Tag: best backend as a service

Kantar Just Released Its Q1 Smartphone Sales Figures, Android Still Leads Globally

android-phone

As the first business quarter of the year ends, in the mobile world there’s a clear trend appearing. Android, powered largely by Samsung and other top tier OEMs, is still increasing its power. In their first big release of the year, Kantar have found that Android accounted for roughly 64% of all handset sales in Q1 2013, across nine different markets consisting of the UK, China, US, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan.

(UPDATE 2017: Still holds true in 2017, with Android’s share growing even more.) 

Whilst we all know that Android has managed to have an overall global lead in terms of handsets shipped, this is a clear indication that the shipped handsets aren’t just languishing in stores, they’re moving at a fair clip straight back out of them again. Android has a dominating lead in Spain, for example, where 93.5% of all handsets sold are Android. In fact, the only country that Android isn’t leading in out of those 9 is Japan, where iOS pulled ahead slightly to secure a 49.5% overall percentage, whereas Android is making do with 45%.

Smartphone-os-sales-backend-as-a-serviec

 

As you can see above though, overall Android is doing incredibly well, and Kantar think that this will only continue further into 2013:

“We expect to see a further spike in [Android’s] share in the coming months, as sales from the HTC One start coming through and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is launched,” writes Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “This will pile pressure on Apple, BlackBerry and Nokia to keep their products front of consumers’ minds in the midst of a Samsung and HTC marketing blitz.”

Speaking of Apple, is it us or has Cupertino been very quiet this year so far? It is only early days of course, and the hype machine has already started to get the gears turning, if very slowly, with promises from Tim Cook of “big things” at the end of the year. But at the moment, without a new phone or even other product launch on the near horizon, Apple seem to be slipping from the public consciousness as Samsung pushes its latest and greatest Galaxy SIV and HTC stands shoulder to shoulder with Facebook to promote the “Facebook Phone” and of course, this spills over onto the One as well.

Android is now at the forefront of public consciousness, and despite Blackberry’s best efforts, it just can’t seem to make any kind of dent in the Android ship, with only 0.9% of sales globally last month. There is a surprising winner in all of this though, and that is Windows Phone, which has seen a small but steady amount of growth to 5.6% of global sales. Now that might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that Android has 64% and iOS has around 35% of sales, there’s not a lot of pie left to take; so 5.6% is quite respectable.

It is interesting that WP has managed to keep momentum up, and the main reason behind it could be that Nokia know how to make easy to use and good looking smartphones, and Windows Phone is less complex to use than Android or iOS if you’re coming from an older feature phone. WP is becoming the opening of the funnel into the smartphone world, and if they can keep their place their, they won’t get the ridiculous sales numbers of the two giants, but they will manage to gain and likely hold a place in the mobile market.

What will be very interesting is seeing what happens when Google inevitably announce some new shiny tech at I/O and Apple start pushing the hype machine up a few gears. An announcement, or even teaser, of a new iPhone will probably be enough to get Cupertino back in the spotlight. The telling results will likely come in Q4, so we’ll be back then to give you the next run down most likely.

Apps Are Now Holding The Same Number Of People As PCs And Laptops In The U.S.

app-store-optimization-feature

Despite phenomenal growth in the last few years, the Mobile industry has remained, in some areas, quite marginalised. As much as mobile ad revenue, for example, has expanded at a crazy rate; it still only accounts for less than 10% of the total ad revenue takings across all advertising properties. This has confused more than one app user, where it seems to be standard issue to have ads floating around every free app you own. How can something as common as that not generate massive income? Well, it was largely about a numbers game, and for the first time, mobile apps aren’t just a big part of where audiences are going to, it’s becoming the place where audiences go.

(UPDATE 2017: Looks like the tipping point was right around when this article was written.)

