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Apple Neuters OrbLive, After Users Pay For It

orb 3G functionality removed Update: As of today, February 24, 2010, I’m seeing an update in the App store that restores 3G functionality.  This is about 2 weeks after Apple allowed Sling to include 3G functionality in the SlingPlayer app.

We’ve previously written about Apple’s capricious App Store review process, which has caused great frustration for users of Google Voice and other apps. Users of the OrbLive app for iPhone have recently felt Apple’s bite, in a manner that makes the Google Voice fiasco look trivial.  OrbLive users recently found out that they didn’t get what they paid for – they had key functionality stripped out of their app in an update, after they’d purchased the app.  To make matters worse, some users are complaining that the update notes didn’t advise them that this functionality was being removed.  Read on for the full story, and then let us know if this makes you leery about getting an iPhone, or keeping your iPhone if you already have one.

What Happened

OrbLive is an iPhone app that allows users to access content on their computers. Once users install the Orb desktop application on their computers, and OrbLive on their iPhones, they can stream music, video, pictures, and more from their computers to their iPhones.  Most impressively, users with TV tuners installed on their computers can stream live TV from their computers to their iPhones

Therein lies the rub.  Beginning in November of 2008, OrbLive users could stream live television over both 3G and Wifi.  In late December of 2009, though, an update was released in the App Store.  Users who installed this update found that they could no longer stream live television over the internet.  To add insult to injury, depending on what you read, the removal of this feature was not mentioned in the update notes, so users had no way to know what they were installing.  In the Orb forums, some users complained that the update notes made no mention of this neutering, while the official Orb list of updates does include a reference to this.  The update list is regularly edited, though, so there is no way to know if this reference was added after the fact.

Orb does suggest a workaround, which involves recording a show, and then watching the recording a few seconds later.  This gives users "semi-live" television, but the Orb forums are replete with user reports that this simply doesn’t work.


Who is to Blame

Who is at fault here?  There’s plenty of blame to go around.  Orb’s update notes indicate that the changes were made "to comply with Apple / AT&T rule."  It is Apple’s store, and the iPhone is Apple’s device, so one could argue that the buck stops there.  But are Apple’s rules in place to protect AT&T’s notoriously fragile network?  Orb certainly shares a large part of the blame here, too.  If the app did violate Apple and AT&T’s rules, then Orb should have been aware of this before releasing it.  But should Apple even have approved it, if that was the case?  If Orb hid the nature of the update, that is the most egregious action of all.

Regardless of how we allocate the blame, users who paid $9.99 for an app that contained certain functionality, have had that functionality removed.  Apple and Orb need to step to the plate here, and honor requests for refunds.  Unfortunately, one user has already approached Apple about the problem, and was told that this was Orb’s problem, and that Apple wouldn’t issue a refund since the user had used the app for several months.  Shame on Apple, and shame on Orb.


The Bigger Picture

I’m an iPhone user, but stories like this, along with the whole Google Voice fiasco, having me looking forward to getting a new device.  Unfortunately, my iPhone is a work phone, and we have another year left in our contract.  What about you?  Do stories like this steer you away from the iPhone, or make you look into jailbreaking your iPhone?