Mar 10th, 2011

It’s not often that I find myself criticizing Google and Android. That’s not to say they’re perfect, but most of the things they do are quite alright with me and I usually don’t care enough to say anything whenever I find the occasional oddity. There is just one issue I can’t keep quiet on, though: if I buy an app, I should be able to use it forever.

I recently strolled through my list of paid apps to see how they were doing in terms of updates and user reception. In my traversal, I came across three entries that I could no longer access: 360 Live (an Xbox Live application), Hello IM (a once-popular AIM client) and I Tweet – a Twitter client.

Upon tapping their entries, I’m met with a message that says “the requested item could not be found.” I know the exact reasons why these three applications are no longer available – Multiple Facets – the studio who made the Twitter and AIM clients – was added to Facebook’s team when they were working on their Android application. Their website no long exists.

Juan Xavier Larrea was the developer of 360 Live and his application was apparently pulled because he violated Microsoft’s terms of service. Odd, that, because the iPhone version of that same app is still available for free on the Apple App Store. I’m not saying he wasn’t telling the truth when pulling his application, but it’s fishy business regardless.

With a free application, a developer pulling it from the Android market isn’t so bad because you haven’t paid any hard-earned money for it. But I have a serious, serious problem with not being able to use or access something I’ve paid for. My sentiments are the exact same when dealing with iTunes and Amazon to download MP3s: if you lose your music in a freak accident, you’ll have to pay for it all over again. The problem with apps is that we don’t even have that option.

Google wants developers to make more money and they’ve implemented a lot of features and made a lot of changes to the Android market to help facilitate that, but it seems they forgot to consider those who help make developers their money in the first place – users!

Having experienced this first-hand, I can see why someone would instead prefer to pirate their applications. I’m not condoning it, of course, but I get where they’re coming from. I get why people are hesitant to buy games from GameLoft with such questionable DRM practices. I get why some people will refuse to download an application unless it’s free.

Google wants to protect developers, but they aren’t doing anything to protect users. I don’t care if an application is $.99 or $99.99 (there are some that have been that costly), I should not be at risk of losing it. The applications I bought were $2.99 (360 Live), $3.99 (I Tweet) and $9.99 (Hello IM). That comes out to nearly $17. I spent that much on a pizza yesterday, sure, but I was able to consume that pizza. I’m not able to use these apps anymore.

This hurts more than it helps. It doesn’t help at all, in fact. There was a point in time where I would so readily pay for an application that you couldn’t get me to put my wallet away. My friends still gawk at my list of paid apps wondering why I would dare spend money in the Android market. As an aspiring developer, I understand the amount of work and time that goes into making applications so I wouldn’t want anything else but to give developers what they deserve.

Now that I’ve seen how an application I’ve paid for can be taken away, I’m hesitant to buy more applications. There’s another Xbox Live application I could use to replace the one I’ve lost, but who’s to say it won’t happen again? The only app I’ve purchased in the past 3 months is PowerAmp, and that isn’t by accident. (It took me a long time to make that decision, too.)

I simply don’t feel comfortable dishing my dollars out in the Android market anymore. Imagine the taste you’re leaving in the mouths of tens (and maybe hundreds) of thousands of people who buy an application. That leaves a long-lasting negative effect.

There are a few changes I’d like to see in the Android market that helps users who purchase apps.

  • Users should be notified of the change via the same Google account that the app was purchased with. Sometimes these changes happen in the dark without anyone realizing it until they can’t find the application anymore. An email can be automatically sent to users whenever a developer expressly elects to remove their application from the Android market. The email should include a reason as to why the application was removed. (This text would be mandatory and you’d only need to write it up at the time of removal.) If Google has to remove an application for reasons other than security, they should also be subject to the same.
  • Users should receive refunds for those applications they’ve lost. I understand that – in other industries – you aren’t always entitled to keep what you pay for. When tangible items are lost or broken, a manufacturer won’t replace them or fix them without the user having met some sort of condition. (Whether it be them needing to be under warranty or them having to pay a premium to get things situated.) (Note: More on my reasoning can be found in the paragraphs following this list.)
  • The developer should be afforded the option to refuse refunds. We understand it may be logistically difficult, complicated, or impossible for a studio to refund all of the money users have paid for their application. In such a case, Google should give them a host of options. Firstly, developers can choose to make the application free for all to download and keep it in the Android market with a disclaimer that the application has been “abandoned” (in not so exact words). If they would rather their applications not be freely available to users, Google should continue to host the application and only allow users who have paid for it to see it in the Android market. (Again, it should hold a disclaimer letting users know that it won’t receive updates.)
  • Users should be afforded an option to remove that application listing from their list of applications. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to have to look at an application that you can’t use or can’t update anymore. It also takes up a lot of space in an already long list of applications.

With software – especially software that is downloaded over the air and that you are forbidden to make a copy of – things should be a bit different. In the music industry, Apple asks you to back up all of your music as there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to redownload all of it should you lose it.

There have been some cases where they allow users to redownload some or all of their songs, but they decide on a case-by-case basis. I think this is wrong and in the case of music, it’s just another reason why I’ll always prefer physical media over digital. It’s always a good idea to back things up, but Android doesn’t (natively) allow you to do this.

If you lose an application you’ve bought due to a software defect that requires a factory reset or a hardware defect that requires a new device and it isn’t available for download in the Market, users should be able to get their money back.Imagine a corporate employee losing the only $30 exchange application that’ll work with their employer’s servers – they’d probably need to get a whole new phone if they can’t find another application to replace it. (And $30 is pretty hard to swallow.)

This entire piece makes me sound like I think I’m entitled to something, but that’s not the message I’m trying to get across. I’m warning Google that failing to protect the people who make them AND the developers money in the first place could come back to bite them in the ass. Let’s just hope that they seriously consider this plea and do whatever they can to put paying customers at ease.