Apple's App Store "No Refunds" Policy Under Fire

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Apple, famous for customer friendliness, says it does not give refunds on iPhone app purchases. Regardless of reason, save technical issues with the download itself. Mere buyer's remorse does not count.

However, suppose the app simply does not work? Does that merit a refund? Apparently not, according to a blog post today at the New York Times.

That is the situation I am in. Moreover, as iPhone apps become more expensive, the downside of a purchase mistake has grown. And with two billion downloads, the App Store has become a major software reseller. It's customers deserve better.

"None of this may matter if the most expensive app you’ve downloaded is a 99-cent virtual beer glass. Once the novelty wears off, most people can live with the financial loss. But asking people to spend $100 on an app that they have not had the opportunity to try out and can’t return may limit the popularity of the app," Times writer Eric Taub said in the post.

In my case, I purchased a communications app that has never worked for me or for a number of other customers, especially after the 3.1 iPhone software upgrade. The developer is aware of the problem--many posts to his Web site--and keeps promising a solution. He blames Apple for ignoring him, but continues taking people's money.

I have complained to Apple, and you would think they would notice the bad reviews the application is getting; yet, the non-working is still for sale.

Granted, $1.99 is not going to ruin me, but if the app is downloaded enough times, the developer makes a nice income on something customers cannot actually use.

Apple says that the wide range of reviews and comments in the App Store ought to keep people from buying something they do not like. That might be true of the reviews were encyclopedic and the comments did not tend conflict with one another.

There are three things Apple needs to do:

First, the company needs to allow developers to offer limited-use editions of applications for free, so that customers can try before they buy.

Second, it needs to be easier to get a refund for an app that just doesn't work--and to get the offender removed or suspended from the App Store until is does work.

Finally, Apple needs to provide at least a few days of "satisfaction guaranteed" while customers play with their new App store purchases.

Apple counters that developers already offer lower-cost "lite" versions of many applications. That does not, however, meet the needs of a customer who wants to try the complete app before dropping $70-$100 for an application that turns an iPhone into a GPS.

If Apple expects the iPhone to mature as an applications platform, its App Store policies must also mature.

What is OK for customers in a marketplace of dollar-a-download applications is not OK for apps costing many times as much. As prices rise, so do expectations.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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