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Apple Needs to Refund VoiceOver Users for Inaccessible Apps

August 15, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

By guest writer Michael Hansen.

With the release of IM+ Pro—an instant messaging client for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad—with VoiceOver support, I got to thinking: I don’t mind paying $10 to an app developer for an app with full VoiceOver accessibility. However, I do mind paying any amount to a developer for an application that I cannot use. The exception is @Planetbeing’s Signal app, which I would buy regardless because he and the Dev Team have done the jailbreak community a great service with all of their hard work on jailbreaks/unlocks for the iOS platform. @Planetbeing’s app aside (which I haven’t bought yet because I cannot currently access Cydia with VoiceOver), I see no reason to pay for an application that I cannot use, be it an iPhone app or something for my Windows computer.

Palringo Poses Problems

Within the last couple weeks, I purchased Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, developed by Palringo Limited, from the iTunes Store. I was able to log into AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), but was not able to log into Facebook. VoiceOver reported “Facebook…logging in,” when I tapped that icon. Even after I confirmed that Palringo accessing Facebook was okay (my account had been frozen because Facebook had not recognized Palringo) I still got the same “logging in” message.

Accessibility Problems Start With AIM

In AIM, the situation was different but no less problematic. While I was able to access my contacts list and receive messages, I was unable to read the messages—VoiceOver would read the contact’s name but not the message itself. There went $4.99. Thanks, Palringo.

Apple Grants One-Time Refund for Palringo…Grudgingly

This afternoon, I contacted Apple through the iTunes Store to request a refund for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, due to inaccessibility. In an e-mail sent at 6:22 PM CDT today, Apple said they would reverse the charge for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium—just this one time.

“I’m sorry to hear that you can’t use ‘Palringo Instant Messenger Premium’ with your device,” said Lilly, the iTunes Customer Support representative who responded to my request. “Please note that The iTunes Store Terms of Sale state that all sales are final, so this is a one-time exception.”

So what does Apple expect the blindness community to do? Pay for apps and not be able to use them? Install pirated versions to try them out before buying them in the app store? I don’t think so.

Apple needs to consistently provide refunds to VoiceOver users for inaccessible apps—it’s as simple as that. I will never download pirated applications, but honestly, given that Apple does not have an app trial service, I’m not surprised that Piracy is as big as it is—the lack of a trial service effects many more people than just VoiceOver users. It is in Apple’s best interests, no matter what way they look at it, to institute a trial service—the Android folks have already figured that one out.

I also think that Apple should require developers to list VoiceOver support in their application descriptions in the iTunes store, similar to how they list iOS version compatibility.

Next Steps Likely Uphill

I plan to contact Palringo Limited to ask about future accessibility of their products. I am also going to present my concerns to Apple.

Please stay tuned, as I will write when I have any updates.

Michael Hansen is totally blind and is a senior at Addison Trail High School in Addison, IL. Previously, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Skyline newspaper at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, during the 2009-2010 school year. He can be reached at AMTK62 (at) gmail (dot) com.

7 opinions on “Apple Needs to Refund VoiceOver Users for Inaccessible Apps

  1. I don’t believe Apple should be required to provide refunds. Under any circumstances.
    First off, it’s not their responsibility. They did commit to accessibility, which is wonderful. But they can’t make that commitment extend to every app developer. It’s impossible, unless they reject apps for being inaccessible. But then there are the issues of the inherently inaccessible apps, such as photo viewers, graphics-based games, etc. Thus that solution is out. The argument can be made that since Voiceover is capable of interacting with third party apps then their commitment does extend to every app. But it’s impossible to enforce that with the current system, and with some apps which just cannot be made accessible.

    The solution here is to implement a tag in the store, some piece of information on each app’s description page, with a rating as to how much of the accessibility guide was followed. Since an app has to be reviewed anyway, this wouldn’t take much longer, would prevent Apple from paying for the fact that some developers choose not to make their apps accessible, and would give advocates a good way to get in contact and try to convince developers to make their apps comply with the guidelines.

    What needs to be remembered, is that they are just guidelines. Not rules. That means it’s the developer’s choice if they follow them or not. It would be nice to have X amount of days to try applications, or the security of knowing that if something doesn’t work we’d get our money back. But since we don’t, for now, we take our chances, and suck up the losses. Just like everyone else.

    I do recommend that as many of us as possible suggest to Apple to include accessibility in their approval and checking process and display a rating, perhaps in percentage, or as a starred rating given by the approval team as to how accessible the app is, going strictly on how much of the guide, if any, was followed.

    This works out to be a fair solution. Sighted users have screen shots to get a glimpse of how the app would work, we should have an accessibility rating. But refunding, especially without trying to advocate for the app to become accessible first is not the way to go.

  2. I spoke with apple about this on going issue a couple of days ago about another app called wae gps and i also emailed the company about it.
    I informed apple that they should implement a policy that asks not demands that developers make their apps voiceover accessible with their apps.
    I believe this would have an advantage of getting more customers.

  3. The power of the purse can be an encredible thing. Therefore, I think apple *should* give refunds if an app is not accessible. Anybody who is developing an app that is in the app store has to comply with apple’s various standards. Maybe having the prospect of loosing money over this would make accessibility part of apple’s quality control

  4. I don’t believe that Apple should be forced to refund apps that are inaccessible. It’s not Apple’s fault that they are inaccessible, they provide the Accessibility API’s, guidelines and it’s up to the developers to do the right thing. Apple does state in terms of service that all sales are final.
    What I do think should be done is a trial period for apps. They have made the first step in that direction by having a free app section in App Store. However, these are only lite versions of app, which don’t apply to all apps and don’t have all the features of the full paid apps. If Android was able to initially setup a 24 hour period, where one can try out an app, later extending it to 48 hours, Apple can certainly do the same. THis would benefit everyone, would steer people away from jailbreaking and using pirated apps to find out if one likes the app or not.
    This method will be a win win for sighted, blind and other users of Apps in the iOS App Store.
    Since Apple already has an approval process for Apps a check for accessibility for those apps that could be accessible, a rating of some sort would be great.

  5. There’s a reason why shareware took off in the PC world in the 1980s and 1990s. People may find that software may not work for them and a trial use period offers the ability to learn if something works for a particular end user. I wonder if contacting ap developers about VoiceOver compatibility yields much useful information.

  6. I don’t believe that apple should refund anything. If I buy an app I’m taking my chances on that and that is something I’m alright with. I do have a price point that I’d be willing to eat though.

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