Free-to-play children’s apps: it’s time for a proper debate

Zombies vs Ninja furore should remind developers why £69.99 IAP in children’s apps is unacceptable

Link to video: Five-year-old racks up £1,700 iPad bill in 15 minutes

News that Apple has refunded the parents of a boy who ran up a £1,700 bill playing iPad game Zombies vs Ninja should be taken as a final reminder for children‘s app developers to get their houses in order with free-to-play games.

A necessary caveat: Zombies vs Ninja isn’t being marketed as a children’s app, and in fact its App Store age rating is 9+, so you could argue that the five year-old who ran up this particular bill shouldn’t have been playing it in the first place.

Yet the story should spark a long-overdue scrutiny of how in-app purchases (IAP) are being used in apps that are targeted at children, given existing examples of games that are making such overspending possible.

Examples? In December 2012, Gameloft released an iOS and Android game called Playmobil Pirates, based on the pre-school toy brand. The freemium game included an in-app store selling virtual gems that could be used to speed up in-game tasks, starting at £1.49 for 200 gems, and rising to £69.99 for 15,000. In a children’s app.

Examples? National Geographic released Dino Land on iOS in February 2013: a colourful dinosaur game specifically aimed at children, selling virtual bones. £1.49 got you 300, but splashing out £69.99 got you 22,500. In a children’s app.

Examples? In June 2012, Capcom released Shrek’s Fairytale Kingdom, through an official licensing deal with studio DreamWorks. It too includes IAP of up to £69.99 at a time and when I played it at launch, the first prompt to buy magic stars came at the end of the tutorial. In a children’s app.

All this is going on amid a drip-drip flow of media stories about children landing their parents with enormous credit-card bills through IAP – often because they’re buying it within 15 minutes of their parent entering an iTunes password (for example, to download an app – which was why the post-tutorial placement of the Shrek’s Fairytale Kingdom IAP prompt was worrying).

It also comes as Apple settled a US lawsuit over in-app purchases in children’s apps, agreeing to refund parents whose children splashed out on IAP without their knowledge in a deal that could cost the company as much as £66m.

Free-to-play isn’t just about IAP, though. It’s also about in-app advertising. Witness the recent release of Outfit7′s Talking Friends Cartoons app, complete with an advert for a "Win an iPad" competition that signed entrants up to a £4-a-week mobile content subscription service. In a children’s app.

This came a few months after £400 cash-loan ads were spotted in Outfit7′s Talking Ginger app. In both cases, the company said the appearance of the ads were mistakes, and removed them.

It’s time for some straight talking within the apps industry about how IAP and advertising are used in children’s apps. If things go on as they are, this will be regulated, but it would be nice to think the industry is responsible enough to make a stand before that happens.

Here’s one thought: Apple needs to do more. The company has made steps in the past – it’s simple for parents to change their iOS settings to get rid of that 15-minute window, if you know how to do it. The problem is that many parents still don’t.

Google, Microsoft and BlackBerry must also be thinking about their default settings and education for parents. There’s also a discussion to be had about whether all these companies should be restricting the maximum size of individual in-app purchases in children’s apps, scrutinising in-app ads, and ensuring developers explain clearly in their app store listings how they use IAP.

Here’s another thought: parents need to accept responsibility too, for knowing what their children are downloading and playing on their iOS devices, for locking down their IAP settings, and in many cases, for keeping their password to themselves.

And now developers. If you’re making an app or game for children that includes IAP as high as £69.99 at a time, you need to take a long, hard look at your ethics.

Because understand this: there are many more parents who won’t have locked their IAP settings down than there are parents who’d be willing to blow 70 quid on virtual items for their children. Each new media report of a monster iTunes bill gives you even less excuse to plead ignorance of this fact.

Playmobil Pirates Is £69.99 IAP in a Playmobil game less acceptable than an £84.99 physical toy?

Freemium business models, especially in games, are based around removing the ceiling on how much people can pay, if they want to. With adults, that’s fair enough. Take your choice, pay your money (or not), and if a game feels over-aggressive with its expectation of payments, play something else.

With children, it’s different. A common view among game developers – epitomised by this column by consultant Will Luton, who puts the case persuasively – is that IAP is no different to physical toys when it comes to children. Why is it fine for Playmobil to sell £84.99 Adventure Treasure Island sets in Toys R Us, but not £69.99 IAP in the app stores?