Aside from also challenging TV veiwership numbers, app useage numbers are now roughly equal to those who are using laptops and PCs. This is something of an amazing statistic when you realise how common it is for households to have 3 or more computers that are regularly used. But the data doesn’t lie, and according to the mobile market researchers Flurry, there are now 224 million app users to 221 laptop and pc users out there.

App usage is also starting to dwarf more traditional types of media consumption options. Flurry found that during the “prime-time” hours of 7-10pm, there were on average 52 million people using ap

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As the above graph shows, app usage is strong throughout the day, with the gradient going up until about 9-10pm where it starts to tail off. Interestingly, unlike other forms of media, weekday and weekend usage didn’t change an awful lot, with weekdays still getting 75% of the usage of the weekends. This points to the flexibility and portability of smartphones and mobile devices being a key component of their success. You can use any app you have, any time, anywhere. This causes much more consistent usage than say, TV, where you’ll get massive spikes and troughs, and maybe newspapers, where you get probably big spikes of use around breakfast and lunch, then a steady trail off into nothing by the evening.

But to even hit the number of 52 million simultaneous users, you’d have to combine the prime time viewing numbers of the 3 top TV shows and the top 200 in circulation newspapers.

So clearly, apps are becoming the thing when it comes to grabbing an audience, which means there’s no better time to be an app developer. Your app could be part of the 500 “prime” apps used across smartphones and tablets in that 52 million person spread. And the only way to make that happen is to get down to business and develop that app.

Sometimes that can be tricky though, especially if you need a Mobile Backend and don’t know how to program one effectively. Well, fear not, because that’s where we at Kumulos step in with our Mobile Backend as a Service. Made by app developers, for app developers, it’s designed to make creating a Mobile Backend for your app that much easier.

So why not talk to us today and see what Kumulos can do for you?

Firefox OS Is In Demand It Seems

firefox-OS

It seems like every time you turn around at the moment there is another Open Source mobile OS arriving on the scene looking to target the middleware and lower tier markets. Sailfish, Tizen, Alyun and of course, Mozilla’s Firefox OS. All of them are based around the HTML 5 platform rather than say, Linux like Android or Unix like iOS (although the Unix connection is tenuous these days). Heck, despite Facebook not making a truly stand alone OS, they’ve taken a step into competing in the mobile OS world.

(UPDATE 2017: In September 2016, Firefox announced that it was discontinuing work on Firefox OS.)

It seems like the “next big thing” though, is HTML 5.

Firefox definitely think so, with Head of Engineering Jonathan Nightingale recently saying in an interview that: “if you aren’t betting on HTML 5, you’re making a mistake”.

Developers certainly seem to agree with him, as Geekphone, the Spanish based OEM that Mozilla have been working with, have already sold out of their developer and preview versions of their medium and low tier phones, the Peak and the Keon respectively. It only took a few hours for the devices to sell out, and Mozilla have seemed very happy with this performance so far.

“Mozilla is thrilled to see such high demand for the Firefox OS developer preview devices, made available today by Geeksphone,” Stormy Peters, director of websites and developer engagement at Mozilla, said in a statement sent to TechRadar.

This may be interesting to some who looked at the two device’s performance and quietly questioned the thinking behind Mozilla’s move. With only 512Mb of RAM, 4Gb of storage space and a 1Ghz processor, the Keon is definitely low tier and won’t be impressing anyone with spec lists any time soon. Peak, the bigger sibling, isn’t too much more powerful, adding a 1.2Ghz dual-core chip but keeping the same amount of RAM and storage.

In this day and age of Samsung releasing a phone that’s more powerful than some mid-level laptops, phones that don’t have the same credentials can seem a little underwhelming. That market, however, is not what Mozilla is aiming at with Firefox OS.

They are instead trying to create an affordable, capable but not overly complicated phone that your average user is likely to find more than sufficient. This and they are opening up a whole new and exciting avenue for app developers. Whereas it used to be that, to get the best performance in an app, you have to make it native to the OS it would be running on. There have been some great ports, but they rarely measure up to the original product. This is changing with HTML 5 though, as it means that apps can run on essentially any phone as they are running a very slick web-app rather than a natively installed app.

