Opinion: Apple is to Blame for Allowing Developers to Lure Kids With In-App Purchases

In-App Purchase Class-Action Lawsuit

Apple’s in-app purchasing system makes it far too easy for children to buy coins, trinkets and upgrades within games, sometimes unwittingly racking up hundreds of dollars in App Store charges for their parents.

The Washington Post broke the story of a parent who received a $1,400 bill from Apple after her 8-year-old bought hundreds of virtual accessories to customize her mushroom home in the iPhone game Smurfs’ Village.

While a class-action lawsuit over this issue has incited a debate over whether these unwanted in-app purchases are Apple’s problem or the parents’ responsibility, I am taking the position that Apple should do more to prevent app developers from manipulating children and enticing them to make purchases that they do not know the consequences of.

In a CNET thread about the class-action lawsuit, many parents proclaim that these are BAD PARENTS for suing Apple:

People need to grow up and take some responsibility. These are the values that we are instilling in our children!
If you give a kid an electronic devise that can connect to the Internet…and you don’t watch what they are doing…or educate yourself and the child about its capabilities…that’s your problem.
Instead of blaming someone else, how about you take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself what YOU could’ve done, like, for example, and I might REALLY be out of line here, BE A REASONABLE, CONSCIENTIOUS PARENT?

I disagree with this pro-Apple, anti-parent sentiment. While I hope that every child is fortunate enough to have a good upbringing, I do not believe it is solely parents’ responsibility to shield their children from the manipulative actions of overreaching companies.

When Pepsi lobbies for the privilege to place soda and candy machines in elementary schools, some people will assert that Pepsi has that right, and that it is parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids make healthy dietary decisions. When M&M’s, Fruity Pebbles and McDonald’s advertise to children, some people say it is not the corporations’ responsibility to keep junk food away from children, but rather the responsibility of parents. If cigarette companies advertise on television, it is parents’ sole responsibility to teach their kids to stay away from smoking too, right?

I agree that parents have a responsibility to teach their kids important values. However, I do not believe that we should simply give companies free reign to manipulate children and expect that parents should have to protect their kids from the bombardment of this marketing. For this reason, I believe Apple has a responsibility to prevent developers from using the App Store to take advantage of kids who might buy a bucket of gold in an iPhone game unaware that they are actually costing their parents money.

While Apple did make a change to its in-app purchasing system by issuing an update in iOS 4.3 that requires password reentry to make an in-app purchase, some parents say it is too little, too late.

Corporations like Apple are not people. They do not understand ethics, they understand profits. So if a class-action lawsuit is what it takes to make Apple take a stronger stance against in-app marketing to children, then I am all for it.

Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

Google’s Pac-Man Game Playable on iPhone

Google Pac-Man for iPhone

Did you hear? Google marked the 30th birthday of Pac-Man by changing its logo to a playable game of Pac-Man. Go to Google.com, click “Insert Coin” (button replaces “Feeling Lucky”), and get playing.

What’s perhaps most cool about the Pac-Man game, though, is that it works reasonably well on an iPhone, since it runs on HTML5. If you browse to Google on your iPhone, you’ll be directed to a mobile version. To play the game, click “Classic” to go to the original homepage.

Although the sound is missing when you play on your iPhone, you can direct Mr. Pac-Man by swiping your finger across the screen in the direction you want him to move. Is this the future of games on the iPhone? Will HTML5 and other open web standards give developers the ability to bypass the App Store altogether and create fully-featured apps in the browser?

Let me know how you like the Pac-Man game!

Update: The Pac-Man game is no longer on the Google home page, but you can play still play it at Google.com/pacman.

7 Simple, Yet Sweet Games in the App Store

I don’t care much for complicated role playing games that require you to complete missions and figure stuff out. Some of the best iPhone games are those single-purpose, mindless games that are challenging yet don’t require much thought.

I have too many things to deal with in my real life that I don’t want to have to worry about the tasks and stresses of some RPG character, too! Give me a simple game that I can play to take my mind off things every now and then, and I am a happy camper.

Here are seven simple and sweet iPhone apps that satisfy my small, but gnawing appetite for games.

