Lots of apps offer free trials to let you test a service before committing to their paid subscriptions, but it can be easy to forget when those trial periods close and when you're going to have to start laying down real cash.
A new app called Free Trial Surfing takes the guesswork out of tracking all your trials, and could save your wallet a battering in the process.
It uses a virtual credit card number and invented name to let you get a taste for an app's quality, and then automatically cancels the account before the main billing period kicks in.
Developed by British app creator Josh Browder, the service is working alongside an undisclosed bank, with the virtual cards registered to Browder's company. As a result, the app is able to forward emails from a service provider to a user without exposing the user's own email – handy if you do eventually want to use the service in question as a paid subscriber.
The app is currently only available through Apple's App Store, though Browder is said to be working on a web version, too.
Already available in the US and launching this week in the UK, it's amassed 10,000 users to date, with the majority using it to trial porn services (naturally) and Netflix.
As for the services being able to prevent Browser's idea, it'd require them to halt trial subscriptions for an entire bank (Browder's undisclosed one) as the virtual cards make it otherwise impossible to identify a real user from a virtualized one.
It stretches the idea of a free trial, but ethically, it's hard to argue with what Free Trial Surfing offers – it merely automates an administrative task that would otherwise be a headache to track. Long term, however, it runs the risk of damaging the appeal of trials for service providers, who bank on some users forgetting to cancel them. That could eventually lead to fewer free trials being offered in the first place.
The irony here is a somewhat inevitable one – Browder has told the BBC that he is considering a monthly subscription cost to use the Free Trial Surfing app. At that point, we'll just have to keep an eye on who is making a 'Free Trial Surfing for Free Trial Surfing' app, we guess.
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Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of iMore.com. Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.