A frustrating experience with the WIRED Magazine app for iPad

This article is about a frustrating experience with the WIRED Magazine iPad app, by Conde Nast.


I have an active subscription to WIRED Magazine on the iPad, valid through July 2014. After a recent iOS update, I found that most of my subscribed magazines, including WIRED, were missing from the Newsstand app.

After re-downloading the WIRED app, I launched it and found myself looking at a “Store” screen full of issues available for purchase at $4.99. Same thing on the “Library” screen. What I should have seen were a bunch of “Download” buttons, not “Purchase” buttons. In other words, the app didn’t recognize that I’m an active subscriber. (When I re-installed The Economist, for example, it did recognize that I’m a subscriber.)

So I began looking for a way to tell the app that I am a current subscriber.

The My Account Screen

The app has five sections: Library, Store, My Account, FAQ and Video.

I started by visiting the “My Account” area.

The “All Access” and “Complete Account Setup” would seem like candidates, but after poking around in those sections I discovered they are only relevant to print subscribers.

The FAQ Screen

Next it was off to the FAQ section. There, I discovered content that apparently hasn’t been looked at in ages:

“What is iOS 5?”, “How do I update to iOS 5?” Seriously, this from a magazine positioned to be on the cutting edge of technology? We’re long past iOS 5, guys.

The Store Screen

So it’s back to the Store screen. The current issue displayed two options — “Purchase for $4.99” or “Subscribe”. I decided to tap the “Subscribe” button, and was asked to choose between a monthly subscription for $1.99 or a yearly subscription for $19.99. I tapped the yearly subscription option, expecting that when the app submitted the purchase request to Apple, it would be told that I’m already a subscriber.

Which is exactly what happened! Shortly after entering my App Store password, a message came back saying:

You are already subscribed to WIRED Magazine, through July 2014.


Except for one problem—all the magazine issues were still listed as purchasable, not downloadable. So even after confirming that I’m an active subscriber, the app still didn’t update its state to reflect that.

The Library Screen

Noticing that I was still on the Store screen, I thought, “Oh, I’ll bet the app updated its state on the Library screen.” So I switched and … nothing; all the issues there were also listed as purchasable, not downloadable. Good grief. But then I noticed a “Sign In” link in the upper left corner, and thought, “Oh, maybe that’s where it’s done!”

But that wasn’t it either. After some fumbling around, I discovered that’s related to your WIRED website account, and unrelated to your app subscription.

Let’s just try purchasing an issue…

Given that trying to subscribe to the magazine resulted in a confirmation of my active subscription, and running out of options at this point, I decided to just try purchasing an issue, hoping that that will also return a message like, “You’re already subscribed; this download will be free.”

So I tapped the “Purchase” button on the November issue and…got a confirmation that I’ve just spent $4.99. Heavy sigh.

For a moment I almost didn’t believe it, but then got the Growl notification as Mail.app announced the incoming iTunes purchase receipt email.

Restore purchases

Unwilling to believe there’s no way to tell this app that I’m subscribed, I finally noticed the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Library screen.

For whatever reason, I had previously discounted this as an option. I guess my subconscious just assumed that given the presence of a “Sign-in” service opposite this gear, that the gear section wouldn’t contain account-related services.

But lo and behold, under the gear menu I found an option called, “Restore Purchases”, which when tapped finally changed the state of the app to reflect my active subscription, allowing me to download issues without purchase.


Setting up a new device or restoring from a backup would seem to me common enough use cases, that apps like WIRED would, on the Store or Library screens, offer a message like, “Already subscribed? Click here to restore your subscription.”

They do that for print subscribers—i.e. they have very prevalent messages under the “My Account” area communicating, “Already a print subscriber? Click here for iPad access.”—so why not an equally-prevalent service for iPad-only subscribers?

I ended up making an unfortunate $4.99 purchase, and wasting a lot of time unnecessarily, due to what, in my opinion, is unthoughtful interaction design.

Epilogue: Support from iTunes

I emailed iTunes, explaining what happened and requesting a refund of the $4.99 purchase. Although they did grant a refund, their reply was almost as disappointing as the experience with WIRED.

