How Pinger Failed. Is This a Problem with Free Apps in General?

pinger_iconI had a bad experience with an iPhone app recently that I wanted to share.  Partially to warn others to keep an eye on their Pinger app, and partially because it’s a problem that could apply to other “free” apps.  We all need to keep in mind that free apps are free for a reason.  Nothing can remain free unless it can become self supporting in some way.  And when you look at the service or feature that an app provides, often there is infrastructure behind it with associated cost.  It could be a web server with a database, or in the case of Pinger, infrastructure relating to phone number allocation and VoIP gear.

Pinger is a free app for the iOS that provides users with a phone number that will ring through on an iOS device.  Phone calls can be made via VoIP.  But the feature I used was limited to SMS and MMS messaging.  This was all provided free to users.  Pinger makes money, in part, by up-selling its service when users make phone calls to non-Pinger number in select circumstances.

Understandably, Pinger expires a users personal phone number after 30 days of non-use.  30 days seems like a rather limited window of opportunity but that’s their policy and their decision to make.  My problem was that my number was taken away at the end of 30 days without so much as a warning.  In the past, I had received a message warning me that I was nearing the end of 30 days and would lose my number if I didn’t use the Pinger app.  So I would use the app and all was well for the foreseeable future.  I was confident that the number that many of my friends used the contact me was relatively reliable.

Unfortunately this last time around there was no warning.  Pinger simply disbanded my phone number and left me high and dry.  Everyone who uses that number to contact me is stuck.  I contacted tech support and was told there was no way to get the number back.  That was it— end of story.  When I really pushed, it was finally admitted that there had been a glitch in their system recently and people had not been receiving warnings before losing their numbers.  But, not to worry, that glitch had been fixed and I could get myself a new Pinger phone number and pickup where I left off.  There was still no way to get my old number back.

This, quite honestly, was not what I wanted to hear.  There is no way I can reliably contact everyone who had the old phone number and get them to update to my new contact information.  And, even if I did, they would only have that number until the next glitch!  I would be better off finding another app maker and hoping they provide a more reliable service.  Truth be told, there are many options in the arena right now so there should be no shortage of options.

Am I being overly harsh?  Pinger made one mistake (a big one that is personally painful), but it was just one mistake.  I should cut them a break, right?  I had already done that.  They had already taken my wife’s Pinger number away almost 2 months earlier.  In that case she received the same message I had.  She was informed that her number had been taken because she had not used it in the last 30 days.  But when we looked at the history in her Pinger app, we were not at all surprised to see that she had used the app less that 2 weeks prior.  Maybe another glitch?  I’m not even going to try and find out.  What’s the point?

So, unfortunately I don’t think I’m being unfair.  I think the Pinger service has some issues.  I’ve had patience in the past where I wasn’t getting messages from time to time.  I cut the service a break figuring it was free, what could I ask for.  If I wasn’t paying for it, I could only expect so much.  One of Pinger’s winning features was the ability to send and receive MMS messages, something that Google Voice still cannot so I thought I was better off for it.  But no more.

As much as I’m disappointed in my experience with Pinger, I think it’s really only an example of a greater problem.  These days we are gifted with great opportunity.  The internet offers us free access to many truly remarkable services and powerful software tools.  The the truth is that even the most generous developers can only provide a free product or service for so long before they have to either convert it to a working business model or fold up their tent and go home.  Anything free and useful needs support if it is to be properly maintained, let alone grow and evolve.

We all want something for nothing but we don’t realize that, as much as it seems like we can actually have that some times, it’s not viable in the real world.

Pinger has a business model.  I have no idea if its enough to flourish, but it appears to be working well enough to keep the lights on over at Pinger Inc.  But, perhaps with greater revenue the company could fix some of these bugs and put out an iOS app that was stable, reliable, and something I could continue to recommend to my friends and clients.

15 Responses to How Pinger Failed. Is This a Problem with Free Apps in General?
  1. Juan Reply

    You get what you pay for..in this is case you payed $0 so you pretty much justhave to suck it up and deal with it

  2. Jay Reply

    So you took something for granted, gave nothing back in return, and feel cheated in some way when it is taken away.

