One of the nice things about the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes ecosystem is that all my apps and other content is sharable across my devices. I can browse the iTunes Store on my Mac or my iPad, find an app that I like, buy it, and after sync’ing it will be available on my iPhone. Nifty. And to do this, I simply need to use my iTMS account password on all of the devices I use.
But sometimes this is not the behavior that I want. Take my current project: to prepare an iPad as an ACS device for Tommy. I want to install a couple of apps on this device, and I want any members of the family to be able to update those apps as needed. But I don’t want everyone having access to all of my apps, and I certainly don’t want to give everyone my password.
The solution seemed obvious. I’d create a second iTunes account, with a new name (email address) and password. Initially I’d link this to my regular credit card, and I’d buy the necessary apps. Then I’d link the account to a restricted credit card number – something like Bank of America’s ShopSafe – and I could hand over the password secure in the knowledge that the iPad could not be used to compromise my primary account or to buy lots of apps.
Seemed obvious. The only problem was that it didn’t work. Worse, both my new iTMS account and the old one were locked out, with iTunes reporting that my credit card had been declined. I called my card provider. “No, no problem here. No holds, no unexpected transactions.”
There was another unexpected side-effect. I’d purchased the nw iPad at the Apple Store in Palo Alto, and told them to email the receipt to me as usual. Normally the email arrives very promptly (sometimes before I get home), but on this occasion it was delayed for a few hours. And when it was sent out, it went to the email address corresponding to the new iTunes account. It looks as if the Apple Store billing system simply picks up the last email address that was used in any kind of interaction involving your credit card number….
I decided to contact Apple. It turns out that the only mechanism is to use email via a web form. I submitted two complaints, one for each account. I got auto-generated email acknowledgments for both, followed by a bland “we’re looking into it” for just one of them. (They’re probably going to miss their advertised SLA on the second.) And then I searched the Apple support forums.
There were hundreds and hundreds of complaints about this issue. One of the many discussion threads was over 14 pages long. The impressions that I took away were of a system with hair-trigger fraud detection and a completely inadequate customer service model to cope with the inevitable false positives. I was hoping for something of the quality and responsiveness of Amazon.com, but this feels more like AT&T. (Sorry, that’s unfair to AT&T.)
Just before I wrote this blog piece, I tried to buy a $0.99 app on my iPhone. The credit card was declined: they still haven’t sorted it out. I’m tempted to create a brand new account for Tommy’s iPad, with a new Yahoo Mail address and a different credit card. However there’s no way to delete an account, so it’s unclear if this would help.
UPDATE: My primary iTunes account has started working again. Haven’t had a chance to check out the secondary. No email from Apple, despite their assurances. (Not even a automated “ticket closed” message.)