experiences with the app post-upgrade. There are lots of little changes that have been made and thus lots of little habits that had to be relearned. While some of the changes take some getting used to, others have been improved upon so well that I could not think of going back to an older Instacast. Upgraded player controls, playlists, and bookmarks add a new pro-layer of control without dampening the player’s aesthetic or user experience. Additional sharing features strive to strengthen online discussion around podcasts thanks to commenting and an HTML5 audio player.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the past few days over Apple, its In-App Purchase (IAP) policy, and Dropbox after it rejected a few apps that employed Dropbox functionality because they offered links to the Dropbox website for signing up and logging in. At issue was that the option to buy a higher level of storage was also visible, and this contravened one of the App Store Review Guidelines. Some viewed this as Apple trying to kill (or at the very least, target) Dropbox – but as Federico explained, this was just Apple enforcing one of their existing policies.
After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to the position that perhaps that policy isn’t the right one. So I decided to play the devil’s advocate, and try to argue the case for Apple adjusting their policy. Specifically my argument focuses on Apple’s policy going something like:
Apps may use external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in an app, but only when those purchase mechanisms are undertaken in a web view within the app.
That could probably be further clarified in more simplistic language, but you get the general idea of what I’m proposing. The current policy prohibits any link to purchases or subscriptions that are undertaken through external mechanisms (ie. not IAP); I suggest that this should be allowed. So let’s quickly go through the benefits of the current policy and arguments for relaxing the policy. Read more
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.
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.
[Via The Wall Street Journal]
TUAW reports a number of iOS developers have been unable for over a week now to get their in-app purchase content approved by Apple, as the company requires in the iTunes Connect developer portal to test IAP with a test user account, but this account has been offline with no explanation from Apple.
As a matter of policy, Apple requires developers to test in-app purchases (IAP) with a test user account before the application in question can be approved. Unfortunately, this test account has been offline for a week now with no word as to why. If you are a developer, you can see the relevant thread on Apple’s own developer forums here.
Whilst the impossibility to test in-app purchases and thus get the additional content approved may simply be a technical error on Apple’s side, it looks rather curious considering the recent debate surrounding Lodsys and its patent infringement claims against independent iOS developers. As TUAW notes, this can be a simple coincidence that has nothing to do with Lodsys, but The Guardian reported yesterday Apple was “actively investigating” the claims that hit iOS devs, so there’s a chance Apple might have suspended IAP approvals before a decision is made.
If you’re a developer and have encountered a similar error, let us know in the comments. More information is available on the Dev Forums.
Update: the iTunes Connect Developer Guide was updated on 5/11 including some changes to in-app purchases, but we can’t confirm whether these changes are related to the inability of testing in-app purchases with a test user account. The ITC Developer Guide can be found here.
Improvements to In-App Purchase creation and edit flow. The Manage Your In-App Purchases module is no longer available on the homepage of in iTunes Connect. In-App Purchases can now be managed from the app summary page for a specific app within the Manage Your Applications module.
Update #2: TUAW reports the issue seems to be resolved.