    An ‘over privileged’ individual with ‘entitlement’ issues.

    • Steve Manke Reply

      Not at all. The point of the post was actually to point out the potential down side to free services. They can change or disappear overnight with little or no warning. And since users are not paying for them, you sort of get what you pay for.

      The positive aspects of free service speak for themselves. But there are negatives and down sides. When users are considering free solutions and comparing them to the similar features of paid alternatives, this illustrates how that pay-to-use alternative might be the better choice for mission critical services.

      • Katherine Reply

        Can you elaborate on the talk portion?
        I would like to start using this pinger app as a regular number/line. But is there a charge everytime I dial a non-pinger number?

  3. Lindsey Reply

    I totally agree with you.

  4. Syn Reply

    I just had my number expire on me. I contacted Pinger notifying them that if they cannot recover my number, I will require a refund for the minutes I purchased, or I will not hesitate to take themt o small claims court over it. It´s ridiculous that I have to send a message from the app once a month to keep my number…I don´t have a lot of time due to my full time job and part time jobs.

    • Julie Reply

      You don’t use your phone at all for over a month? I don’t think it’s ridiculous for the company to take phone numbers back if the number hasn’t been used in a month. That’s how they make sure people don’t just get the numbers and not use them just because it’s a free service.

      • Steve Manke Reply

        I think you’re confusing the point. No one used the Pinger number to make contact. There’s a big difference. Users don’t have a whole lot of control over who contacts them or when.

  5. William Gorman Reply

    @Steve, how do one use that adapter with google voice number, with adapter or what?

    • Steve Manke Reply

      You just need the adapter and a Google Voice account. Here’s the adapter I use:
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004LO098O?ie=UTF8&tag=list0b1-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B004LO098O

      Well, that’s one of them. I actually use 2 models. One is a slightly different model. I don’t think they make that one anymore.

      After that, you just plug the Obi box into the LAN and login to it via your browser. You add your GV account info, then plug a phone into the phone port on the box. That’s it!

      Now the catch. Word is that Google is about to depreciate their Google Voice service and move the functionality over to their Hangouts app. If they do that, supposedly these voice adapters will no longer work as they do now. But the Obi adapters work with other services so its not a total waste. That, and there has been talk about GV functionality going out to pasture. This has been going on for a long time.

      All I know is that the functionality is still working. For how long? No one can be sure. And even if the functionality changes, who’s to say that Obi won’t do an update that lets the adapters work with the new version of the Google server?

      It’s all just guesswork. But I’ve been using my Obi adapter for years now. :-)

  6. Mitch Reply

    If the devs and engineers of this project work hard enough to the point to quickly patch a problem, as well as provide a very valuable service, don’t you think instead of complaining, that you should realize that YOU did something wrong and not them? Using a free service, then not keeping up with the very small thing they ask for you to do and then twisting it like they did something wrong, is a clear sign of ignorance and entitlement. Good luck in the real world!

    • Steve Manke Reply

      That’s not the point of the post. The point I’m making is, first that they couldn’t/wouldn’t fix the problem. My established phone number was gone and I had no way to get it back. That’s no small mistake. And the same thing happened to my wife 2 weeks later and my sister a month after that. Second, the greater problem is with free services in general. We all love them when they are free, but free is unsustainable. It’s a fact of life. If the service is free, the likelihood of its being monetized so the developers can stand behind the service and put their time and valuable resources into is nill. If we love something, we have to be willing to pay for it. And these days, the majority of us are just not realistic about that.

  7. bob Reply

    I have numbers popping up on text free that i dont know and have never called. Is it possible text free is pulling info from my other apps such as facebook etc

  8. jean desjardins Reply

    My Pinger problem is that I have purchased minutes and these minutes were never added to my account. So yes, Pinger is a ripoff.

    I was hoping that textfree would have been a useful app were you can purchase minutes as i need them. but unfortunately, the app is run by amateurs, and i paid for minutes but never got them.

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