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Unwary iPhone users struck by 'appiphilia'

Consumer Watch

The exotic ailment is marked by a creeping lack of self-control when downloading mobile applications.

August 31, 2008|Michelle Maltais | Times Staff Writer

For the last few weeks, I've been staying up late glued to my screen, and frankly it has been wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns. No, not watching the Olympics or the nonstop political gabfest on 24/7 news channels.

I have been obsessively logging in to iTunes.

It's not about the songs, audio books, TV shows or movies. It's all about the apps.

As an early adopter of the iPhone -- yeah, I paid full price last year; what of it? -- the one thing I really missed in retiring my Palm PDA was having all the many applications that entertained and aided me in living my life. Apple didn't let developers create programs for the iPhone when it launched (only its Web browser, which is a huge difference), so I couldn't track my expenses, calculate my calories and get my game on as I could through the programs I had downloaded for my Palm. I mourned the loss of those conveniences daily, though I was comforted -- and distracted -- by getting the real Internet at the touch of a finger.

But all of that changed when Apple opened the App Store last month.

I was so elated that the night the store opened I was there downloading applications I couldn't even use yet. IPhone 2.0, the free software upgrade needed to make the applications useful among other things, wasn't available until the next day.

Which leads me to this: I'm addicted to apps. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

My problem started gently with the free apps. They're free, right? So a Mobile Banking and Pandora Radio app here, a Facebook and AIM app there. Shazam, Truveo, Mobile News Network. Download as many as you want. Maybe browse through some of the other App Store offerings while the phone is syncing. What's the harm?

That's how appiphilia starts. The free apps were a wonderful appetizer. But there wasn't enough variety. I wanted more.

A colleague steadfastly adheres to an I-will-spend-no-money-on-apps stance. That's admirable, but that's just not me. After all, I'm the gal who can't watch an "I Love the '80s" marathon with my laptop nearby, for fear of an impulsive nostalgia-fueled shopping spree with every song snippet.

After a while, 99 cents an app didn't seem like too much to spend on something I'd use over and over. It's what I'd spend on a song on Amazon.com or iTunes.

Soon, I moved on to the harder stuff, downloading $3 and $6 apps without a thought. Click, click. There was MLB.com's At Bat for baseball stats and video, Wine Snob to track my tastings. With my credit card information conveniently on file, one-click shopping eliminated the pondering process. It's an impulse buyer's dream -- and nightmare.

I'd click in at work during down time to do a quick look, or tap the App Store on my iPhone when riding on a Wi-Fi connection: Did something cool show up in the middle of the day?

I'd click in at night to scour an entire category page by page.

I even began to share my addiction with my mom, who inherited my first-generation phone when I upgraded to the 3G. (Come on, Mom, I said, it's just a click -- everybody's doing it.)

Somehow $10 for a game began to seem the same as a 99-cent click. From all reports, Super Monkey Ball was well worth the money. No argument there, but the game, frankly, stresses me out a little too much -- something about the bubble-bound monkey flying off the track into the water way too often.

Soon I had more apps than I could ever think of using -- five iPhone screens' worth. I had downloaded about 80 apps. Although many of them were free, I'd spent $90 within a few weeks.

I tried grouping them page by page to be able to make sense of them. This is no small task because dragging an app from the first screen to the last takes some serious digital dedication. (Note to Apple developers: You might consider figuring out how to offer users the ability to configure the screens within iTunes.)

This application shuffle helped distract me from the fact that I had to connect my phone to a computer or power outlet about every 20 minutes to keep it charged should I actually want to use the phone. Checking e-mail and using all those apps kept sucking my battery dry.

Every time I checked the App Store, there was another offering I wanted to try. There are about half a dozen Weight Watchers-friendly apps. Which one is better? Because there are no trials you have to buy the app to figure it out -- or base your purchase solely on the reviews.

(A plea on behalf of the app addicted -- a core constituency: Apple, how about offering trial versions? It seems to work for Pocket PC and Palm.)

Then I hit my highest high. (No, I didn't buy the “I Am Rich” app for $1,000. I have my standards.) In a fit of iPhonic euphoria, I clicked away $30 within seconds to download the American Heritage Dictionary app. You never know when you might need to define something, right?

But that's where I had to draw the line. I had become app-pathetic.

To slow the flow of money from my account into Apple's coffers, I've had to put on my own parental controls, so to speak. I activated the shopping cart feature. Imposed prudence, I thought.

Unfortunately, it doesn't apply to application purchases.

I still have twitchy fingers, but I'm trying to think before I click.

--

michelle.maltais@latimes.com

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