Summary: The Market is improving but don't expect an increase in the refund window beyond 15 minutes any time soon. Google claims developers and users like the status quo. We put that to the test in two polls. During the Android Market session at I/O 2011, Google revealed a number of long overdue improvements to the Market such as support for larger applications (up to 4GB), the ability to sell in more countries, and new rankings to promote new and popular Apps. However one change requested by some developers and users was explicitly shot down: increasing the refund window for paid applications.
Refunds "R" us
When the Market first opened in October 2008 it supported only free programs. Starting in February 2009, developers could charge for their apps in certain markets. To differentiate the Market from other stores such as the Apple App Store, users could try out paid apps for 24 hours before buying them. Although Google calls this a refund window, the way it worked is that the Market didn't charge your credit card until 24 to 48 hours after your original purchase. If you cancelled the purchase, no charge was made.
The generous 24 hour trial period was removed in December last year when Google reduced the refund window to 15 minutes. They didn't give a good reason for the change, and questions and complaints have gone unanswered until now. Let's take a look at the ongoing reaction to the change and the reasons behind it.
Not so fast
While 15 minutes is better than 0 minutes, it has obvious problems. Some apps take longer than that to download, install, and configure. Others may require more testing time. Over at the androidandme.com forum, user Futureboy writes:
"Let’s take a look at Quickoffice Pro. It took me 35 minutes to discover the bugs that make the app completely useless for me. To top it all off, I purchased it to replace Spreadsheet which is buggy and is no longer supported by the developers. So between the two, I’m now I’m out $12 and still don’t have a working spreadsheet app. Now, I am very hesitant to put out good money for any app over .99 if I don’t think I can fully evaluate it in 15 minutes."
Another reader named Michael says a longer refund window encouraged him to buy things:
"In the old days I would install a paid app fairly often and get a refund if it didn’t work out for me. I kept quite a few. Now I don’t even consider paid apps unless I have run a free version for a while and concluded that the additional features in the paid version are something I really want."
And JesterOC points out that you only get one chance for a refund:
"I checked out Deathworm when it first came out, and it locked up in the first 5 minutes or so. I refunded it quickly because I knew I was on a timer. Then the developer updated it and described the fixes saying it fixed several lockup issues on 'certain' phones. I was going to buy it again and try it out, when I got a message that said since I already purchased and returned it, I can’t return it for a refund again. Well they lost a sale, I am not sure if they fixed it for my phone, and I’m not tossing 5 bucks away in the hope that they did."
Extend me not
During the I/O conference we asked Google if they had any plans to increase the 15 minute window or allow developers to specify a custom window. The answer was an unqualified "No". When asked to elaborate, a Google spokesman shared this information:
Google wants the purchasing experience to be uniform for all apps, therefore all apps need to have the same refund window. The 24 hour window was reduced at the request of developers, specifically developers of short applications like comic books. Publishers complained that users could buy a comic book, read it, and then refund it all within the 24 hour window. Having a 15 minute window fixes that. The 15 minute window starts after the application has finished downloading the app. If the programmer is using the new managed resource downloads (part of the 4GB app limit change that will be rolled out in June) then the 15 minute window will start after the app and all of its resources have been downloaded. When asked if the 15 minute window was negotiable or subject to being reconsidered, the answer was "No".
To back up its decision, Google says they have conducted informal surveys of developers and users and found that most people are happy with the change. I guess they haven't been reading the same forum posts that we have. They also said they had not seen an increase in chargebacks (refunds requested through the credit card company).
The people have spoken. Or have they?
In light of this last assertion we'd like to conduct a survey of our own. Two, actually: one for Android developers and one for Android users. Pick the one that best describes you to vote in. When the poll closes we'll send the results to Google for comment.
Answer just the first poll if you are currently an Android developer or are planning to be one in the next 12 months.
Answer the second poll instead if you are an Android user and have ever purchased or considered purchasing a paid Android app, or are likely to in the next 12 months.
PICK ONE poll if you're both a developer and a user, so we can keep the results separate. Note: Votes are anonymous, but to discourage gaming the numbers, IP addresses are logged. Please forward these polls to all the Android developers and users that you know. How long should the refund window be? You make the call