Apple’s Full Employment for Data Entry Workers Act

Talking with a colleague from Cocoaheads Ann Arbor last night, I stumbled across an even bigger objection to Apple’s new “must offer in-app purchase if app content is available elsewhere” rule, beyond those that I covered in In-App Purchase and Rent Seeking.

The problem is that to make something available for in-app purchase, you need to create an I-AP product for it in iTunes Connect. In this web interface, you enter a product ID, a description in whatever languages you want to support, and set a price. To get approved by apple, you also have to submit a screenshot of the purchased product in the application.

Apparently, the web interface is the only way to create products.

And if you’re thinking “that doesn’t scale”… well, yeah, that’s what we suddenly realized. If you’re Amazon, and you have 810,000 Kindle books, does Apple seriously expect you to submit all 810,000 of those, one at a time, and with screenshots, via the ITC web interface?

Even if that’s possible, even if you think that content providers won’t utterly balk at the impracticality of it, let’s tease this out a little further. Add in the hundreds of thousands (or millions?) of titles available for the Barnes and Noble Nook. And 20,000 Netflix streaming titles, and so on… how on Earth is Apple seriously going to review and approve all these products? If we just assume 2,000,000 products need to be added by the June 30 deadline, and we assume each could be reviewed in about five minutes, then that’s 12 products per person-hour, meaning Apple would need over 160,000 person hours just to approve all these products. Divide again by 8-hour days and 130 days between now and June 30, and they’d need 160 employees doing nothing but reviewing I-AP products for this to work.

This, clearly, is madness.

The benign and simplest explanation for all of this is that Apple has painted itself into a corner, that it hasn’t really thought through all these issues. And if that’s the case, something will have to give: a bulk-submission tool, lax review of products, or (ideally) an abandonment of the new rent-seeking policy.

Conspiracy theorists could also pick up this ball and run with it: the premise that Apple is using an unreasonable and unworkable I-AP system to get content providers off the platform, leaving Apple as the sole seller of books and movies and such on iOS (while still being able to say “hey, they’re the ones who bailed on the platform”), is arguably consistent with the facts. I think it’s implausible… but not impossible.

I have to acknowledge one thing has gotten better: the new auto-renewing subscriptions are restored by -[SKPaymentQueue restoreCompletedTransactions], meaning it’s now actually practical to get a user’s new iOS device to recover subscriptions purchased with their iTunes account on previous devices. This is what I was complaining about in bug 7470096, and the new purchase type looks a lot more practical and thought-out. I feel like I should update Road Tip to use these subscriptions (and therefore gain restorability across devices), but anytime I touch that code, it’s throwing good money after bad, so it will be hard to justify for any reason other than shame that the current version is so compromised by the impracticality of the old I-AP subscriptions.

Comments (3)

  1. One problem I’ve had using in-app purchases is that when you try to restore the user’s purchases using -restoreCompletedTransactions, a dialog box pops up asking the user to enter their iTunes ID. This, to me, is an unacceptable user experience: user enters their credentials, downloads your app, starts it, and then is once again prompted for credentials. So you have to put in a button for users to restore transactions. I wish there were a way to do it without the authentication prompt.

  2. Re: comment 1: you’re exactly right about the annoying login/nag behavior that comes with restoring. Some of the first I-AP apps quietly attempted to restore on every launch, and then quickly thought better of it after users were badgered for their iTunes password for no apparent reason. Using a “restore” button kind of shows the man behind the curtain, but restoring is such a rare action, maybe it’s best to make it something the user explicitly needs to seek out.

  3. […] more nugget about the I-AP subscription dustup (my previous blogs: 1, 2), particularly for all you conspiracy theorists who loves you some nefarious […]

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