This opens up the field for developers who may have wanted to create, say, a more complex app but didn’t think the investment was worth it due to having to go through the trouble of porting it. It also opens up the field a little more for first time developers who are looking to create, small, simple apps that users are likely to find useful on a phone that’s less capable, but perhaps more user friendly for those of a non-technophile mindset.

Whatever the case though, developers are clearly excited for the opportunity to develop for this new platform and Geeksphone and Mozilla are looking to get orders up and running again at a rate of 5000 a day if possible.

Google IO: A Few Things We Hope We Get

google-io

In recent times, Google have managed to become a very impressive force in bringing us interesting and sought after gadgetry. First, of course, there was Android, and well, we all know how that’s going. There was the Nexus 7 which helped kickstart the 7 inch tablet craze as we know it today, then the Nexus 4 which remains possibly the best value for money smartphone on the market in terms of performance capability to price.

And now of course, we have Google Glass, which is looking to single handedly get us all very interested in wearable reality augmenters.

It helps then, that Google’s I/O conference is under a month away, going from the 15th to the 17th of May, and there’s rumours abound as to what we can expect to be revealed to us. So we thought we’d do a little round up here at Kumulos of the stuff we think are the most interesting possibilities.

Nexus 4 update or even Nexus 5

The Nexus 4 is a great phone, and clearly quite popular as it sold like hot cakes over the Christmas period. Combining high performance with low price and vanilla, always up-to-date Android, it’s a pretty good package overall if you’re looking for a modern smartphone. That said, it has its problems. For one it’s only got 16Gb max of space and doesn’t have an LTE chip, meaning no 4G for you. However, there are strong rumours Google are either looking to update the 4 with LTE  and/or 32Gb of space, or perhaps announce a whole new Nexus 5 handset to combat Samsung’s current powerhouse, the SIV.

This could risk current Nexus 4 owners feeling a little burned, but in this modern mobile world, it’s not exactly unexpected that whatever tech you buy is quickly going to go out of date.

Key Lime Pie 5.0

Android Version 4 has certianly taken the little green robot into a whole new area of quality. With the improvements that ICS and JB brought Android could, for the first time, stand up against Apple’s ever pretty iOS. But we’ve been on v4 for a while now, and many are starting to ask what’s next. Well, considering last I/O we got Jelly Bean, it would make sense that now we’ll get KLP 5.0. What improvements are expected aren’t entirely clear right now, but Google Now is said to be a big part of it all.

What’s going on at Motorola

Google quietly acquired Motorola back in 2011 and the company has been largely silent since then, turning out medium tier handsets but nothing that’s caused any waves in the mobile market. That could be, until now. The rumour mill has been kicking up a gear recently in relation to the X Phone. Specifically, if what’s being said right now is to be believed, the X Phone line may be a game changer in the current market. There have been quotes talking about its potentially being the most powerful, capable handsets ever seen, with new, never seen before features. Of course this kind of hyperbole is common when there’s no real facts to go on, but where there’s smoke there’s normally fire; so we’ll be eagerly paying attention to this one.

Google Glass

Now we all know what GG is all about, but so far we’ve not really heard much about developers or the potential apps that are coming to Google’s wearable reality augmentation. It makes sense that they’d give us a look into the future of GG at I/O, and it will be very interesting to see where they can imagine taking the technology.

(UPDATE 2017: Google discontinued selling the Google Glass prototype in January 2015.)

New Nexus 7?

The Nexus 7 is now the grandaddy of modern tablets in terms of age. It’s already a year old, which is about 65 in mobile technology years, and definitely ready for retirement. But what to replace it with? Well, a shinier, better Nexus 7 most likely. Google are being tipped to be working with Asus again so we can probably expect another high quality, ferociously low priced tablet if there’s one coming. A few of us at Kumulos (Backend as  a Service) have Nexus 7s, so it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

Surprise project?

