I wasn’t going to give the silly $999 “I Am Rich” iPhone application any more attention after the initial laugh, but the more that everyone reacts to what went wrong the more clear it becomes that there is something to learn here. “Kottke thinks Apple shouldn’t restrict”:http://www.kottke.org/08/08/the-1000-iphone-app based on taste; “Ryan Irelan points to no shopping cart”:http://www.ryanirelan.com/blog/entry/the-1000-iphone-app/ as the problem; “Dan Benjamin mostly agrees”:http://hivelogic.com/articles/2008/08/regarding-iphone-application-pricing but with some more analysis; and “John Gruber hits the same points”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2008/08/07/i-am-rich and mentions (in passing) what I think is the real problem: refunds.
iPhone developers have wondered for months how refunds were going to be handled. Although demo and trial versions (if added) will be used by many more customers, refunds to unhappy customers represent an extremely important part of the relationship between developer and customer. I’ve written before about “my philosophy with refunds”:http://www.manton.org/2007/02/customer.html and customer support, an opinion that is shared pretty universally in the Mac community. Just yesterday I gave a refund to a customer who purchased the software over a year ago, but apparently didn’t get around to actually using it recently and found it did not meet his needs.
If there were a proper way for developers to send App Store refunds — because of unmet expectations (app crashes or doesn’t work as advertised) or accidental purchases (my son bought this without asking me) — then this issue just goes away. It doesn’t matter whether I Am Rich is worth $999 or whether the shopping cart should be an option in iTunes. The core issue is refunds because it fixes several problems at once, and removes Apple’s personal judgement about what is good or bad for iPhone users.