One: my five year-old will be given short shrift if he wanders into Toys R Us clutching my credit card. Two: virtual items are consumable items – they run out. They’re like sweets, not like physical toys. Many children, when presented with 70 quid’s worth of gems, stars or bones, will blow through them as fast as possible then come back asking for more.

Which is a case of parental responsibility, of course – saying "no" firmly – but how much trust will parents have in apps and games trying to tap into this pestering dynamic?

That’s a key word in this debate: trust. If parents don’t trust an app or its developer, they’ll delete it straight away. Indeed, based on my entirely unscientific survey of other parents, an increasing number are deciding not to install apps with IAP in the first place.

There are many children’s developers winning trust from parents by eschewing IAP and in-app ads, and there are others using IAP responsibly – Me Books with its in-app store for digital storybooks, Magic Town with its in-app subscription for parents, Mibblio with its a la carte interactive songs, and plenty more.

Small purchases, controlled by parents. IAP in children’s apps isn’t bad, but scammy, over-aggressive and/or naive use of IAP in children’s apps is most definitely bad. Developers shouldn’t do it, and app store owners should be cracking down on it in their approval processes.

There are challenges for developers that shouldn’t be ignored. For one, there are a number of popular all-ages apps that are played by lots of kids.

The Angry Birds, Temple Run and Cut the Rope games are good examples: getting to grips with using IAP as part or all of their business models, with an awareness that children are among their biggest fans. Shrek isn’t just for kids, you could also argue.

The debate is happening within the industry. Earlier in 2012, I took part in an online debate for the Gamesbrief website on how Apple should help parents control their kids’ IAP spending, with a variety of views coming through.

There’s also the challenge of selling paid apps to parents. Some developers are managing it, but a lot of wonderful children’s apps are being released as paid titles with no IAP or ads, and sinking without a trace on the App Store.

When I talk to fellow parents, it’s surprising how many say in the same breath that they won’t let their kids play anything with IAP, yet also that they only download free apps for those children. This contradiction is putting pressure on developers trying to a.) make great apps and b.) stay in business.

Perhaps the media reports of kids overspending on IAP will change things, persuading more parents to pay for high-quality apps, or spend more time figuring out which apps use IAP in an ethical way.

Perhaps parent power and more responsibility from developers and app store owners will ensure the best apps succeed and the scammy or over-aggressive apps fade away.

Or perhaps this sector will need to be regulated to kingdom come to protect parents and children – a process that could snuff out some of the ethical, un-scammy business models that are still evolving.

That’s the stark choice facing the industry at the start of 2013. Let’s hope their response is more like ninjas, and less like zombies.


Emerging Trend: Social Business Intelligence

For brands, to not be present on social media is to commit marketing/branding suicide. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that social media is where everything is – information on the brand/service, customers, interaction between brands and customers.

All this activity – carried out with multiple, brand specific objectives – results in the creation of colossal amounts of data. Data that gives insight into customer preferences, choices, the services/offers that excite or don’t, what techniques work or don’t, customer requests, customer response to the brand/services/overall brand experience and so on. The fact of the matter is that while companies are leveraging social media to further their brand not much effort or money is put into making something of all the information that is generated as a result of this interaction. This is where Social Business Intelligence comes in.

Social Business Intelligence (Social BI) is a sphere of expertise that has been created solely because of the proliferation of social media and its increased use by brands and companies. Social BI deals with creating intelligent data out of all the information that is fed into the social media platform.

For example, a bank may want to know what people on the internet are saying about its new product and its customer service operations in general. Given that there are multiple channels on which the bank is active and that the customer has many more on which he/she can express happiness or disappointment, it becomes nearly impossible to collate all the data and to analyse it. This is where Social BI comes in. It fetches information from across platforms, makes analytic reports, draws insightful conclusion from the data and gives recommendations that can be used by the management to make the right decisions. In this manner, Social BI assists in deciding and judging the effectiveness of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as well as deciding the future course of action that must be undertaken.

According to the Social Media And Business Intelligence Survey conducted by Peter J. Auditore of Unisphere Research, 60% companies (of the total respondents) are planning to monitor social media networks in a holistic manner and 36.44% companies (of the total respondents) are planning to invest in Social BI over the next 1-2 years.

These statistics give a definite picture of how soon and to what extent brands are planning to engage in social media monitoring. From all this information, it is possible to understand that companies specialising in Social BI will be the demand of the hour. Hyderabad based Helical IT Solutions is one such company that as of now is engaged in building a Social BI platform for UnifiedSocial.