First, they communicate appreciation for me having contacted them, and confirming an understanding that I’ve asked for assistance with an “accidental” in-app purchase. Then, they communicate how much pleasure it gives them to have the opportunity to help me and proceed to reference some knowledge-base articles explaining what in-app purchases are, and how to disable them in my apps—all of which suggests they didn’t even bother trying to understand what actually happened.

Hi Matt, This is Glenn your iTunes Store Advisor and I appreciate your inquiry regarding our services today. I understand that you need assistance about an accidental in-app purchase on your iTunes Store account. I’ll take care of your concern and it would be my pleasure assisting you to straighten this matter and I’m happy to help you with this issue I checked your account and it looks like the purchase was made within an iOS app. This is called an “In-App Purchase”. For information on this type of purchase, read: iTunes Store: About In-App Purchases http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4009 I checked your account and it looks like the purchase was an auto-renewing subscription, made within an iOS app. To learn more about auto-renewing subscriptions, read: iTunes Store: Purchasing and managing auto-renewing subscriptions http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4098 I understand that this purchase was made accidentally. Within 10 business days, you’ll see a credit posted to the payment method listed on the receipt. Please note that this refund is a one-time exception, as the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions state that all sales are final. To prevent more In-App Purchases, you can block them on any of your iOS devices. Follow these steps for each device: 1) Tap Settings on your device’s home screen. 2) Tap General. 3) Tap Restrictions. 4) Tap Enable Restrictions and enter a passcode. This passcode will prevent restrictions from being disabled without your permission. 5) Scroll down to the Allowed Content section. Switch the In-App Purchases option to OFF. You may need to enter your passcode again. I hope I was able to assist you with this matter. Have a good day!. Sincerely, Glenn iTunes Store/Mac App Store Customer Support

Windows Usability

As a Mac user for the past 27 years, I’ve had little exposure to Microsoft Windows. My assumption, though, is that the usability of the Windows operating system has been improving over the years. Look like I may have been wrong.

This weekend, immediately following the installation process of a Windows 7 app under VMWare on my Mac, this screen opened:

“This program might not have installed correctly.”

Did the designer of this screen not realize that that sentence could be truthfully said about any installation—including those that did not install correctly, but also those that did! Please, if you’re going to show the user a message like this, at least give them some indication why they’re seeing it—for example, did the installer experience some errors during the install process?

OK, so what are the options I’m provided for responding?

  1. “Reinstall using recommended setting”. Hmmm, does this suggest that my previous installation was not made with the recommended settings? (And I’m left wondering, recommended by whom?)

  2. “This program installed correctly.” How the heck am I supposed to know whether the programmed installed correctly, if the installation process has just finished, and I haven’t had a chance to open the program yet?

  3. I can close the window with the little “X” at the top. Is that OK? How would that affect my installation process? (Is there any chance that one of the two primary response options is required to complete the process?)

  4. I can “Cancel”. What does that mean, that my installation process will be reverted? How does this differ from pressing the “X”?


p>Under the circumstances, I figured I’d better go with the “Reinstall…” option, which, as I nearly expected, resulted in getting to see this exact same window a second time—after which I just pressed, “This program installed correctly” and hoped for the best.

Awful design at Skype

As Skype has evolved over the years, I’ve gotten the impression they’ve hired a bunch of visual designers and told them:

Hey, go make the site look like the other sites out there. You know, BIG and spacey, like Apple! Web 2.0, right? And throw in some icons and progress bars. And gradients. Oh, and tabs!

Here’s the awful mess of a result of visual design sans usability design.

This is the “dashboard” of the Skype Manager. I have absolutely no idea what information it’s trying to communicate to me. But hey, the manager at Skype can check off, “Have a Dashboard, like everybody else!” off his list.

It's more pleasant to pull teeth than to buy something online with a credit card in Europe

When designing the purchase experience for Money for Something, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to buy the book. With that objective, we integrated Stripe’s technology — the customer enters their name, credit card details, and clicks “Place Order”. A moment later, they have the book.

Even though Stripe does the processing on their servers, the experience is fully integrated within our own site. It couldn’t be more elegant or efficient.

Contrast that with the experience someone living in Europe typically has when buying something online from a European organization.

Buying airline tickets at Air France

This morning, I wanted to buy airline tickets from AirFrance.es, and pay with the business credit card issued by my German bank.

