Wk25: Pay Your Money Down – the fear of the Scam App Store.

Some Apps are no better than a pick pocket

I am scared to buy Apps. For one really simple reason. In-App purchases.

Perhaps I’m being overly paranoid. But so many Apps on the App-Store tell horror stories of fraud and swindle, it’s hard to not be scared.

Take the Smurfs. A quite high profile case. It is nothing but a swindle. Bright colours for kids, with up to $100 of in app purchases. Buy for free for your kids, and the kids will click on pretty things that are charged to your credit card.

It is an absolute scam. It makes me wary of buying Apps. It’s a surprising move for Apple. And it raises questions about the quality of the Apps in the App Store and Apple’s approach to pricing policy.

Some Apps to avoid like the plague.

Smurf’s Village. Who the hell owns the trademark for the Smurfs? Why would they let people shit on their brand like that? It’s a very typical version of this scam. A simple, inane game. Aimed at children. During this game, you need some sort of element – in this case “Smurfberries”. You can acquire some for free. But the game prompts you to buy them. Like pop-up ads, they are deliberately confusing. And you’re a quick click away from spending $60.

Pokerist is another one. This one is based around poker. Very simple – buy chips to play. The odds are so stacked against you anyway, you have to buy chips to keep up. This is nothing but a pokie machine, with no regulations. And more expensive and more confusing to understand when you’ve spent money.

The really evil ones are the kids one. Fashion Story is designed to trap young impressionable girls. You have to buy “gems” at every step to continue the game.

Lots of “farm” and “animal” apps – growing something and cute characters. Zoo Story. Farm Story. Zombie Farm. All free to enter. All aimed at kids. All aimed at your credit card.

In fact, just go to the App Store and look at Top Grossing Apps. And then see which ones are free.

So, don’t buy them eh?

That’s fine to a point. And it’s that we have these Apps that are designed to steal your money, just hanging around. And there’s already cases where some people have ,managed to install Apps without their knowledge. Sure, it’s not easy to do and you were probably napping, but however it gets on your device, it could have you. And you wouldn’t even notice.

Now, some caveats. Here’s how it actually works.

You buy an App on iTunes. You buy with, with everything else on iTunes, with your credit card, protected by a password. Then for the next 15 minutes, you don’t need a password again.

Initially, in-app purchases were not allowed for Free Apps. Why this has changed is beyond me. It would solve all the problems with this scam.

There is a new App industry. The In-App Swindle. It kills the image of the App-Store. Apple claims to have a competitive advantage over other phone platforms because of the number of Apps they have. But a majority are Scam Apps.

The whole point of this blog is to bring new ideas to light. And calling out this credit card scam seems to be curbed from all angles. And I’m giving them a name – Scam Apps.

Why can’t we call this a scam?

First fight is on the App-Store itself. Many of these Scam Apps have paid stooges who give it five star reviews, despite hundreds of one star ones. So these Scam Apps are hard to spot from within the store. A good solution to this would be an eBay feedback model. A simple positive or negative rating. Too many negative ratings can easily flag someone for a scam.

But maybe it’s not in Apple’s interests to do so. They have quietly refunded some people who have been ripped off – which seems to be a clear sign that something is wrong. But they have yet to get rid of these Scam Apps.

It’s a store after all. And everyone is making money. And these Scam Apps are making a killing – definitely enough to make a difference to Apple’s marketshare figures. They make a cut of every In-App purchase too.

Nowhere is this clearer than the fact there even is a Top Grossing Chart. They have a Top Paid chart app, but this is for Apps that have made a killing from In-App purchases. Those Apps that have no In-App stuff, well, they would be in the Top Paid Apps Chart, no?

And in these Right Wing times, it seems like it’s not OK to take people to task for making money in any way. These people found a way to outsmart you, they deserve your money. It is one of the things you see in comments, possibly from paid stooges. A “you deserve it” attitude.