I see this trend catching on quick as companies try to differentiate them from competitors on social media platforms and also try to reach out to consumers in a more personalised and direct manner by creating campaigns that specifically cater to them. Do let me know your thoughts on this.

Image Courtesy | ymarketing

Source: WATBlog

Motorola X Phone will feature entirely new Google experience

We don’t know much about Motorola’s so-called X Phone. The only confirmation of the phone’s existence comes by way of a job posting seeking a product manager to work directly with the team designing the device, but few details have surfaced. Today, however, a report has surfaced over at SmartHouse giving us just enough new info to whet the appetite.

According to sources close to CTO Hugh Bradlow of Australian carrier Telstra, the X Phone is being billed as a “game changer.” OK, that sounds like pretty typical smartphone hype, but that’s not the only sliver of info that was gleaned. According to the report, Google has been working on the software side of the X Phone for quite a while, and when the handset launches it will feature an entirely new software experience with features never seen on a smartphone.

The rumored debut at Google I/O in May — again corroborated by this report — leads to the assumption that the phone will launch as a flagship for the next iteration of Android, Key Lime Pie. From the sound of things, though, the phone could launch with exclusive software features that might not reach other. This includes putting together Google’s suite of mobile services “like no other manufacturer has done in the past.” Can we expect a non-stock Android device designed directly by Google?

The X Phone is headed toward a July launch, if all pans out, and will be available on all US carriers and in the Google Play Store with a pricing and sales model similar to that of the Nexus 4 (or cheaper). Consider us excited.

Source: Phandroid

4 Reasons Why Samsung Could Overtake Apple in The Near Future

Samsung is the first challenger to Apple’s hegemonic control over the smartphone industry that could actually become a real threat to the company. While Apple consults the crystal ball, Samsung actually listens to the market. As a recent New York Times article makes clear, Samsung’s strategy is working and the company is growing fast. Here’s why:

Samsung Spends Way More Than Apple on R&D

Samsung currently spends $10.5 billion on research and development. That’s more than double Apple’s $3.4 billion in spending, and a greater percentage of their revenue as well (5.7% vs. Apple’s 2.2%). With that money, Samsung hires designers, architects, engineers, managers, sociologists and psychologists. These employees study trends in everything from art exhibitions to online graphic design in order to come up with inspiration for the Next Big Thing.

Apple Is Playing Catch-Up

Market experts told Samsung consumers wanted a phone with a larger screen, so they developed one. When it took off, Apple realized that their formula for success — dictate to consumers what they should want – wasn’t working so well anymore. Thus, the iPhone 5 was created, with a slightly larger screen than its predecessors. Apple had to play catch-up to Samsung.

Samsung Listens to Consumers, Apple Tells Them What They Should Want

Steve Jobs famously said “Consumers don’t know what they want.” Samsung, on the other hand, studies the market obsessively and develops products that consumers really do want. With their ear to the ground, Samsung learns things Apple doesn’t care to know; that’s why they’re such a big threat.
Samsung Is More Innovative

Among the more interesting tidbits in a recent New York Times article is the revelation that Samsung developed the Galaxy Note so that Chinese speakers would be able to write characters more easily on their devices using a pen instead of typing. “Those insights led to the Note, a smartphone that comes with a digital pen,” writes the New York Times. This is the kind of insight Apple would never have, for all the reasons listed above.

As the New York Times writes, never has Apple had a challenger able to make a truly profitable smartphone or tablet. Not until Samsung. Now the question is, will the company be able to continue to accurately predict market trends in the future? We think so!

Source: Androidpit

iPhone 5 Ranked Fifth in User Satisfaction, Trailing Behind 4 Androids

According to a new report released yesterday, Apple’s iPhone ranks fifth in user satisfaction in the U.S., trailing behind four Android phones, including the Motorola Atrix HD, the Motorola Droid RAZR M, the HTC Rezound 4G and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

The report, which was conducted by the mobile research firm OnDevice Research, asked 320,000 smartphone owners how satisfied they were with their devices. Users were surveyed via their mobile web browser and the company’s software was able to detect the user’s device.

In the U.S., 93,825 people participated in the survey. Apple’s iPhone did a bit better in the U.K. where, it took second place, after the HTC One X. The survey also reached mobile users in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Indonesia.

