Jason Kottke reports:
Yesterday developer Armin Heinrich posted an iPhone app to the App Store called I Am Rich. The program displays a red gem, has no function but to display your wealth to others through ownership, and costs $999.00. It has since been removed from the App Store, although no one knows whether Apple or Heinrich pulled it. SOURCE
Kottke goes on to question whether it is appropriate for concerned users to call for the removal of an application which does not misrepresent it's functionality, but which is sold at what is deemed to be "too high" a price.
To be sure, comments on applications of every price range -- whether it be $.99 or $999.00 -- tend to question the validity of charging that much money for an app that should be this much or, even better, free. So long as there are some applications that are free, there will be complaints that all applications aren't free. The iPhone app store is not unique; developers face the pricing dilemma wherever they sell their goods.
Subjective complaints about price can be ignored, but objective claims about the "I Am Rich" application constituting a scam are more serious, and should be examined.
The "I Am Rich" application has been removed but, as Kottke reports, the reasons for the removal are still unclear. It does seem to be clear that the application description accurately delineated the app's functionality as having no functionality and that the price was accurately listed at $999.00.
With that in mind, claims that Armin Heinrich was somehow "scamming" app store customers seem to be exaggerated or downright false.
Still, as part of his take on the topic, John Gruber posted a screenshot which would seem to prove that -- while it was available -- "I Am Rich" did indeed sell for the listed price of $999.00.
This is not a joke. I need someone from Apple to help me with this scam. I saw this app with a few friends and we jokingly clicked "buy" thinking it was a joke, to see what would happen...and it really bought this app for $999.00.
As the application is no longer listed on the app store, the comment can only be sourced to Gruber's Daring Fireball post on the matter.
Again, that this was a scam seems unlikely. At this point, it would appear that "I Am Rich" was intended as performance art surrounding the concept of image and ownership but it's certainly possible that Heinrich was also banking on customers assuming that the application was posted in jest and that the listed price of $999.00 was so high that it "must be a joke".
With that said, there is no precedent which would suggest that a developer can list a price on the app store that is not the actual price of the application, nor is it reasonable to assume that Apple would allow this practice to stand even if it were somehow possible.
Still, simply because something can't be proven to be a scam, doesn't mean that it can't be proven to be problematic: The "I Am Rich" fiasco does shine light on another issue, in that the "one click" setup makes it fairly easy to accidentally (and irreversibly) charge an expensive piece of software to a stored credit card number, provided you've previously accepted said risk by taking the step of creating it.
Once a user has set up an account, a typical app store purchase requires the following steps:
- Navigate to a desired application. MotionX Poker (iTunes store link.)
- Click "BUY APP"
- Type in a password to authenticate the purchase.
- Agree to one last warning by clicking Cancel or Buy: "Are you sure you want to buy and download the Application..." At this point, the purchaser is also warned that his/her credit card will be charged. (See picture in sidebar.)
- If the purchaser chooses to click "Buy" in the last step, his/her credit card is charged the amount listed next to the application and the app is downloaded.
One nitpick: Step four (the final warning) should include the actual price that the purchaer's credit card is about to be charged as part of the warning: "Your card will be charged $00.00 for this purchase..."
Step four includes another option in the form of a checkbox, which states: "Don't ask me about buying Applications again..." Presumably, checking that box before buying software would mean that all future credit card charges and downloads would commence immediately after step three, the password authentication.
In other words, it's possible to request that the iTunes Store ignore the last step which would have alerted Lee5279xx to the fact that he was about to drop a cool grand on a useless application.
Apple shouldn't disallow expensive price-points simply because some people might be "fooled" into purchasing apps at those price points, but they can require a few extra hoops when consumers attempt to purchase software at an expensive price point, and -- even better -- an iTunes preference could be set to trigger those extra hoops beyond a user-specified price point.
For example, Lee5279xx could specify that iTunes require extra authentication only for applications selling for over $19.99, making a one-click purchase impossible past that threshold, even if he's checked the "don't bother me" box, at some point in the past. Another user could set the threshold at $100.00.
A final purchase decision could then only be made after agreeing to a warning message which would say something to the effect of:
Hey, dummy, we're not kidding! Your card is about to be charged $999.00, at which point the ramifications of having just bought a static, red jewel for an obscenely high price will fall squarely on your shoulders. Are you really, positively, 100% sure you want to proceed with this transaction?
Apple would obviously want to clean that up, but the concept is solid and would alleviate any risk of a consumer claiming that they were duped or tricked into purchasing software at a price he/she did not believe was real.