There’s also an anti-App buyers attitude. A real “well if you can afford an iPad, you can afford to get ripped off a thousand dollars”. And even better – “shouldn’t have bought an iPad at all”. And the good ol’ “computers are not for kids” one. Oh and let’s not forget “First world problem”.

Really unhelpful, missing the point and all it does is put money in the pockets of scamsters.

Ok. So there are valid uses for the In-App purchase.

In fact, this tech was likely invented for one industry alone – magazines. And then there are various plug-ins and upgrades that would qualify. But anyone and everyone can hide a little buy button, anywhere in the App, and swindle you. Yes, there are notifications now, but people don’t know what they are – they are trying to avoid Apps that do that too much to identify them.

Shopping at the App Store as it stands right now is much like a markets at Las Ramblas. You are constantly looking for pick-pockets.

And it’s not just Apple. They are the biggest store so they deal with these issues. And less Apps on other platforms means there’s less people to keep an eye on. But security around those stores are even worse than Apple. Android has already had a high profile App scam.

Apple also seems to be setting the precedent on how Apps work. So it is essential they address this soon. Or this whole App thing will become $2 shop fodder. Cheap, shoddy products that is likely a scam.

There are answers. Don’t make Apps with In-App purchases free. Sure, I can see how Marvel comics wants their reader to be free and to charge for their books. But charge me 99 cents for the reader. Or do a LITE version that is free with a selection of Free books to hook me in. In short – FREE should be FREE.

Apps with In-App purchases should be clearly marked. With a big dollar sign. They are a different sort of App. Tell people they are only buying into part of something.

Clearer negative feedback will improve the quality of the store. I have a lot to say about the quality of Apps (in regards to music), but that is for a later time. But the star system is irrelevant and too easily swayed.

And be careful of ANY Free App you buy. Look on the left of your screen for what is the In-App purchases available.

Finally, there needs to be an attitude change. This shit is not OK. I can’t believe the shit we put up with. Leave bad feedback. Email developers. Warn your friends. Demand your money back. Kick back. For God’s sake. They are stealing our money right our of our pockets.

Smurfs swindling $1400 – http://www.tuaw.com/2011/02/09/smurf-it-all-to-smurf-in-app-purchases-ring-up-1-400-in-charge/

Android App security holes – http://www.informationweek.com/news/security/vulnerabilities/229218789

In-App Purchases Driving Top Grossing Apps –  http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2032615/-app-purchases-driving-grossing-apps

 

 

Bands: There's an app for that

The Grateful Dead App

As innovative as the iPhone is/was, it’s the world of Apps that really make it special. It’s taken computing power back to being practical, and for the first time in a long time, not about the internet. As people launch more and more apps, it’s no surprise to find many bands launching their own iPhone apps.

So why are so many of them so shit?

Trawling around, we’re finding dozens of them. But the great thing about the App world is functionality, and many of these band’s apps are glorified webpages.

Calendars, News, About pages…what’s the point. When you have the internet on your phone? The worse are band apps that have Galleries. Galleries! This isn’t a mid 90s CD-Rom. Did you forget the screensaver?

Which is actually the point of this article. Too many of these apps feel like mid 90s CD-Rom programs. A bit of music, maybe a game, some photos, the lyrics… which may well be fine. But this is an app, something you keep on your phone. Not a CD-Rom that is there when you feel like listening to that record.

And why do we need band applications at all? Want to listen to music? There are lots of ways of doing that on the phone. Spotify‘s subscription will cost you less than buying all those band apps. And then there’s growth. We love a lot of music. But are we going to have to get every one of those band’s apps on our phones? If they start offering exclusives of some sort, we might have to. Or more likely, we’ll give up being a super fan because it’s too hard. We will be excluded.

So, we’re yet to be convinced by any band’s app. We’re struggling to see the point. And unless someone has a great idea, we will see it die alongside the mid 90s CD-Rom.