Curiously, even though the iPhone 5 was ranked below Android devices, Apple still was ranked number one in terms of overall device satisfaction, followed by Motorola, HTC, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson. Samsung was ranked at the very bottom, which doesn’t really surprise me given the huge number of budget phones they manufacture that barely last a year.

Where is the Galaxy S3? How did Motorola make it to the top? I mean, I know the Motorola Atrix HD was well liked but I didn’t realize it was this well liked. Are you surprised by these results?

Source: Androidpit

Why new top-level web domains are doomed to fail

Launch of new gTLDs represents a major change to the internet, but they are unlikely to threaten the existing marketplace

The new gTLDs is the biggest change to the internet since the first set of top-level domains were launched in 1984. Photograph: Lifestyle pictures / Alamy

Later this year, hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including .money, .sport, .accountants, .marketing and .music will be available to new businesses and registrants, as part of a new scheme by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The new gTLDs will represent the biggest change to the internet since the first set of top-level domains (.com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov) were launched in 1984. However, while the move has the potential to create astronomical change to how businesses and consumers use the internet, in my opinion, the majority of domains will fail to demonstrate any credible threat to the existing gTLD marketplace.

The story so far

Consumer confusion, cyber-squatting and massive delays are the main criticisms of the new gTLDs programme. While the majority of ICANN’s board members voted to expand the Internet’s Domain Name System in June 2011, so far it has been anything but a smooth process.

ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehadé stated in a candid speech last month that the company is not ready to release the new GTLDs. He added that he would delay the entire programme for another year if it were up to him. The announcement came just weeks after a key deadline on string similarity analysis was missed. In response to the delays and existing problems with the new GTLD launch process, a number of top-level managerial changes have also taken place at ICANN.

Why are the new gTLDs likely to fail?

The success of new gTLDs such as .money, .finance and .music will depend on how they are marketed and used by brands, as well as small businesses. Search engines have kept quiet on whether a new gTLD will help a site rank for that industry, since this depends on the perceived value of the domains for end-users.

Danny Sullivan wrote an interesting article, stating: “The new names will almost certainly mean nothing to search engines.” He cited the failure of the .travel extension (you won’t find any travel sites ranking with this domain) in addition to how .biz, .info and .mobi extensions were overhyped when they were released in 2001. Since then, these domain extensions have largely been ignored by larger brands.

Of course, the main issue with the new gTLDs is that hundreds will be released all at the same time (ICANN has projected to launch between 300 and 1,000 a year). Many of them will also be competing directly with one another, including .finance, .money, .investment, .insurance, .insure, .trade and .trading.

The fact that there are so many applications for similar strings (let alone competing applications for the same string, as in the case of .money) makes it even harder for these extensions to take off.

It’s not just competing organisations, but in the case of Donuts, a $100m (£64m) startup that is launching more than 300 new gTLDs, also countries themselves that are trying to block their extensions – you can read the ongoing Donuts v Samoa’s .WS issue here (PDF).

Furthermore, what kind of brand is going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for a domain with an unknown extension? Or even with a registrar that isn’t guaranteed to be around for more than a couple of years (ICANN has already confirmed that some of the businesses launching new gTLDs will fail). I can’t imagine any credible brand investing in one of these new extensions at least for another five years.

Remember, that in addition to the $185,000 application fee for operating a new gTLD, companies such as Donuts Ltd will also have to spend millions or potentially hundreds of millions of pounds marketing their new extensions to consumers.

Quality control, SEO and public awareness

If these new gTLDs are helpful for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), then we must remember that spammers will quickly abuse them. It could be the .info situation all over again, where extensions quickly become tainted and promoted for spam purposes. In this environment, it’s the trusted domain extensions such as .com and that will be the biggest winners.

One of the reasons why I think the new gTLDs will fail is because many of the domains create longer strings than the pre-existing gTLDs.

The other problem I see is that branding a site on a new extension requires double the effort. The market will need to warm to them and the consumer will need to remember your brand (Searchable, for example) as well as the correct extension (.Marketing). What’s to stop them getting confused and typing in Searchable.Website, Searchable.Online or Searchable.Market? These are all new gTLDs that have been applied for.

There are simply far too many similar gTLDs being released for any single extension to usurp the .com era. Even then, it could take months or years for competing applications of similar strings to be settled in trademark clearinghouses or in court.

Source: The Gaurdian