ComiXology, Content Restrictions and Customer Loyalty

AppStore comixologyLogo

 

 

Digital comics platform ComiXology recently made a very sudden change to its operating model. On Saturday April 26th 2014 the in-app storefronts stopped working, with absolutely no prior warning that this was going to happen.

Android users required an update, which replaced the old Google Play compatible storefront with one requiring their main ComiXology account have a payment method on file. Aside from the inability to use Google play credit anymore (which is a major issue for some) there was no real loss in functionality. As long as one is in a position to use the credit card or PayPal account.

iOS users, however, bore the brunt of the change. This was no mere upgrade. There was a new app that needed installing. This itself then required logging in with (or creating) a ComiXology account, to tie existing purchase to the account that would be needed going forwards…
…in the shiny new Reader-Only App.

Cue major outrage.

On a Saturday.

The poor PR and tech support (file migration was not always smooth) guys must’ve been working their socks off last weekend to deal with the aftermath of this one.

ComiXology have desperately been trying to put a positive spin on this as being ultimately good for the customers. Apple’s App Store does, it has to be said, have rather strict rules regarlding in-app purchases. Apple automatically get a 30% cut of each sale. Also, there are rules regarding what kind of content is allowed to be purchased in-app. So technically this is a good change.
Only the web store was always an option before. So if people wanted restricted content then they could do. And if someone wanted to support ComiXology directly, they always had that option.

The problem now is that choice has been taken away. You must use the webstore if you are an iOS user. You must buy directly through ComiXology, regardless of tablet platform.
If you favour in-app purchases, or if you only run through mobile store credit, you no longer have those options.

Needless to say, it has been a bit of a PR disaster for them. Their App Store average ratings (depending on country) have dropped to between one Star and one-and-a-half Stars. People are deleting the app. People are unsubscribing from other Amazon services, or at least taking the opportunity to review whether they need those subscriptions at the moment or not. And the very people who probably would have been won over in a day or so have been alienated by the overall bad handling of the whole situation.

They have severely negatively impacted their customer loyalty. There’s a chance it may just be a case of “Nerd Rage” and that it will all settle down quickly. There’s always that chance, though, that this is going to leave people with a sour taste for a long while yet. Only time (and sales figures) will tell.

iOS Wishlist

With iOS6 due for release this autumn, Apple have already released a list of a lot of the upcoming features and improvements it will bring.There are definitely some useful additions in there, as well as some features I know I will never use.

I have been using an iPad for just over a year at this point, and there are a few key features that I would dearly love to be added. The iOS platform has grown from strength to strength since its inception but there are a still a few minor niggles where the way it works is at odds to some logical-seeming use-cases.

When I thought of this topic a few months back, I had originally made notes about the rumoured “Podcasts” app.
This has already arrived and, although far from perfect, it allows me to do what I had hoped from it. Here’s hoping some of my other ideal features arrive…

Games

One of the current drawbacks of iOS as a mobile gaming platform is that saved progress is not kept separately form the main app. As a result, when you remove the game you remove your saves. There is currently no simple way to delete a game for space without completely losing all progress.
This is not useful if a game you’re not currently playing is taking up space on your device. If you ever intend to return to it, you are forced to leave it sat there taking up space.

Make it part of the backup-via-iTunes. Hell, make it available through iCloud. I don’t currently use it, but this would instantly make it into something worth looking into.

The ability to store and manage save files will become increasingly important as mobile devices are starting to become the mobile gaming platforms of choice, Why carry a DS or PSP with you (along with their charging cables) when you already have a cellphone and tablet?

The thing is, as the bigger games companies try to bring entires onto iOS and Android, they are competing with much cheaper games in the same store. Yes, you are often paying for increased gameplay and brand recognition, but this is where space runs into a problem,
Do I really want to pay £10-20 on a game that will eat up a chunk of the fixed storage space on my iPad? Currently, no. Not if I can’t shift the save files around to use later. But if I can move games on and off the tablet, yet always have access to my save files when I put them back on the device, I am going to look into more of them.

User-Defined Default Apps

Whilst you can get alternative apps for things like web-browsing and email, there is currently no way a non-jailbroken iOS device can change the default app.

For example, unless an app specifically knows to look for Google Chrome as a possible web browser, you can only open URLs frpm other apps in Safari.

A way of allowing apps to officially announce themselves as being alternatives to default apps would be really nice. Being able to also set a default would, of course, be ideal but even adding an menu option of “Open in Other Browser” would help a lot.

Higher Cellular Download Cap

I understand why they want to stop some of the larger downloads happening when people are on cellular as opposed to wireless. The current 50MB limit, however, is increasingly restrictive. With Retina-compatible apps having larger additional graphical assets and some podcast episodes going over 50MB, it is harder to find things that fit within this limit.

My iPad is on a contract that includes 15GB per month. I go nowhere near this – I just chose it as 3 have the highest cap for the same price as everyone else. It would be nice to be able to use the merest fraction of this when I am trying to download an app, game or episode when not near a wireless signal.

By all means still impose limits. It’s just that 50MB is too restrictive these days. If I want a half-gig game, yes make me find a proper internet connection. But for something under 150MB? Really?

Anything Else?

It’s hard to think of any other features I’d class as must-have. The only other currently-lacking features that I can actually think of are things (like per-account email signatures) that are already in the next version. So I will be very curious to see what else shows up, and where they can go in iOS7.