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Angry Birds HD switches to a paid app, was supposed to be that way all along

Recently, following a botched installation of the LunaCE alpha, I ended up having to run the webOS Doctor to restore my TouchPad. Upon running the Doctor and redownloading and reinstalling my apps from the App Catalog, something went wrong with one app - Angry Birds HD wasn't downloading. It gave an error every time I tried to download it. Curious, I went to check out the online app listing for Angry Birds HD, wondering if this might be some residual from the recent borking of the App Catalog servers.

Since the launch of the TouchPad, Angry Birds HD had been a free app, much to our surprise. Perhaps it was a nice little treat from HP to help spurn on the App Catalog, or maybe Rovio wanted to prime the pump for future releases in the Angry Birds franchise. Whatever the reason, Angry Birds HD was free for all to download, and that was grand. Now, looking at the web listing for Angry Birds HD, well over a year after it was released on the TouchPad, we saw something interesting: it was priced at $1.99, not free as we'd known it.

This struck as bizarre, not just because the developer portal for the App Catalog has never allowed for developers to switch an app between paid or free. But here we are, staring at an app that used to be free and now shows as costing two bucks. How vierd. So we did what we do in situations like this, called HP to ask what was up with that.

After some digging on their end, we got an explanation for why the price had changed, and why it was happening now. Turns out that back when Angry Birds was submitted by Rovio, something somewhere didn't got as it should have and the app ended up being listed as free instead of the paid price they'd intended all along. Being as Rovio was going to be a big customer for the App Catalog, HP went the extra mile and performed a fair amount of server magic to make Angry Birds jump from a free app to a paid app, and that took some time, during which time many copies were downloaded for free by many a TouchPad owner.

Switching from free to paid added a wrinkle, as it would cause problems if somebody needed to redownload the app and HP wanted to be able to honor the downloads of those who'd downloaded it for free. So HP had to perform an additional batch of server magicineering, creating a whitelist of those who had downloaded Angry Birds for free that would display the app as free for those on the list, while everybody else would see Angry Birds as paid.

So things hummed along quietly and we were none the wiser. For what it's worth, we don't recall until quite recently seeing Angry Birds listed as a paid app, even in the user-agnostic web listings. Seeing the amount of coding work needed to make up for this error without users noticing, we suppose it's possible that things didn't work out as intended and the app was still listed for free even when it wasn't supposed to be.

Things started to go awry this summer with the introduction of versioning in the App Catalog, allowing developers to provide older versions of their app for older versions of webOS, while updating the app to support newer features. That upgrade had the unintended consequence of disabling the whitelist, which went along quietly.  HP told us that as customers tried to redownload Angry Birds and were unable to, if the contacted HP to question/complain, they'd rebuild the whitelist user-by-user. Said HP's head of webOS Developer Relations Enda McGrath, "We’re sorry for the inconvenience but are working hard on improving the system for everyone."

To be honest, this issue isn't anything we'd heard of or noticed until the past week or so, and we get a lot of email about stuff like this from readers like you. If we had to guess, this didn't become a full-fledged issue until after the resolution of the most recent App Catalog downtime issues. Right now HP is working to reimplement the complete Angry Birds HD free whitelist, and are hoping to have it fixed within two weeks. But if you find yourself needing Angry Birds HD right now, HP's willing to fix it. Just shoot them an email at pdc@palm.com with your profile name and email address so you can get back on the manual whitelist.

It seems like a lot of effort to us for a year-old app that's likely to never see another update (though we’d love to be proven wrong on that point, Rovio), but we're glad to see HP still doing more than going through the motions for customer support.