I 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.