At checkout, I’m asked to enter my name, credit card details and billing address. A stern warning advises that if the data doesn’t precisely match the billing address of the credit card, the transaction will be denied.

Already setting a dire tone, and raising questions. Should I include the hyphen in the street name, “Robert-Bosch”? Should I spell out “Strasse” or leave it just “Str.”? I take a guess and hope for the best.

Clicking “Pay”, I watched the browser cycle through various URLs on different domains before landing on a blank screen with an iFrame inserted in the middle. The content looks like something out of a 1999 HTML web design book and it’s in German, rather than the Spanish I was seeing on the AirFrance site. In fact, it’s completely bank-branded.

I’m asked to enter my MasterCard “SecureCode™”? Off I go to Yojimbo, hunt around for my MasterCard note, decrypt, and thank god, there it is, my MasterCard SecureCode. Yes!

Enter it, click “Weiter” (continue), and…

“Your SecureCode has expired. Please create a new one.”

Of course it’s expired. What self-respecting SecureCode doesn’t expire?

Right. How do I create a new SecureCode? The message gives no indication.

Calling my German bank, I wait on hold for a while as they look for somebody that speaks English. That person informs me that to create a new SecureCode, I need to start the purchase process again, but this time, click “Forgot SecureCode” on the confirmation screen.

Yes, that’s how you create a new SecureCode; you click “Forgot SecureCode”.

(Naturally, to even get to the confirmation screen again, I had to delete some browser cookies, which are stuck in the state of “Your SecureCode has expired.”)

So it ended up taking me five minutes to configure my flight, and 45 minutes to pay for it. Awful.

Buying vitamins at MAS Musculo

Yesterday, I visited MasMusculo.com to purchase some multi-vitamins. Again, it took about five minutes to find my vitamins, which came to a total of 27 Euros.

Once again, though, the purchase workflow was interrupted by an awkward visit to some unrelated URL, where I was shown a blank screen with an iFrame containing content from my personal credit card provider, Deutsche Bank.

On this screen, I’m asked to enter my personal PIN, and the code from coordinate “G5” on my SecureCard™.

What’s a SecureCard™? This is a card containing a grid of numbers, identified by alpha columns and numeric rows, one of which you’re randomly asked for (in my case, “G5”). Sigh. Off I go hunting for my SecureCard™.

Of course, you can’t just type in your PIN and data from the SecureCard. No, somebody could have installed a keylogger on your computer, and over time, collect all the data from your SecureCard™ and then fraudulently buy vitamins!

To enter your PIN and SecureCard™ data, I’m shown a virtual keyboard with the key locations randomly distributed, i.e. it’s not 1, 2, 3… but rather something like 6, 3, 9, 2.

(No, this is not a million dollar wire transfer. This is a 27 Euro vitamin purchase.)

After carefully punching in all the data using this mind-numbing virtual keyboard, I hit “Pay”, and wait. Yeah, you know what’s coming…

Your data did not match, or there was a system error. Please contact the System Administrator.

Bang. Head. On. Desk.

Three more tries, and they all fail. I call Deutshe Bank and can’t get through to an operator because “Your PIN number is incorrect.” Finally, after jumping through some second-level security questions, I get to an operator who tells me my PIN is in fact correct, and the SecureCard™ issue number is correct. So they have no idea why the system is failing, and they don’t know who my System Administrator might be.

So what do I do? I go to Amazon.co.uk and purchase the same vitamins from the United Kingdom for 45 Euros (including shipping). I pay an additional 60% on my purchase, to get one-click convenience, and save additional lost time.

Europe — the land of ancient cathedrals and still not-quite-sure about this whole credit card thing — is ripe for company like Stripe, Square, PayPal or somebody else in the payment space to come in and make life easier.

What do four questions look like?—Bad user experience with Booking.com

Earlier this week I completed a trip that I’d earlier reserved with Booking.com. Today, a fews days later, I received this innocent-looking email from Booking, asking me if I’d be so kind as to answer four questions about my trip.

Four questions. That’s all. Why not? So, I clicked the link.

Would you like to know what four questions looks like? More like nearly 16 to me. Thanks for a great user experience, Booking.com.


Booking tweeted to me that they plan to address this. Let’s check back next year.