Apple’s test of a new iOS subscription payment system is a huge step back

Apple is testing out a new subscription payment system for iOS devices that would let developers automatically charge a higher subscription-renewal price rather than ask for explicit acceptance, so long as the user is notified ahead of the renewal price increase and given the chance to cancel their subscription.

While this is a fairly common practice with subscription services, this isn't the way this is supposed to work on iOS. From Apple's developer documentation:

When you increase the price of a subscription, Apple informs affected subscribers via email and push notification and asks them to agree to the new price. On iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4 and later, affected subscribers are also notified through a price consent sheet that automatically displays in your app… If they don’t agree, their subscription expires at the end of their current billing cycle.

The new payment system was first flagged by developer Max Seelemann on Twitter and later confirmed by TechCrunch.

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The issue appears to be limited to the Disney+ app for now and only seems to affect a limited number of users as part of a pilot test of a new iOS payment system.

Apple told TechRadar that the company is “piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon. The pilot includes developers across various app categories, organization sizes, and regions to help test an upcoming enhancement that we believe will be great for both developers and users, and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.”

It's not clear whether this system, if implemented, would be open to all developers on the iOS platform, or whether only a selection of developers would be granted the ability to auto-charge for a price increase.


Analysis: while it could be worse, this is still a terrible idea

One of the worst things about subscription-based models is that they require a lot of management and juggling on the part of the user. Who among us hasn't completely forgotten that some subscription charge was due on a certain date and only realized it once we suddenly had a lot less money in the bank than we thought we had?

This is especially problematic when you're dealing with an annual subscription, which is a large chunk of money and is much more likely to be forgotten by the user (making it more unlikely that it will be cancelled ahead of the renewal charge). Subscription services are a very appealing model for businesses for that reason, and a major headache for users.

Apple's current system is about as good as you can expect, all things considered. It can't save you from forgetting about a looming renewal and over-drafting your bank account as a result, but at least it requires you to explicitly accept a higher price after an 'introductory' rate expires and automatically cancels the subscription if you don't do anything. 

We would much rather see Apple stick with that system than let a company automatically bill users a higher rate if they don't take action on it. On the plus side, it appears that the renewal-price increase notification is very obvious and there is at least a link for users to review the subscription and cancel it if they so choose.  

There's no getting around the fact, though, that this could open the door for ne'er-do-well developers to take advantage of users by starting off at a very low price and then jacking it up considerably for the renewal. While most users would immediately move to cancel if they saw that kind of scammy behavior, even with the new notification system, there's going to be some small subset of users who misread, misunderstand, or just miss the notification and find themselves getting hit with a higher-than-expected charge out of the blue.

Given that potential nightmare scenario, it's likely that only certain large developers would be allowed to automatically charge you an increased price in this way, which raises a different problem. This would give bigger players in the industry special treatment that puts smaller, legitimate developers at a disadvantage, with no obvious benefit to the user.

Given Apple's generally good track record on user protections, this feels like a big step back and is disappointing to see. If the big fish in the App Store pond do get special privileges, we should stop pretending that Apple's platform is as fair as the company claims it is. 

Since this appears to be a small pilot test, we hope Apple comes to see how valuable its current subscription payment model is for its users and doesn't break what is already working well. 

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Google Calendar is turning into an appointment booking system

Booking appointments in Google Calendar just got even easier as Google is now rolling out a new appointment scheduling feature to its calendar app.

First introduced for paid Google Workspace users last June, the company's appointment scheduling feature allows users to share their availability through a booking page.

This booking page can be used by external stakeholders, clients, partners and others to schedule time to meet in-person or over video through Google Meet.

Creating a bookable appointment schedule in Google Calendar is just as easy as setting up a new event or task and on desktop, it can be done by clicking the plus icon. However, you will need a paid Google Workspace Individual account to test out this feature for yourself.

Appointment scheduling vs appointment slot

While Google Calendar's appointment scheduling may sound similar to its existing appointment slot feature, they have entirely different use cases.

The appointment slot feature in Google Calendar is intended for internal use cases where you don't know who needs to meet with you but want to make yourself available. For instance, professors can use it to hold their office hours while an IT department can make itself available for employees experiencing computer issues.

Appointment scheduling on the other hand is suited for external use cases and allows for people outside of your organization, including those who don't have a Google account, to schedule meetings. However, you won't have to worry about double bookings or rescheduling appointments as the feature also supports automatic conflict detection with existing Google Calendar events.

Now that businesses have begun implementing hybrid work policies, this additional flexibility makes it easier to schedule meetings and share your availability in a way that works for everyone.

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You can now ride the metro system in Cyberpunk 2077 thanks to a mod

It's been a year since the game's release and modders are still coming to the rescue of players who are unable to use some features within the city.

Cyberpunk 2077's wide-ranging metropolis has had a metro system that you could visit, but not use. Thanks to a modder by the name of keanuWheeze, you can now use the metro system to get around the city as you please.

There are 19 stations that you can use, and as you ride one, you can also switch between a first or third-person perspective, so you can get a good view of the city as you travel.

The posts on the page by players are already full of praise, with some exclaiming how this one mod has convinced them to re-install the game again.


Analysis: modders to the rescue

It's well-established that Cyberpunk 2077 has not had the best of launches, with constant patches to fix up characters, vehicles, and much more to make it playable at least, and enjoyable at the most.

While CD Projekt RED is most likely planning to enable the NCART System in time, the priority is still to make sure the game plays as originally planned. But mods have also been able to improve games in ways that the developers never intended.

Sonic Mania is a great example – released in 2017, modders have been able to implement brand new zones that reimagine levels from previous Sonic games.

Mods can not only enable features such as the NCART System, but they can also give new experiences that can be seen as unofficial expansion packs.

This could be Cyberpunk's saving grace, as there's still a significant fanbase who want the game to meet expectations that CD Projeckt RED set many years ago.

The game can still be breathtaking in an official capacity, but it could be the mods that can really help the game shine in time.

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