Now, we know that this is unlikely, after all, this is the age where a company can’t even attempt to make a new handset without it getting leaked so heavily the announcement is more of an official stamp of existence rather than an exciting reveal.

But still, it would be very cool if Google could bring us another announcement like Google Glass again, after all, what’s more fun than getting something good you didn’t ask for?

 

Apkudo, Making Developers And Carriers Lives That Little Bit Easier

apkudo

Android developers, we have a word for you.

Fragmentation.

Yep, that’s right, we’re going to talk about the much maligned downside to developing for the world’s largest mobile OS. If hearing the word fragmentation didn’t make you cringe a little, you’ve clearly not tried to release an Android app and keep all your various customers happy.

In fact, just for good measure, here it is again.

Fragmentation.

Just picture your fellow developers shuddering at their desks as memories of countless hours spent testing the app to see if it will work across the various versions and handsets available on Google’s little green robot.

Thankfully though, there is a company out there looking to make developers and carriers lives easier. Their name? Apkudo, and they are a research lab that specialises in testing the various devices available on Android to provide information on their capabilities when running different apps. Top tier mobile carriers do this as a matter of course, rigorously testing handsets to see if they’ll work properly, and larger developers can afford to spend some time going through a longer testing phase to ensure maximum capability of their latest app.

Smaller carriers and developers don’t have this luxury, and that’s where the team at Apkudo come in. They run various tests on the devices whilst constantly monitoring all aspects of the performance. They even go to more extreme lengths, like checking for framerate drops during an app’s use by using high framerate cameras. As it stands Apukudo have tested over 1700 devices, although no specific devices can be named, their CEO has said that if you’ve seen a modern handset, it’s likely already gone through the wringer.

Apkudo’s testing has started to become sought after with smaller carriers, with many refusing to stock a handset until it’s recieved the “Apkudo Approved” certificate. Many large OEMs are also starting to come knocking at their door, wanting hard, unbaised data on the performance of their devices so they can target upgrades to just the right places.

As for developers, well it means that you can find testing data on over a thousand Android handsets without having to puzzle out their performance capabilities yourself. If you already know what a handset can do, you can usually tell quite easily if its capable of running your app, which cuts down time and stress on your development team. Of course this doesn’t account for any bugs or coding errors in your actual app that could cause problems.

Like most things in the app development world, there’s no silver bullet problem solver for these things, and all Apkudo’s testing won’t neccessarily mean that your app will work any better than it already does. What their data does also mean though, is that for the first time the somewhat labyrinthian aspects of Android’s platform fragmentation are starting to be pulled away. Apkudo are slowly working their way through the, quite frankly huge, list of Android devices and creating a set of highly useful data for everyone involved in creating or selling Android products.

At the end of the day though, as much as Android’s fragmentation causes problems, it’s also one of the reasons the platform is so strong globally. With Android you can get a smartphone on almost any budget and that’s why Android has a 70% market share.

Iceland’s “Anti-Incest” App

anti-incest-app

Here are Kumulos we often talk about good app design (well, we say often, we know it’s more like all the freaking time, but seriously guys, it’s important). It’s one of the major keys in making a successful app on the market after all. But to design an app you need to have an idea of what that app is going to do or be. After all, no creative thing would exist without the spark that sets it off in the first place.

What creates that spark? Well for apps usually it’s finding a need for something useful that isn’t there, but probably should be. There are a lot of apps out there trying to solve the same problems (travel times, weather etc), but app developers in Iceland have certainly taken the biscuit for the most original app idea we’ve heard of in a while.

Essentially, Iceland has such a small population and long history (320,000) that young people looking to hook up can never be quite sure if the person they are wanting to be with isn’t related to them in some way. Apparently accidental sex with unknown first cousins isn’t that unusual in Iceland.

