The freemium model seems to be on the rise in mobile apps these days, with many developers finding what they deem a “winning formula” in the practice. Android and iOS developers believe that, without free downloads, users would never encounter their apps – and would likely never spend money once they downloaded the app. Some users prefer to pay out-of-pocket and avoid all the numerous in-app purchases, but free downloads are what developers aim for. At the end of the day, they want their apps in the hands of consumers, whether or not they care to spend money for them.
While Android and iOS developers are responsible for their unique apps that exist within the Google Play Store and iOS App Stores, respectively, it is ultimately the owners of the Play Store and App Store, Google and Apple, that’re responsible for the failure or success of the in-app purchase model. The EU Commission has finally had its say about the matter, having approached both Google and Apple this past Friday about the issue. The EU mandates in its new in-app laws that only apps with optional in-app purchases can be stated as “free.” In apps where one must purchase cars, additional accessories, or other things in order to play the game, the designation “free” shouldn’t be provided.
The EU applauded Google’s efforts to distinguish its free apps from apps with in-app purchases. Google intends to set its free apps apart from “freemium” apps that come with in-app purchases so that parents can now know whether or not an app is fully free or freemium. Google’s also required the authorization of payments before every app purchase so that parents are aware that a purchase for their child(ren) may require payment.
Last but not least, Google’s doing what it can to alert developers on the problems within their apps and what needs changing so that Android developers can be in full compliance with the European Commission law. Google’s got some other changes it intends to make by September 2014, looking to rectify this problem immediately and fully comply with the EU’s ruling. Apple, on the other hand, hasn’t proposed any solutions about how to solve the in-app purchase dilemma, despite the fact that both Google and Apple were directed to provide tangible solutions to the EU as of last December (7 months ago).
An Apple spokesperson responded to the Friday hearing by pointing out the measure that Apple’s already taken to help parents avoid unknown in-app purchases with their children: “Over the last year we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked. We’ve also created a Kids Section on the App Store with even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13.”
Apple has tossed around some things it can do to help with the in-app purchase EU rules, such as providing an email address to be contacted in the event that an in-app violation is discovered, and has even considered appointing a team to deal with violation notifications – but Apple’s not proposed a specific timeframe for these objectives to be accomplished. Apple’s new Family Sharing feature proposed for iOS 8 now allows parents to be aware of all of their children’s purchases, with Apple even going so far as to require parents (on a separate iDevice) to approve their child’s purchase before the device is downloaded onto the child’s iPad, for example.
Even with the new Family Sharing feature, however, there’s still a way for parents to remain ignorant about which apps require in-app purchases and which do not. When a parent sees the word “free” beside an app they intend to download, they can’t know whether or not the app requires purchases post-download. Apple’s added an “in-app purchases” notice, but the EU ruled Friday that these words are smaller than “free” and can be easily overlooked when downloading an app.
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The EU Commission intends to continue to monitor the situation and talk with Apple to make sure that new measures are implemented on iOS. At the same time, however, some who are monitoring this situation believe that all was well once upon a time, when apps required an out-of-pocket price. The freemium model has been adapted by a number of companies and developers, but it essentially allows them to charge ridiculous amounts for something small within the app (we’re looking at you Rovio, with your too expensive $17 and $49.95 car purchases within Angry Birds! Go).
What do you think? Is the EU blowing this whole kids in-app purchase issue out of the water, or is there something illegitimate about claiming that an app is “free” when in-app purchases are necessary to unlock certain components of the app?