Talking tech since 2003

For the past year, I’ve been using a checkbook register app for the iPhone called Checkbook HD Free. The free version is ad supported, and since the ads weren’t incredibly intrusive and didn’t hinder the experience, I was okay with that. Checkbook HD Free has been a helpful companion in terms of keeping track of my money; each time I make a purchase, I log it immediately. I always know, down to the penny, how much money I have in each of my accounts. A few weeks ago, I would have tipped my hat to developer iBear LLC on a job well done.

Now? Not so much.

You see, iBear updated the app on November 5. This update fixed a couple of bugs, and also added an extremely unpopular in-app purchase to take advantage of those who had become dependent on Checkbook HD Free. iBear essentially gave its users an ultimatum: go ahead and use our free version, but if you want to enter more than 30 transactions, you have to pay us $2.99. Don’t like it? Take your business somewhere else.

I wish I were being dramatic about iBear’s intentions, but I don’t think I am. I firmly believe that the in-app purchase was put in place to squeeze a bit more money out of the app’s loyal users. Why? Because Checkbook HD, the full-featured version of the app, sells in the App Store for 99 cents. If users want to keep their transaction history in Checkbook HD Free, they have to pay an extra $2 over someone who is downloading Checkbook HD for the first time. It’s a rotten way to treat loyal users of an app.

Of course, users of the app are letting iBear have it on the app’s App Store page. The current version boasts one star, with many users claiming that they’d give the app zero stars if it were at all possible. Other reviews are warnings not to update the app to the latest version (I did not). Many have posted that they’ve moved on to other free checkbook app alternatives. iBear has yet to respond to any of the reviews, or make a statement on its blog. The lack of communication in this instance doesn’t help its public perception.

What it really comes down to is this: app users don’t like surprises. Most do not read the update descriptions when updating apps — especially now that one can simply tap the “Update All” button — so developers have to tread lightly when making major changes. If a major change has to occur, it had better make the app better. In this case, charging for something that was previously free has made the app worse, and alientated the very users iBear hoped to convert into paying customers. Now, instead of ad revenue, iBear gets hundreds of poor reviews and a lot less users.

This is exactly how NOT to treat the users of your app. If you’re a developer, take note.


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