As I was scrolling through Twitter last Monday, I came across a tweet by Federico Viticci, editor-in-chief of MacStories, showcasing an app that is part of an ongoing problem in the App Store.
This isn't the first time I have seen an app try to do something like this to dupe users into agreeing to a weekly subscription, and it seems to be a growing issue.
Simply put, these app developers are creating simple and easy-to-make apps with misleading names and app icons to try and trick you into installing them. Once you do install them on your iPhone or iPad, the app quickly asks you to start a "Free Trial." Seven days later, you’re now giving this app money every week for their minimal work.
Thankfully, the app mentioned in the tweet above has since been removed, either by the developer or Apple. Still, the concern is warranted as there are plenty of other apps that will show up like a forever game of whack-a-mole.
If ever there was a time that I think Apple needs to remove the weekly subscription it’s now.
History of the App Store
In order to understand why the weekly subscription isn’t necessary we first need to talk about the origin of the App Store and App Store subscriptions.
The App Store Announcement
The App Store launched in July 2008, but before the launch Steve Jobs had to introduce it.
After speaking about the SDK for iPhone, Jobs had an example of what might happen after a developer created the app they want to share and sell to others.
You just spent 2 weeks, maybe a little bit longer, writing this amazing app and what is your dream? Your dream is to get it in front of every iPhone user and hopefully they love it and buy it, right? That's not possible today. Most developers don't have those kinds of resources. Even the big developers would have a hard time getting your app in front of every iPhone user. Well, we're going to solve that problem for every developer, big to small. And the way we're gonna do it is what we call the App Store.
After Jobs goes more into the 70/30 revenue split between developer and Apple, which has since changed, he then starts talking about what kind of apps Apple will not allow.
Will there be limitations? Of course! There are going to be some apps that we're not going to distribute. Porn, malicious apps, apps that invade your privacy, so there will be some apps that we're going to say 'no' to but again we have exactly the same interest as the vast majority of our developers which is to get a ton of apps out there for the iPhone and we think we've invented an incredibly great way to do it. Which is the App Store. It's gonna reach every single iPhone user."
It is clear that, from the start, Apple and Jobs both knew that there needs to be rules and guidelines to keep nefarious no-good-doers from their App Store, and they are willing to put their money where their mouths are.
Apple created an App Store Review team with the job of handling all apps that are submitted to the App Store and approving them before it becomes available to the public.
From the Apple App Review website:
We review all apps and app updates submitted to the App Store in an effort to determine whether they are reliable, perform as expected, respect user privacy, and are free of objectionable content.
The guiding principle of the App Store is simple - we want to provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful. We do this by offering a highly curated App Store where every app is reviewed by experts and an editorial team helps users discover new apps every day.
App Store Subscriptions
Three years later, in 2011, Apple made the decision to allow developers to charge users a recurring subscription with the same revenue split as single-pay apps in the App Store.
From Apple's original press release:
Subscriptions purchased from within the App Store will be sold using the same App Store billing system that has been used to buy billions of apps and In-App Purchases. Publishers set the price and length of subscription (weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly). Then with one-click, customers pick the length of subscription and are automatically charged based on their chosen length of commitment (weekly, monthly, etc.). Customers can review and manage all of their subscriptions from their personal account page, including canceling the automatic renewal of a subscription. Apple processes all payments, keeping the same 30 percent share that it does today for other In-App Purchases.
It has been over 10 years since App Store subscriptions were announced by Apple. The subscription-based app wouldn't gain traction until years later, but Apple knew that if developers were to make their revenue recurring it would be a win-win for Apple and the developers.
A side-effect of this are the grifters and scammers that are utilizing this as a "get rich quick" scheme.
After 13 years of existing I wonder if the App Store has started to lose its grip on the netting protecting users from malicious, scammy, and nefarious intended apps.
Scammy Apps Aren't New
There have always been scammy apps like the one in the tweet above, and my thoughts are the same as Matt Birchler when he commented on Viticci's tweet.
As Matt said, I have never seen a weekly rate used in a meaningful way. It is always meant to be something that is deceptive and gross. All of the subscriptions I have are either monthly, annually, or lifetime. I have never seen any useful subscriptions in the weekly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or bi-yearly rates as the App Store also allows.
The only case I have seen for the need of a weekly subscription is for a newspaper, but even that seems to be a moot point. I cannot see the benefit of having a weekly subscription for a newspaper over monthly or yearly for either the user or the publication. If anything, the weekly subscription is meant to be a tool to make the total cost of a subscription to look lower than it actually is.
Take a look at the New York Times, for instance. They charge people $1 a week, which doesn't seem like a lot. That said, if you change the phrasing to $52 a year it can cause people to put their pocketbooks away rather than pay the premium. If there is indeed a subset of apps that have weekly rates in a meaningful I would love to know.
A New Subscription Model
If I were able to wave a magic wand and become the person in charge of the App Store for a day I would remove all kinds of recurring subscriptions except for monthly, yearly, and lifetime. The other subscriptions are then required to change to one of those three options in order to allow for in-app subscriptions again. The case for a weekly recurring subscription is all but unnecessary, much like the bi-monthly, bi-annual, and quarterly subscription options as well.
I have reached out for comment from Apple, and will update this article if/when I hear back from the company.
How to Check Your Subscriptions
If you want to edit the subscriptions on your Apple account you can do so in various ways.
If you want to do it through the Settings app you can go to Settings >iCloud (top bar with your face on it)>Subscriptions.
You can also view your subscriptions through the App Store app by tapping on your icon in the top right, from there you can tap on Subscriptions.
If you want to get there faster you can use this shortcut.