What the App? In-App Purchases Explained

inapppurchaseheader

When isn’t free, free?

That’s a question that many parents ask themselves when reviewing new app downloads for their kids. Just because a game or app is listed as “free” in the store, doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost associated with the product. A popular sales model for many app developers, the freemium in-app purchase approach enables users to augment their app experience through the purchase of additional features.

While most developers keep these costs to a nominal fee, some games can charge upwards of $30-$50 for in-app bonuses, a practice that has left many users, especially parents, feeling duped. Don’t let one bad apple sour your in-app purchase experience. There are tons of great apps out there that combine free and pay-to-access content. The following is a quick rundown of this often-misunderstood model, as well as some tips on how to trigger parental controls on Apple and Android devices.

Types of In-App Purchases

In-app purchases can be broken down into four different types:

  1. Permanent enhancements to the app
  2. Expendable updates (i.e. extra lives or tokens)
  3. Subscriptions
  4. Auto-renewing subscriptions

The most common in-app purchase in non-game apps is a permanent update or a non-replenishable enhancement. Take Loud Crow’s latest freemium app release Busytown Mysteries, for example. Available to download for free, this app features one free toontale episode and two additional pay-to-unlock options. These two additional content packs are available for a one-time only fee.

Replenishable

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or expendable updates are commonly found in games. This type of in-app purchase enables you to buy extra lives, coins, food, etc. You can then use these extra items to progress further in the game or accumulate more points.

When it comes to subscriptions, it’s important to note the distinction between auto-renewing apps and one-time subscriptions that expire after a certain period of time. When it comes to Apple devices, individual one-time subscriptions cannot be synced or transferred. Most auto-renewing subscriptions can be shared across multiple devices (provided they’re all synced through the same Apple ID account).


Password Restrictions on iOS Devices

Apple devices users are required to enter a password (iOS 4.3 or later) or Touch ID (iOS 7 or later) in order to make an in-app purchase. That being said, parents should note that it is possible to continuing making additional in-app purchases for a period of 15 minutes after the password has been accepted. To disable this purchase window and require a password entry with every purchase, open the Settings on your device, and then tap on the General option. Scroll down and select Restrictions. Tap where it says “Require Password” and flip the requirement from “15 minutes” to “Immediately”. Note: you will need to “Enable Restrictions” in order to access this area.

Password Restriction Settings iOS

Update your Restrictions settings to trigger a password entry every time you purchase something on your Apple device.

Restrict In-App Purchases Completely on iOS Devices

If you don’t think a password will be enough to prevent your child from going on an unsupervised in-app spending spree, you can easily restrict access to in-app purchases completely by disallowing the “In-App Purchases” option. If ever you do wish to make an in-app purchase, you will need to go back into the Restrictions area and restore this setting.

Restrict in-app purchases on iOS devices

Flick the slider to the left in order to restrict in-app purchases.

Android Restrictions

Android announced restricted user profiles when it released the Android 4.2 operating system, better known as Jelly Bean. In version 4.3 (a.k.a. Kit Kat) tablet owners have been granted even more say in what users can and can’t do. This includes restricting access to apps and app-specific features, as well as disabling in-app purchasing options.

The easiest way to keep your adult apps separate from your toddler’s growing collection of kid’s entertainment is to create a restricted user profile. To use this feature, open your Settings and tap Users. When you create a new profile, select the restricted option.

Android Device: Restricted Profile

Restricted profiles are recommended for child users.

If you haven’t already created a lock for your home screen, you will be instructed to do this now. Once that is complete, you can fill in all of the primary account details (photo, username, etc) and go about restricting app access using the sliders on the right hand side.

New User Restrictions on Android

Slide the selector to “ON” to enable apps in a restricted user profile.

Quick Tip: You may want to disable access to the Google Play Store entirely in your child’s restricted profile. This will make it impossible for your youngster to download any new apps when logged into their profile.

Block In-App Purchases

Protecting against unintentional in-app purchases can be done through the Google Play Store app. Fire up the app and open the Settings menu. Make sure that the box is ticked next to “Password” in order to ensure that all app purchases – including in-app bonuses – are properly protected.

Android Password Restriction Setting

Keeping this option selected will help you avoid accidental purchases.

You may also want to limit the type of content that little eyes can see while browsing the Google Play Store. To do this, tap the Content Filtering option. Select the type of apps that can be accessed based on the maturity level.

Content Filter for Android Devices

Filter content by maturity level in the Google Play Store.

In-app purchases aren’t intended to cause you frustration. On the contrary – they’re designed to prolong your app experience. That being said, it never hurts to put an extra layer of protection between your child and your preferred app store.

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