So what did the Icelandic app dev team do? Made an app that has a direct link to an online registry 720,000 people who were born in the country in the recentish past that partners can check before they start removing any clothes.

(UPDATE 2017: The app is still in the store and currently updated as of this writing.)

Their slogan is “Bump the app before you bump in bed” and the app is designed to talk to the same app on another phone and compare the user’s personal data to find out just how related they actually are. Of course, that may not stop them from carrying on, but they at least can’t claim ignorant bliss.

As one user review on the Play store said:

“If I would have had this app last year I probably wouldn’t have gone home with my cousin.”

So, sucks to be them, but the fact remains that the idea is quite ingenious. And it is likely to be an app that is very popular with the younger generations, as there are probably many stories like the one on the Play store.

Like we said at the beginning of the blog, good apps are partially good design, but it always helps to have a solid idea to work off of. So instead of just trying to copy others and make apps that already exist, try to find problems that haven’t been solved yet, or are unique to your country or area. And if that isn’t an option, or you’re really set on an idea that’s already been done, get those planning hats on and work out how you can make your app the one that’s going to define that little piece of appdom, rather than it being a tagalong.

Symantec: Android Has Most Malware, But iOS Has More Vulnerabilities

Symantec-logo

It’s no secret that Android is definitely the most popular mobile OS for malware. Last year it was found that 96% of all mobile malware was made for Android, and up to 30% of all Android devices are infected in one way or another.

Most of these infections are looking to steal users data (usually contact details or geolocation) or to act as adware. Also on that list are the more traditional premium texting or premium calling malware that we’ve had on mobile phones for years now. It’s also true that in the vast majority of cases, these infections don’t actually do a great deal of damage in the grand scheme of things.

That’s not to say that Malware isn’t a problem, but compared to desktop OSs, it’s still a small piece of the puzzle.

Symantec recently released a report saying that Android remains the biggest platform for mobile malware, despite it not having nearly as many vulnerabilities as iOS does. What’s the difference? Well, Symantec say that they have found 13 vulnerabilities in Android, which isn’t great, but iOS? 387. Yes, you read that right, 387 vulnerabilities on Apple’s premium mobile operating system. Now they haven’t specified what these vulnerabilities actually allow a potential hacker to do, but having that number of weak points in an OS is somewhat scary.

On the other side of things, they also report finding 108 new and unique threats (rather than just counting in existing threats) for mobile platforms in 2012. 103 of those were aimed at Android, Symbian had 3, with Windows Phone and iOS each sharing one each to make up the total. So clearly, despite Android being the more secure OS, it is still the heavy preferred option for those creating malware.

The main reason for this is probably partially a numbers game, after all Android is the market leader in terms of sheer number of active devices, then factoring in the openness of the system (which allows sideloading and 3rd party app stores) and finally the fact that whilst Android versions past 4 have had a great number of security improvements, the vast majority of Android devices don’t currently have access to them.

Additions by manufacturers are also creating security problems, for example the security exploit that appeared on Samsung’s platform in 2012. They did fix it pretty sharpish, but it was still there, and it wasn’t something that the Google team did that caused it.

Overall in the mobile malware world, we’re looking at increasing growth in mobile malware across the board.

As the graph shows, since the start of 2011 we’ve seen a massive rise in the amount of of mobile malware, with everything looking to increase as the mobile world only grows larger. Symantec reckon the two biggest threats are going to be “ransomware” and “drive-by infections from websites”.

The mobile world is changing, but in some ways it’s mirroring the rise of the PC before it. A massive spurt of growth that is then slowly being caught up with by the problems that come with rapid expansion and adoption. Whereas at first you can leave behind the negative aspects of it through sheer forward momentum, they will eventually catch you, and that’s what’s happening now in the mobile world.

So as an app developer, how can you help slow this curve? Well, by developing solidly designed, well coded apps that don’t leave any doors open for hackers or malware to in behind the walls.

