We've all made a regretful app purchase on the App Store or Android Market once or twice. It's that feeling you have immediately after downloading something where you realise you've purchased an app that doesn't deliver what it's supposed to. It's not possible to completely get rid of these purchases, but following these steps will help you better vet your purchases and regret them a little less.
Despite Apple's supposed measures to control content on the store, junk apps like the recently released and pulled Pokemon app still make it through all the time. Other common instances include apps that share similar names, add a HD at the end of a popular title, or promise a service they simply can't deliver. You can always seek out reviews on blogs and websites for apps you're thinking about purchasing, but it's also possible to do the research from within the store itself. Let's take a look at the basic steps you can take to better vet an app's quality so you don't walk away being disappointed. We'll start with the basics before moving on to the ways you can track down more critical information.
The Basics To Follow For Every App
Most of us probably fire up our digital stores, do a quick search for what we're looking for, buy an app spontaneously and move along with our day. With prices often hovering around a dollar it's easy to let your guard down when searching through apps, but here are a few steps you should follow before pulling the purchase trigger on any app:
- Double-check your spelling: This might seem obvious, but it's still worth noting: before you click buy on any purchase, double-check that you're purchasing the app you mean to purchase. It's not uncommon for apps to unofficially snag a similar name to a popular title, but double-checking what you're looking at is enough to thwart any problems. After all, chances are you're not looking for Angry Ninja Birds.
- Hit up the developers home page and check out their other apps: In iTunes and on the Android Market a box on the left-hand side of the screen shows you other apps made by the same developer. Take a quick peek at other apps they've made to judge their overall quality. A developer can, of course, make one single standout product and fail everywhere else, but it will give you a good idea of the overall quality of the bulk of their creations. There should also be a link to their homepage underneath the app description where you can get a good idea of how well they support the app by a quick glance. Not all app designers are web designers, so don't put too much emphasis on the visual quality, but make a note of how often a site is updated. For Android apps, take a look to see if you can grab an app directly from the website to sideload it.
- Note the Top In-App Purchases: On the left side of the screen in iTunes is a list of the Top In-App Purchases. The Android Market doesn't show this, but it's often listed in the description. This is good to look at because occasionally an app will cost a dollar, but the features you really want will cost an additional amount to unlock from within the app. It doesn't happen often, but since it only takes a second to glance at, it's worth making a note of before you spend your money.
- Read the worst reviews: In both iTunes and the Android Market you can sort reviews. For iTunes, it's best to take a look at the worst reviews first. Click Sort By > Most Critical to see the angriest reviews. If an app was recently updated, it's not bad to hit up the Most Recent section as well to make sure nothing was broken in the update. On Android, click the User Reviews tab, then Sort By > Rating, and scroll down to the last page for the worst reviews. More often than not these are just people being angry about nothing, but other times you'll notice a trend with a particular problem being repeated. Take the reviews with a grain of salt, but still look for the trends that come up in them.
Dig Deeper When An App Seems Fishy Or Costs More
For most purchases, the above tips will help ensure you don't make too many terrible purchases, but not every app has a large amount of reviews, especially on the day of its release. Others are just more expensive and warrant more of your time to look into them. Here's how you can truly vet an app before making a purchase.
- Check a reviewer's history: With new apps you often don't have the benefit of a lot of reviews to read through and chances are the bulk of the first reviews are made by friends or family of the developer. In iTunes, you can click the username and get the reviewer's history. No history? Probably not trustworthy. Do they only review apps made by the same developer? Definitely not trustworthy. The Android Market doesn't have this feature, but you can accomplish the same thing by sorting the reviews by date, then looking for the same username at the end of the list.
- Research the app history (and the developers others apps) more in-depth: We already noted that taking a peek at at the developers website and other apps is always a good idea, but it's also good to dig a bit deeper if you're feeling on the edge about a purchase. A site like AppShopper will show you how often an iPhone app is updated and when (or if) the price changed. This can be handy if you notice the developer always drops the price on their apps within the first month. For Android, Appbrain has a similar feature to help in your research. This will show you not just price drops, but update history so you can see if they continually support their apps or not.
Finally, a reminder: if an app does not perform a feature it claims to in its description, under Australian consumer law you are entitled to ask for a refund. That's the responsibility of the seller (the App Store or the Market), not the developer. But the process can be convoluted, so a little advance research is generally a better remedy.
You can't be happy with every single app you purchase, but you can increase your chances of app success by simply paying attention to what you're buying. It's easy to let a dollar or two go to waste because it seems insignificant, but it's better to do a little research ahead of time. Of course, in the case of something like the Pokemon app from last week, it's always good to remember that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Do you have ways you vet apps before purchasing? Share them in the comments.