Counting the cost of mobile app games and children
YOU may have heard the recent news coverage (and coverage in the past) of children essentially 'wiping out large amounts of money' by making unnoticed payments within iOS (iPod touch, iPad and iPhone) devices.
How does it happen? Apps, or more specifically games, are downloaded to a device, and played.
When users reach a certain point within the game where they run out of in-game currency or want to 'expand their gaming experience', they can make purchases in-game to fund their 'virtual currency supply'.
After downloading the app and making one purchase of in-game currency ("It's only 69 pence!") a 15-minute grace period for further purchases is automatically applied.
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In this period, you could tap on an option of higher value (over £30) continuously and 'wipe out' these large amounts of money in a short space of time.
Within a plethora of iOS games the 'payment model' falls into place like this: The (young) customer downloads the app with permission, with their parent or the primary user understanding it's free.
When playing the game, the user wants to upgrade their 'in-game environment' (whether this be a shop, a vehicle etcetera) but has not earned enough in-game currency (usually 'Coins', 'Cash' or 'Credits') to do so. In an instant, the application triggers a notification stating this 'problem' and directs the user to a Shop function within the app.
The Shop function offers amounts of in-game currency, ranging from a small amount to amounts worth in excess of £50.
After asking the parent to buy the smallest amount of in-game currency, the 15-minute period allows further in-app purchases and so on.
In order to describe the true extent of the distribution of this function (In-App Purchases, or IAPs), a piece of personal research explores a popular iOS game that is 'free' and is designed to instantly prove appealing.
'4 Pics 1 Word' is an intriguing quiz-style game in which four images are displayed on the screen, as well as a set of letters, with the goal of each 'set' being to guess the word using the letters provided.
Difficulty increases, and hints (that are used incredibly quickly!) can be purchased through the game's 'Shop'.
After purchasing the 'cheapest level' of 'coins', in which a password was prompted – for 69p, I attempted to make another purchase.
This purchase did not demand a password and the additional coins were instantly purchased.
Users of Facebook's 'embedded games' (such as FarmVille) may also know about Facebook Credits (which can be purchased by credit or debit card, as well as via PayPal or even from your mobile phone's credit).
Enticement tactics such as the ones mentioned earlier are also employed in a form of 'addictive gaming' within Facebook games and iOS applications, with the option to purchase in-game currency to extend gaming potential and reach 'new levels' (faster).
The standing question is how restrictions can be enforced.
Open Settings on your iOS device, then select General and scroll down to select Restrictions. Tap Restrictions and then select 'Enable Restrictions'.
You will be asked for a four-digit Restrictions Passcode.
If you use a four-digit passcode already keep this one separate to ensure restrictions are not tampered with or modified.
Enter the passcode again to confirm and then scroll down to the 'Allowed Content' section.
Tap the switch next to 'In-App Purchases' to switch In-App Purchases off entirely, or tap the 'Require Password' option and set to Immediately if requiring a password for every transaction would be a more suitable option.
In most cases the latter would be preferred, as In-App Purchases are also used for purchasing newspapers, magazines and other benign content across iOS content.
Tap the 'back arrow' labelled General (top left) to go back and save your Restrictions settings.
It's important to take a look at the settings on your iOS device and decide on restrictions that allow a level of freedom while preserving security and making sure outlets such as 'password-free' repeated transactions, as well as in some cases in-app purchases altogether, are blocked.
Leading iPad accessories
THE category of iPad accessories comprises of many types of product: from cases and covers to implements for sketching, as well as Bluetooth media devices and more. Here's a look at three great iPad accessories on the market.
Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo
I'VE been using this stylus for a few months now and overall, it's been a sleek experience.
Although it comes at quite a high price tag (around £25), it provides a stable writing feel and sports a modern look; with a stylus nib on one end and an integrated pen on the other (hence the name).
As a 'heavy user' of the iPad, a complimenting build quality is essential, with this stylus allowing for precision when writing, sketching and generally using the iPad while being a nicely weighted and designed implement. There's also a 'Solo' version for £5 cheaper, with the omission of the 'pen function', providing a stylus-only experience.
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover
THE Ultrathin Keyboard Cover has been repeatedly named as one of the 'top 5' iPad keyboard covers in press tests and reviews.
It provides a full QWERTY keyboard experience and compliments the iPad's look with the keyboard section itself, as well as an integrated screen cover for protection and carrying.
It's Bluetooth powered and near-instantly pairs and connects with your iPad for a streamlined typing experience.
Battery life is described as being around 6 months, with use being as easy as clipping the iPad into place and locking magnetically.
It's a functional, stylish and powerful keyboard that is truly 'made for iPad'.
iPad Smart Case from Apple
THE iPad Smart Case is my opinion of a true essential for iPad users; being the first accessory purchased for my personal iPad.
Being an Apple-designed product, it fits the iPad perfectly and provides access to all the hardware buttons (volume, lock etcetera) on the iPad while preserving the design and aesthetic of the iPad itself.
Similar to the Smart Cover, it allows for activation of the screen when opening the cover (hence the 'Smart' functionality in the title) but provides a fully rounded protection experience, as opposed to a magnetically hinged cover protecting the front of the iPad only.
It looks great and meets every detail, including a 'dotted grille' for the speaker bottom left on the iPad.
Made from polyurethane, it comes in six colours and also provides stable stand functionality, potentially more reliably than the Smart Cover.
It's an excellent product and in my opinion, a 'must buy'.
Yasin Soliman, student, Devonport High School for Boys,Twitter: @YasinSoliman