Fragmentation And New App Stores, The Future Of App Development?

fragmentation

E-reader company Kobo, who are a Canadian tablet and e-book manufacturer owned by Rakuten, a massive Japanese e-commerce corporation, just announced the release of a limited edition e-reader with, they say, the highest resolution screen of any e-ink device. It’s being priced at $169.99 and will only be produced in limited numbers. Kobo have also announced along with this release that they plan to open their own app store soon, following on from a decent track record of sales until now.

Now, does it not seem that this is yet another new app store arriving on the scene?

Alongside Kobo, we have Firefox OS recently announcing their own app store, then right beside them is Ubuntu, and then we have Sailfish from Jolla and Tizen from Samsung. Then we have the individual app stores for Smart TVs and the various smaller app stores for individual devices like Nook e-readers.

There have always been more App Stores out there than most people realise, but in this modern mobile age it seems like they are popping up all over the place.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, after all the more stores, the more choice for consumers and the more competition there is in terms of pricing and product quality. It does, however, create a problem that all developers dread; fragmentation.

Android developers have had to deal with it more than perhaps any other mobile developer. There are thousands of different types of Android handset out there, all with different screen sizes, different performance capabilities and of course, different versions of Android. It’s taken until 2013 for Gingerbread to start being beaten out by the much more modern Jelly Bean in terms of number of active handsets. Even in iOS there are now different screen sizes and performance capabilities that developers are increasingly having to work with if they want an app that can work across the iOS range.

Then of course, as app developers, you might want to get your app onto multiple OS but that of course creates further problems as you either port or rebuild your app onto the other OS, and then you have to maintain multiple apps across different code bases.

It raises the question, do we need, or indeed want, more and more mobile OS and app stores?

It’s an interesting dilemma.

On the one hand, it will create more opportunities for app developers than ever before. Now you don’t need to compete in the flooded markets of Android and iOS, you can target a smaller, niche user base. New OS like Firefox and Sailfish give small and new developers an opportunity to cut their teeth in an environment that isn’t swimming with sharks and the giants of the app world and it lets more experienced app developers try out new ideas in a place where they’re more likely to be found.

On the other hand, the relatively small user bases could work against developers. They may be creating amazing apps and getting good traction, but they may just not be getting the numbers they need to be sustainable in a business sense. The newer platforms are also relatively untested and in the economic climate we have right now, it wouldn’t be the most unexpected thing to see a small OS go under or be swallowed by a larger cousin, taking all its apps with it.

 

You Can Code, But Can You Design?

design

Here at Kumulos, it’s not unusual for us to talk about app design. After all, it’s a hugely important part of the overall process of creating an app. Bad app design is one of the major factors in apps failing to garner a good sized user base and why many apps end up as drains on resources because they’re not viable to maintain any more with a small user base.

A well designed app can hook users into your system, can get them talking about it and get your development studio’s name out there; all things you want when you’re looking to make your living from developing apps.

It can be hard sometimes though, as a coder, to know how to improve your design skills; which is especially important if you’re working on your own or in a small team where everyone has to share the load.  After all, making something visually striking and good to use well is very different from coding the backend of it well. The two skills are not always interchangeable, but thankfully there are many coders out there with the exact same problem and they regularly post about it on Stack Exchange and other Q&A websites; and we thought we’d pull together some of the advice and also give you some of our own.

It’s going to take time

First and foremost is to realise that this isn’t going to happen overnight. Like any skill, being a good designer takes time to learn. There was once a professor in an art College who said as his first lecture to first year students, “You guys have thousands of bad pictures in you, lets start getting some of them out now.”

The same is true in app design. The first app you design is highly unlikely to be a work of art and neither are your second or third, if we’re being honest. But that shouldn’t put you off of making them. Every time you do you’ll have learned important lessons from the previous attempts. It helps to do research into good design, and good patterns to follow as you’ll start to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. More importantly though, do research into anti-pattern. We’ve talked about it here before and it’s very important as an app developer that you don’t fall into the trap of accidentally creating apps with UI anti-patterns in them.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Yes, they suck and cause you problems in the short term, but because they suck you’ll learn to avoid them and how to handle them better in the future.

