Apple Contemplating Reduction in 15-Minute App Purchase Window

In an apparent response to rising concerns about children buying costly virtual goods in freemium apps, Apple is reportedly discussing the possibility of reducing a 15-minute purchase window for users to buy successive apps or purchase in-app goods with only one password sign-in. According to PocketGamer, a source said the company is looking at reducing the amount of time it holds on to a password in a possible effort to stem unwanted app purchases.

The story quoted Capcom, maker of popular freemium title Smurfs’ Village, which said it was open to any changes in the rules that would limit inadvertent app purchases. Developer Recharge Studios, the maker of Dolphin Play, released a statement today calling upon Apple to make a number of changes to its in-app purchase system including a requirement for password input for each purchase. “Our primary concern at Recharge Studios is maintaining a high level of consumer transparency. Ensuring the consumer understands the in-app purchase process and refund process is absolutely necessary to help avert confusion,” said CEO Andrew Johnson.

Apple allows iOS users to sign-in and buy an app or in-app purchase and then have 15 minutes to make more purchases before the password is required again. As I reported before, parents and at least one legislator have raised the issue around Apple’s in-app purchases system, which has led to cases of children buying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars of virtual goods in games pitched to children. My colleague Kevin’s step daughter racked up $375 dollars in one game before he realized. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D – MA) last week urged the Federal Trade Commission to review the way Apple markets its apps because of questions about the ease with which children are buying items in games.

Some game publishers like Capcom have begun putting in warnings in their games explaining that the virtual goods cost real money. Recharge Studios has called upon Apple to make a similar warning required on App Store descriptions of apps that have in-app purchases. As I reported earlier, game publishers don’t want to make parents angry with inadvertent purchases, but they can’t change the password rules. Only Apple can.

Narrowing or closing the password sign-in period would seem like an easy thing for Apple to do, but so far, it hasn’t seemed inclined to make the change. Apple already has parental controls in its iOS settings menu that can restrict all in-app purchases. Apple reiterated that to me last week, saying “a password is required to buy any goods in the App Store including using in-app purchases and parents can use our parental controls settings to restrict app downloading and turn off in-app purchasing.”

The question is, will Apple erect another protection against inadvertent app and in-app purchases? The ease of use in downloading apps, often in quick succession, has been one of the reasons why the App Store has flourished. Narrowing the window of time for a password could create more frustration for users. And requiring a password for each purchase each time could be a bigger annoyance. And it might also discourage some spontaneous app purchases, which is something Apple, with its 30 percent cut of all revenue derived from App Store spending, does not want. It sounds like Apple is at least now open to discussing the issue, so stay tuned. We could see some changes real soon. Or not. It’s Apple.