For the record – the band apps I’m looking at for this article are Wilco, REM, Belle And Sebastian, Pearl Jam, Grateful Dead, Pink, 311, Alice In Chains, Death Cab For Cutie, and more. If there is a good one we may have missed.

Has Apple Forgotten the iPod?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple‘s announcements this week are all over the web. At their annual WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), they touted new MacBook Pros, iPhones and more. But what about for the pop culture fan? Somehow it seems like Apple is leaving them behind.

When the iPhone was announced, it was a combination of a phone, a net browser and an iPod. Since launch, the interface of that iPod has, really, not changed.

Amongst the highly tech-y new announcements were some things that relate to pop culture.

1. The new Quicktime X. Looks quite interesting, and is set to launch in September with the new operating system. We like the look of it, and lets face it, there is no GREAT video player at the moment. We mix about with the current Quicktime, VLC, Windows Media Player, iTunes for some, our DVD playing program (add YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more – wouldn’t it be great if that was all in one screen?). It looks a lot neater and nicer, but will it do much more than the existing quicktime? With Apple doing such great business on video in the US, it would be great to see them lead in this area. But hey, anyone else who wants to take the crown here, we welcome you.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/07/a_peek_at_apples_new_quicktime_x_interface.html

2. Line 6/Planet Waves unveiled a new application for guitarists. It’s basically an all in one guitar amp simulator. Pretty cool, but is there a line out? I can’t imagine people using their phones over a decent piece of music gear. Especially as they botched the presentation. We couldn’t tell if that was a real guitar or some new piece of hardware. Coolest thing though – setting the tuning of your guitar on the phone.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/06/08/iphone_os_3_0_app_highlights_tomtom_gps_line_6_more.html

3. We can now buy and rent TV shows and movies from iTunes over 3G on the iPhone. If only they weren’t over priced already, and if only I didn’t have to pay data charges on top of that. Fail.

4. The new iPhone operating system promised a hundred new features, only some of which were presented. Maybe there is new functionality in the iPod side of things but we wont know til June 17th when it’s released.

It’s clear that Apple‘s current success and acclaim started with one product – the iPod. They took full advantage, but it seems like in recent years they have forgotten about the poor iPod. Last year’s changes amounted to very little. Genius has been given a lukewarm response. It will be interesting come September to see what changes Apple brings to the iPod line. Or is the iPod over? And the gaming/internet/all-in-one device like the iPhone going to rule us all? We don’t know, but we don’t know many people who use their iPhones over their iPod, especially if they need more that 16GB.

There seemed like hundreds and hundreds more announcements from Apple during their WWDC. There’s great coverage over at Apple Insider – http://www.appleinsider.com/

and hey, we took our image from the great site gadget site Gizmodo.

Spotify/Cloud Computing – it's our forecast

Spotify - now in the clouds

Spotify - now in the clouds

Spotify, a European streaming/subscription service, has been making quite a bit of noise in the last year. Still in Beta, it’s been greeted with critical acclaim. We’ll discuss it in more detail in one of our upcoming Wednesday Web columns. This week, Spotify announced their latest innovation – their first App.

It does everything you’d expect. You can access music from your phone, streamed. It has all your preferences saved, including all your playlists. Also, the thing looks great.

Currently demo’d on a mobile phones that runs on the Google Android OS, an iPhone version has long been in the works as well. We can’t imagine it’s too far behind. Neither are available yet.

The ramifications are clear. As phone data services gets better and better, smartphones becoming more ubiquitous and more music becomes available online – you can almost see that sci fi world where anyone can listen to anything, any time, anywhere. The ultimate music library.

Which brings us onto cloud computing – THE buzz idea for the internet this year. People are holding less and less on their computers, and more in the mythical cloud. The Spotify App is a big win for those who believe this is the future. We are almost in that boat ourselves.

That ties in nicely with the biggest model for could computing there is – Gmail. Gmail (and Yahoo Mail and Hotmail et al) keeps all your emails online for you to access from your phone, your home computer, your work computer, your friend’s phone, the free net access at the library – just about anywhere. And ever so slowly, we’re moving our music, videos and documents into this cloud.