On the coding side of things, as design also applies in code in some ways, remember you’re writing code for something that is going to need maintained and bug fixed frequently as time goes on. So try to aim for getting the tidiest, cleanest and easiest to maintain code you can first time. Avoid the “just one more hack” mentality, as you’ll quickly find that your entire app is filled with little, ugly fixes that only work when nothing changes and does exactly as it’s supposed to. Code like that will just mean headaches for you and your users in the future, and headaches for users are exactly what you’re trying to avoid in the first place with good app design.

Finally, remember that you want people to want to use your app.

Ultimately if you wouldn’t use your app, why do you think anyone else will?

Make an app that you yourself want on your device, that you enjoy using. If you can design your app to be that, you’ve probably solved many of the problems related to design just through the natural needs of making an app you like. After all, you are an app developer, and no one is more critical of something than those who also create that certain thing.

The Sticky Situation Of “Unauthorized” In App Purchases

in-app-purchase

We’ve talked often here at Kumulos about the importance of choosing an app monetization scheme that works best for your business and your app, and also the difficulty involved in that choice. With trends constantly changing and with different types of payment and monetization going in and out of fashion nearly every week (at least that how it can sometimes feel), app developers are hard pressed to select the correct one for them.

One of the most popular is definitely the free with in app purchases model. It combines the user drawing aspects of the free model, but adds the potential to gain a decent income through in app purchases if your app is well designed. This design is typically used with games as they have the addictive quality that will bring people to their app store purchase, but it’s not unheard of in other types of app like, for example, buying upgrades and extra features for the app.

This type of monetization is successful yes, but it also has brought a big, or perhaps little depending on how you look at it, problem with it.

Due to many of these in app purchasing schemes not requiring the iTunes password before finalizing the payment, children have been racking up extortionate bills on their parents iTunes accounts because they have bought hundreds of in-game items whilst playing a mobile game. Not too long ago an 8 year old bought £980 (roughly $1500) of virtual donuts in a Simpsons game, and a 5 year old spent £1700 ($2611) in Plants vs Zombies.

Obviously this is a problem for the parents and a headache for the publishers and developers of these games. The games are clearly doing their job right as they’re incentivizing in app buying, but with children having no real concept of money, especially virtual money, they are literally bankrupting their parents with in app buying. For the publisher, Apple, it’s a headache because they have to investigate each case and refund the money if it is found to be an “unauthorized” purchase. And for the developer it’s a pain because regulatory bodies like the Office of Fair Trading in the UK have got involved to look into whether these apps (and others) in app purchases are “misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair.”

Do you remember a short while ago we talked about “Dark Patterns” and “UI anti-pattern”?

These unauthorized in app purchases are a classic example of UI anti-pattern. It seems unlikely that the developer for say, Zombies vs Plants, sat down and designed their in app buying to lure children into spending thousands of dollars on extra weapons to fight zombies (no doubt twirling their mustache and laughing maniacally as lightning flashed overhead). It doesn’t mean, however, that they’ve not been careless in their design. Despite it being initially great for business, no user should be able to rack up a bill of thousands without at least being asked for a password.

Not only is it irresponsible of the developer to leave that open to happen, it’s also dangerous for the customer. Sure, it’s just been kids so far, but that no passworded gate is also easy access for hackers and criminals who may want to access your iTunes account. If your device is stolen, who’s to stop them doing just as the kids have done and drain thousands out of your bank account?

This is why we at Kumulos like to bring these topics up, to remind app developers that good design isn’t just about having an easy to use, great to look at app, it’s about getting all the nuts and bolts of the underlying system working as well. You have to make sure that your app is secure, and that UI anti-pattern is minimal to non-existent or it could come back and bite you.