An in-app purchase snafu: Apple sets sail on the failboat

It’s been a while since I’ve noticed Apple doing something really dumb. But this was almost shoved in my face, so it was difficult to just pass it by without writing a brief commentary on it.

Jacob Gorban recently wrote and published a short piece about Apple’s new in-app purchases feature that left users annoyed, and left him and his company looking like thieves. From his post:

We started to receive support requests from customers that purchased the “unlock” feature [in an app called Cashculator] but the application was still acting as “locked”. All they saw was a message that the transaction failed, with a very descriptive “Unknown Error” message, and nothing more. The really appalling aspect of this was that they were charged for the purchase ($20 to $30 in our case) but the transaction was marked as failed, the reason being “unknown error”.

Needless to say, such behavior doesn’t make the customers happy about using your app, not at all. Some of them originally thought that they failed to purchase. Imagine how surprised they were to receive a receipt from Apple a day or two later for their “purchase” which didn’t work.

Jacob goes on to state that just a few days ago, Apple finally fixed this bug. And the app upgrades that had been purchased, mysteriously finally started working. You’d think that’s the end of the story, right? Wrong.

Apple never really ackowledged that there was an issue with this, didn’t close my bug report, didn’t delete all the 1-star reviews that angry customers left and didn’t compensate the affected developers for their financial loss. Nothing.
I’m really not happy with the opaque way in which Apple handled this. […] Having this issue for more than a month and keeping it secret, while developers and customers suffer the consequences is plain wrong.

In other words, Apple quietly fixed this, and never even acknowledged there was a problem. This is not the way any decent company operates. This is one reason (of many) why I do not trust Apple and do not buy or use their products. (I once had to edit a blog post on my mom’s iPad for Quinn’s Big City. It took a lot of willpower not to start screaming profanity in the middle of a coffee shop.)

In my opinion, the right way to handle this, was to immediately investigate the incident, issue a press release stating the problem, and Do The Right Thing for the customers (both the developers and the end users). I am reminded of Microsoft’s absolutely abysmal attitude towards security, taking days or weeks to even acknowledge there was an issue, during the turn of the century, an attitude which (thankfully) Microsoft has learned cannot be sustained going forward. I can only hope Apple learns the same lesson with regard to communication with its customers and acknowledgement of known bugs, especially when they relate to payment handling.

Shame on you, Apple. This is not fixed; the damage done to the reputations of developers who trusted you to do the right thing still needs fixing. And that’s not as simple as tweaking a few lines of code and recompiling.