Gmail‘s owners are of course Google. It’s Google‘s I/O conference in the last few days that have sparked off all this news. And today they added some of their own – Google Wave. It’s almost too big for us to digest. It’s mail, it’s Twitter, it’s IM, it’s cloud computing – and it’s blowing our socks straight off into the washer. We can’t wait to see the real thing next year.

Find out more about Google Wave here – http://mashable.com/2009/05/28/google-wave/

Video demo of Spotify App after the jump.

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Wilco (the OK iPhone App)

Wilco (the band photo)

Wilco (the band photo)

We are still pretty excited about Wilco (the Album), the seventh album by the Chicago outfit Wilco. Last week they released a stream of their album in response to the album leaking. They have a great track record for being proactive with fans. There’s usually entire gigs streaming off the site.

So it’s no surprise that Wilco are joining the iPhone app club. It’s a pretty basic app – a recreation of the band’s website essentially. Instead of bieing knocked out be the functionality or originality, we are struck by how standard this is.

EVERY BAND SHOULD BE DOING THIS.

We are expecting to see more of these. More and more mid level bands are getting into iPhone Apps. And there are now many companies who can build you something on the cheap. The flood is still on the way.

It’s a start for Wilco. Now their fans (of which many are super-dedicated) now have another way to communicate directly with fans. Maybe it will follow on the great stuff Nine Inch Nails did with their iPhone app. The NIN one is loaded with music, videos and I can even find NIN fans near me right now. Shockingly cool.

That said, there is a now a NIN branded iPhone game, a version of Tap Tap Revenge. There is also Coldplay and Dave Matthews Band versions. What these do for anyone, we don’t know.

Wilco iPhone App – here

Nine In Nails iPhone App – here

UPDATE: We were sad to hear about Jay Bennet. RIP.

Trent Reznor: A primer

Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor

We haven’t really listened to his music since the Downward Spiral. But we still follow Trent Reznor’s career as a pioneer in the digital playground. The man is in the press a lot. So, follow us as we take a stroll through some of Trent Reznor’s other greatest hits.

1. NIN Access – the Nine Inch Nails iPhone App. It’s pretty great actually. Solid, well made, with plenty of news, videos, forums, messages and more. Pioneering but not groundbreaking, this app is so fantastically functional it should be standard for bands.

2. Even after the success of the app, he’s not resting quiet. Just this week, he’s been a vocal critic of Apple’s app store rejection policies.

3. Attacking Chris Cornell on Twitter. The man even uses the latest tech to insult his contemporaries. The full tweet -“You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus,”.

4. Forget a t-shirt or a sticker. The tie-in for the album Year Zero was a video game.

5. He’s going to go down as a pioneer of direct-to-fan packages. His last album, the Slip, was announced on his website and sold 250K limited edition versions.

6. Beyond the deluxe versions, he offers his albums five different audio formats. The lowest quality is VBR V0 MP3, followed by two lossless formats, FLAC and Apple Lossless. Also released were 24-bit, 96 kHz FLAC and WAV files. And why the hell not.

7. He produced Saul William’s 2007 album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! He also distributed by his standard new age method. It was offered both for free in a low quality version and a paid version for high quality. And complained loudly when no one paid for the better one.

8. When he saw the prices of the CDs in Australia, he openly attacked his record company from the stage. He actively encouraged his fans to steal his music. The man is a rebel.

9. Alongside the regular studio albums, there’s more experimental pieces like Ghosts I-IV and remix albums like Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D

10. Hey, and somehow the man found time to get engaged to his sweetheart Mariqueen Maandig of West Indian Girl (and looks like he saw the Star Trek movie too).

Bonus 11th point! His new collaboration with Jane’s Addiction is called…NINJA. So great.

So, Trent Reznor, we salute you for being such a crazy new age old coot. Congratulations for the wedding. Give us more madness soon.