Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Free Trials Aren’t Free Apps

Cabel Sasser:

It doesn’t matter how clear your terms are in your subscription app — and ours are CRYSTAL — some people will just breeze past them

Until Apple starts clearly labelling subscription terms IN THE APP STORE ITSELF, I think we’ll keep getting stuff like today’s BBB complaint 😌

It’s really unfortunate that Apple shoehorned trials into the IAP system, so that the store acts like they aren’t a thing. There should be standard UI, both in the store and in the app, for the common patterns.

Ben Sandofsky:

The top source of negative @halidecamera reviews, by far, comes from users who thought it was free.

We put a big disclaimer at the top of our App Store description, explaining it’s paid with a free trial. Nobody reads it.

This really needs to be fixed at the App Store UI level.


I talk to a ton of Indies who went freemium not because they want to, but out of fear of negative reviews from users. That’s no way to run a business.


The bizarre part is Apple’s whole brand is built around just paying for the product. You pay a premium on the hardware to avoid adware. Apple TV+ doesn’t have “free with ads.”

Unfortunately, that is changing.

Cabel Sasser:

I’m going to reveal to you my ultimate secret. See screenshot.

  • Reduces zero-stars by giving an instant outlet for anger!
  • Is hooked up to an auto-responder that has a link to the full-price Transmit, which we can’t link in the app!

Netflix does something similar.

Update (2021-03-09): Ryan Jones:

Why does News+ have Ads? 😡


Mortgage rates

Jeff Johnson:

In the past couple of days, news sites such as ZDNet and iMore have reported that macOS can display a notification advertising Safari when you first launch Microsoft Edge. It turns out that this “feature” actually appeared first in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, as described in an old blog post by Daniel Aleksandersen, an engineer for the web browser Opera. The Safari advertisement can occur with any alternative web browser, such as Opera, not just with Microsoft Edge. Ironically, it can occur even with Apple’s own Safari Technology Preview! I’ve discovered reliable steps to reproduce the advertisement, using the information from Aleksandersen’s blog post.

Tim Hardwick:

Apple’s advertising system for monetizing its apps and services is the target of a new complaint in France that has been brought against it by a lobby group representing startups and venture capital firms (via Bloomberg).


The group said it had acted because Apple’s system doesn’t ask for the user’s permission to receive the targeted ads, which are enabled by default.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

I just bought the weather app Windy’s premium service via IAP. It said it comes with a 14 day trial. But I was billed immediately. Haven’t had a chance to contact Apple support for a refund yet. This is out of control how many apps lie about their subscriptions. Another app I recently downloaded said it had a 30 day trial, but the confirmation email from Apple said 14 days until I would be charged.

Apple doesn’t care because nobody at Apple is being paid to care. Everyone’s job is pleasing their bosses, not their customers.

That top-down Command and Control model worked terrifically under Jobs, because making fantastic customers was Job’s singular goal; thus by working to please Jobs, every employee at Apple was delivering that. It doesn’t work under Cook because Cook is not a people person. He measures internal efficiency, fat revenues, and glowing shareholders as his goals.

Until that policy changes nothing else will. It’s also not a sustainable model.

The first risk is that somebody else starts offering significantly better service, motivating Apple customers to switch to that. Given the only competition here is Alphabet+Android, who also do not distinguish themselves, Apple’s not-giving-a-crap isn’t nearly as damaging to its bottom line as it really deserves to be. That’s a problem with duopolies: if one party isn’t making any effort, the other has no motive to make an effort either.† In Apple’s case, so long as nothing else changes, it’s safest to sit comfily on its stable 25% of the market than start a bloody knife fight with A+A by trying to increase that share.

The second risk is the top talent’s eventually going to walk for more promising ventures while the deadwood gets ever more firmly wedged in. Nobody advances her career and reputation by phoning it in day after day just to keep the bosses off her neck. And mediocre bosses do not hire great underlings, because they don’t want anyone on their staff who’s eventually going to take their jobs from them. A more modular, stakeholder-led, internal structure provides rising talent with opportunities for internal advancement: prized positions in which they have great latitude to really make an industry name for themselves.

A lot of these recurring complaints around AppStore et al are embarrassingly low-hanging fruit too, offering modest but fast wins to whoever has courage to grab them first.

Sure there’s a gamble involved, and not every bet will pay out. But that’s the point of creating managed risks. It’s the reason why SpaceX just landed its first Starship prototype while SLS at 100x the price has yet to depart the ground. Steve Jobs’ Apple could afford to have its periodic G4 Cubes. And even where they did fail they also succeeded: by advancing company and customer aspirations so far ahead of where they were before, while everyone else in the world was playing constant catchup.

But Apple under Cook is so risk-averse it is painful. When’s the last time a billion people on this planet were wowed and excited as one by an Apple product announcement? They’ll never get that spark back if they don’t start rebuilding from the inside out, from the top down and from bottom up.

Damn but I miss the Steve Jobs 2.0 years. Those were a masterclass in how to sell. Tragic that he failed to grow enough of that culture to survive him.


† If anyone really wants to make the legislative case for third-party app stores, that’s the wedge argument you need to deploy. Trust is the product here, not software, and third-parties who want to succeed at the top-end the app store market can do it by selling better trust. The bottom end, of course, will most likely turn into a scam-filled cesspit; but the consumers get what they pay for and a lot don’t want to pay for crap.

Sandofsky: “We put a big disclaimer at the top of our App Store description, explaining it’s paid with a free trial. Nobody reads it.”

Yeah, no, that’s never going to work. No-one reads passive text. You must be proactive.

That means you contact the customer direct, by email and/or app notification, as soon as they install/first run, welcoming them to their APP trial from today to DATE. (And say it in 10 words or less, because no-one will read if they have to scroll.)

Then, on approaching the end of the trial period, notify them again by the same mechanisms in the same number of words, saying you hope they’re loving the app, and do they want to continue using it past end-of-trial, Yes/No? If they click Yes, tell them they will be charged $X [weekly/monthly/yearly] by AppStore starting on DATE, with a “You can stop this subscription at any time” link. If they click No, go straight to the instructions on how to end it now. Short clear simple directed steps to one or other target. No equivocation.

You’ll still get some idiots who blindly click Yes and then complain when billed, but you can show them the positive steps you took to be a professional and courteous vendor, and ask what you can do to make it better.


Yes, Apple should provide a single, standard mechanism which quickly trains users how to use it. But as we’ve noted this Apple doesn’t give a crap for anything except separating the suckers from their cash. Maybe once vendors all arrive at a pattern that works they can shame Apple into finally lifting a finger (but don’t count on it).

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