  1. Sheep Launcher!

    How to Play: Keep the baby propelling upwards through the air by tapping it when it starts coming down. If you miss, game over. High altitude = high score.

    Sheep Launcher iPhone game

  2. FallDown!

    How to Play: Tilt your iPhone left and right to keep the red ball falling towards the ground. You must hurry or you’ll be crushed between the floor and the ceiling! You can pick up tokens along the way to accumulate points, stop the movement, or speed up the ball.

    FallDown! iPhone game

  3. Falling Balls

    How to Play: Tilt your iPhone left and right to force the stick figure man to run away from balls that are falling from the ceiling. If you’re feeling daring, play in the more challenging Ninja mode.

    Falling Balls iPhone game

  4. Paper Toss

    How to Play: Flick the wad of paper into the trash can as many consecutive times as possible, keeping in mind the office fan that’s blowing wind across your path. Read more in my original Paper Toss review.

    Paper Toss iPhone game

  5. PAC-MAN

    How to Play: Do I really need to explain? Your goal in this classic arcade game is to guide the yellow Pac-Man through the maze, collecting little dot thingies while you avoid the evil ghouls. Get it?

    Pac-Man iPhone game

  6. Skee-Ball

    How to Play: Roll the balls into the holes. Seven balls, seven holes. The farther away a hole is, the more points it’s worth. Extra points for getting the ball in a hole that’s flashing yellow.

    Skee-Ball iPhone game

  7. Touch Hockey

    How to Play: Just like a classic, real-life air hockey table, your goal in this iPhone game is to get the puck into your opponent’s goal. You can play against a computer or against a friend.

    Touch Hockey iPhone game

Do you play games on your iPhone or iPod Touch? What are your favorite games in the App Store? Let me know your opinion in the comments.

Unleash Your Anger with iSheriff [Augmented Reality]

Maybe you think gun violence is atrocious, and that it should never be endorsed by an iPhone app. Well, you may be right, but I am sick and waiting for attention at the UF student healthcare center and there’s nothing I want more than to shoot up the place.

Cue: iSheriff, a new “augmented reality” (or should I say demented reality?) iPhone app that lets you blow the brains out of anyone in the viewfinder of your iPhone camera.

“Hey, sick kid in the waiting room. Let me put you out of your misery…”

iSheriff iPhone app

“And will someone please turn off this damn TV! No!? Well then I’ll do it myself…”

iSheriff iPhone app

If you’re not one for blood and guts, Disable Gore and go for the clean kill.

iSheriff is an amusing development in the new and emerging realm of augmented reality iPhone apps that are hitting the App Store.

Thanks to the iPhone 3.1 update, developers can now combine the iPhone’s camera, compass and GPS to place a virtual layer over a view of the real world.

Gonna shoot up a place? Use iSheriff.

This post was created using the WordPress iPhone app.

iSpinBottle iPhone App: A Modern Makeout Game

iSpinBottle iPhone app

Hey teens, if you’re looking to “get some” next Saturday night, check out this clever new iPhone app by Memention called iSpinBottle.

Just like the traditional game of Spin the Bottle, the iSpinBottle iPhone app helps you get some tongue with little effort on your part. Plus, you young ones can stay out of trouble by spinning the game’s virtual beer bottle instead of those real ones you’re not allowed to have anyway.

iSpinBottle is free in the App Store. It works great, but I think the developer should consider updating it to add sound. Happy spit-swapping, kids!

Paper Toss iPhone Game [See Video]

iPhone paper toss game

I’m not big on games in general, but I discovered a fun iPhone game with a simple concept yesterday: it’s called Paper Toss.

To try to beat the high score, you toss the paper into the waste basket as many consecutive times as possible. A missed shot resets the score ticker to 0.

It’s a fun little time-waster, so I thought I would share.

Paper Toss can be downloaded for free from the App Store. There are three levels — Easy, Medium and Hard.

Here is a video of my friend playing it on the 4th of July — you can hear fireworks in the background. If you’re easily offended, ignore his frustrated profanity at the end of the video when he fails to match my high score.