I tried to be open-minded about in-app purchases. I really did. I want developers to be able to make a buck, and I was willing to accept that the current system is a necessary — if annoying — way for the app market to function.
That all changed at about quarter to midnight the evening before my son was born.
Every good story deserves a villain. The offender in this case is the creator (or creators) of an app called Contraction Monitor Free. This is an app which is in the “free” section, and if you’re a pregnant woman with a lot on your mind who’s looking for some way to track your contractions in a hurry, you might think it belongs there. It’s quite important to track the time between each one and their duration, because when they get down to a certain frequency it’s time.
How upset do you think you’ll be when you discover, as you go to put in your twentieth contraction, that you have to make an in-app purchase to keep using the thing?
I can’t speak from experience, but I’m assured (and oh, I believe it) that right when the contraction starts to ramp up is exactly the moment in time when you are least capable of making a rational decision about anything. It’s at this precise moment, far enough into your contractions that you’re really starting to feel ‘em, that the app decides to say, “hey, lets slow this down, would you like to keep on recording these contractions? Cross my palm with silver and we’ll talk about it.”
There is a place in Dante’s Hell right under Satan’s hairy armpit for developers who make apps like this.
And yet this is a strategy that really works. This app is an aberration, but it’s a pretty commonplace one. I’d venture to guess that a majority of the apps in the store employ some version of the technique above in order to drive sales.
The problem with in-app purchases is not that it allows users to test apps before they buy them, or that it allows developers to offer more granular sets of features (“get the add-on filter pack for $2!”) These are good things.
The problem is that the current system is geared to reward deceit on the part of the developer. It’s no surprise that apps like Contraction Monitor Free exist: the app store is set up to enable them to flourish.
I don’t have a complete solution for fine-tuning the market to make the best apps float to the top and the crappy ones dwindle and die. But one thing I’d suggest is this: maybe if an app is marked as “free”, but you have to pay to actually use it, it shouldn’t make it through the review process. A hotdog is not free if you have to pay to do anything other than hold it in your hand. An app is not free if you’re holding users to ransom, relying on sunk-cost fallacy to make the sale.
Something about the App Store stinks, and I think it’s time Apple started checking their closets for dead cats. I think they can afford to lose a little revenue to get rid of this nonsense.
We ended up using Labor and Contraction Monitor ($1.99) which did the job reliably without any frills. I’d recommend it for anyone who doesn’t have a couple of hours to sift through all the many iterations of “time my contractions” apps that are out there in search of the perfect one.
Published on January 14th, 2014