iPhone In-App Purchases: Lost and Found

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

With iPhone OS 3.0’s In-App Purchase, an iPhone app can include the option for you to buy additional features directly from within the app itself. For example, you could use this to buy more levels of a game or (as in my recent adventure) to add the Traffic Live option to the latest version of Navigon’s MobileNavigator.

Soon after I made the $19.99 in-app purchase from Navigon, things began to go awry. Not to worry. The story has a happy ending.

First, a brief digression about MobileNavigator itself: When I last wrote about this GPS app, I gave it high marks. And that was before an upgrade that added text-to-speech for street names. Navigon did a fabulous job with this feature; I find its spoken directions to be superior (clearer and more detailed) to those on my Garmin GPS. MobileNavigator is a great app that keeps getting better. Now back to our story…

In-app purchase lost

Almost immediately after adding Traffic Live, MobileNavigator developed a glitch: it became mute. This was a serious glitch for a GPS app, as it meant that voice navigation no longer worked.

Hoping for a quick fix, I restarted the iPhone. Still no sound.

A common recommendation at this point is to reinstall the app. To do this, you delete the app from the iPhone and reinstall it from the copy on your Mac via your next sync in iTunes.

I briefly hesitated doing this. Would deleting the app erase any record of my in-app purchase? Did I first need to back up my iPhone in iTunes before deleting the app? I had no idea. But I decided to risk it anyway.

Happily, the reinstall remedied the sound problem. Unfortunately, as I had feared, things did not go as well for the in-app purchase. I no longer had the Traffic Live feature. Worse, the app indicated that I would again need to pay $19.99 to get it back. Again hoping for an easy fix, I re-downloaded MobileNavigator from the App Store. No such luck; still no Traffic Live. 

In-app purchase found

According to this Apple document, my next step should be to contact not Apple but Navigon (the “developer”) for assistance. I did send an email to Navigon, but I decided to give Apple a try as well. I wound up at the Live Chat feature on Apple’s iTunes Support page. Within a minute or two, an Apple rep and I were having a pleasant chat.

The bad news was that he was just as uncertain about how to proceed as I was. He explained that, while Apple had a record of my purchase (that’s how my credit card gets charged the $19.99!), Apple’s servers did not maintain the information needed to restore Traffic Live to my app. Such information is maintained instead by the third-party developer (Navigon). The best he could do was refund my money, so that I could make the in-app purchase again. That was a fine solution for me. 

The good news is that things worked out even better than the Apple rep had expected. When I went to repurchase Traffic Live, I got a message that said that I had already purchased the item and could “download it again for free.” This is the same message that pops up when you select to re-download an app that you have previously purchased, as noted here. Apparently, despite what the chat support rep had indicated, the data on Apple’s servers are sufficient to recognize a prior in-app purchase (at least for this app).

This and similar hassles could be easily avoided if the message about the free re-download appeared before you had to commit to the purchase. The way it works now, you don’t find out for sure whether or not you will get an item for free until after it’s too late to cancel. What would work better would be if, after entering your account password, you had the option to back out of a purchase if you discovered it would not be free.

Home Sharing and In-App Purchases

With iTunes 9’s Home Sharing feature, you can share your iTunes Library with other authorized users. This allows them to copy apps from your Library to their own. This led me to wonder: What would happen to an in-app purchase for a shared app? To find out, I copied MobileNavigator from my Library to my wife’s — and loaded the app onto her iPhone. As I suspected, the Traffic Live feature did not transfer. Would it download for free in this case? I doubt it — because her iPhone uses a different iTunes account name and password. When she entered her password, the server would not find the record of my purchase. So she would be charged. At least that’s my guess. I confess that I did not confirm this — as I didn’t want to risk losing $19.99 for a feature I knew my wife would never use.

Speaking of the $19.99: Given that I was able to get Traffic Live back for free, the credit I was given by Apple is now “overcompensation.” If someone from Apple is reading this and wants to ask for the credit back, that’s fine with me. I’m just happy that everything is now working and doing so at no more than the price that I had expected to pay.

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I wouldn’t have worried about making a double purchase. After all, you ARE dealing with Apple, so these issues can undoubtedly be resolved with a phone call. If you had purchased twice, and the system charged you twice, a support call could have reversed the second charge easily and all would have been cleared up. Most reputable retailers (physical, as well as online) have no problem refunding money when there is a legitimate issue that is easily verifiable.


How is the Traffic Live feature actually implemented? I believe I read that it is used in calculating routes but how else? Are the roads with heavy traffic colored differently? Do you have to go to another screen to see it?

Also, does it only cover certain areas and, if so, how do you find out what those are?

Lots of questions but I find their website to be very lacking in information (but still, I like the app a lot).


I am a bit leery of the way the In-App purchase works, although Apple is very quick to give a refund/credit on any dispute. Under Settings/General/Restrictions there is the option of turning On or Off In-App purchases. However it doesn’t work quite as it would seem. It does not prevent purchasing from a link in the App. According to the Apple rep, it prevents the purchase of different levels in a game, etc., but does not prevent buying the paid upgrade from the free version.

Ted Landau

How is the Traffic Live feature actually implemented? I believe I read that it is used in calculating routes but how else? Are the roads with heavy traffic colored differently? Do you have to go to another screen to see it?

I’m just starting to look into this. It appears that it does not show traffic as different colored routes. Rather, you get a list of traffic alerts (sorted by distance from you by default). Click on each one to get details.

However, it does claim to modify your ETA based on current traffic conditions.

It also seems that traffic reporting is mainly determined by automated feedback from Navigon users (crowd-sourced), which seems to limit its value.

This is all tentative information, pending further investigation.

Ted Landau

Update: Looking over Navigon’s PR, it turns out the Traffic business is better than I had stated above:

“Traffic Live utilizes crowdsourced real-time speed data from over 1.3
million drivers including other NAVIGON app users (who opt. in to
participate), commercial fleets such as trucks and taxis, as well as regular
drivers with a GPS system. So if for example several vehicles on a road
report slow speed, the system recognizes congestion and provides an
alternate and faster route.

The feature also uses an intelligent fusion of information from traffic
cameras, road sensors and conventional traffic messages coming through
ClearChannel’s Total Traffic Network.”


Ted: here’s what you *should* do: pay the $ to get your wife Traffic Live, since Navigon has been deprived of payment for the copy you are using.

Here’s what you *would* do if, like me, you had paid for your Traffic Live purchase (and not accidentally gotten a refund):

On your wife’s iPhone, go to Settings, then Store. Log her out and log into your account. Attempt to purchase the Traffic Live add-on, and you will be told you have already purchased it, and that it will download for free. I did this and it worked, my wife and I now both have traffic info. 

Remember to log her back in.

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