Last week we reported on a new policy found in the iPhone OS 3.0 betas that halted the ability to re-download apps for free from the iPhone itself. With this new message you could only re-download an app for free from iTunes on your computer, or repurchase an app from the device itself.
After digging around for a few hours I’ve finally figured out why some devices are getting the new message and some are being presented with the old message allowing them to re-download for free directly from the device.
In the final release of iTunes 8.2 last week, Apple included some logic that tells a device what iTunes accounts are authorized on the computer. Many users that were using the beta releases of iTunes were not prompted with an available update and found no reason to upgrade. Those users’ devices were never getting the authorization information to pass on to the App Store when they tried re-downloading apps.
Let’s look at how this is working using the production versions of everything involved (iTunes, iPhone OS 3.0).
You authorize iTunes 8.2 to your account where you’ve previously purchased apps (using money or promo codes). You sync your 3.0 GM device to iTunes and check the box that says “Sync Applications” (I found you need to select at least one application to sync from iTunes for this to work). Upon syncing, the device is now told it is an authorized device to have applications from your account.
At this point you may disconnect the device and use 3G or WiFi to download as many apps directly from the device as your heart desires. The message you will receive will be the “You’ve already purchased this app, tap OK to download again for free,” and you will not be required to buy the app again.
As we suspected previously, this is to thwart the use of “sharing” apps with friends. You can no longer log in as a friend on the device and download apps, the device must be sync’d to an iTunes account that has been authorized on that account first. We knew Apple would not be wanting to take a step backwards in making the user experience as mobile as possible, so I’m glad the mystery has been solved.