Apple has made another concession related to its restrictive App Store rules, saying that it will let several types of media apps link to their own websites, where users can purchase subscriptions without Apple getting its usual commission. Apple was forced to make the change to settle an investigation by the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC). The change will take effect in early 2022, Apple said in an announcement yesterday.
“The update will allow developers of ‘reader’ apps to include an in-app link to their website for users to set up or manage an account,” Apple said. “While the agreement was made with the JFTC, Apple will apply this change globally to all reader apps on the store. Reader apps provide previously purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.”
The JFTC issued a statement saying that the planned change “would eliminate” Apple’s suspected violations of Japan’s Antimonopoly Act. The regulator said it “decided to close the investigation on this case after the JFTC confirms the measure has been taken.”
Games not included—Epic has objections
The change will make it easier for iPhone and iPad media apps such as Netflix and Spotify to direct users to alternate payment options. But games are notably absent from the list of apps that will benefit from the change. Fortnite maker Epic Games, which sued Apple over its App Store practices, said that restricting the new option to only certain kinds of apps makes no sense.
“In Apple’s carefully worded statement on safety, it’s hard to discern the rationale that this is safe while Fortnite accepting direct payments remains unsafe,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote on Twitter. Apple is “running a literally day-by-day recalculation of divide-and-conquer in hopes of getting away with most of their tying practices,” he also wrote.
Most of Apple’s App Store revenue has been generated by games, so Apple is obviously reluctant to help game developers sidestep App Store commissions.
Apple says limits needed for security
The Apple statement on safety that Sweeney referred to says:
To ensure a safe and seamless user experience, the App Store’s guidelines require developers to sell digital services and subscriptions using Apple’s in-app payment system. Because developers of reader apps do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase, Apple agreed with the JFTC to let developers of these apps share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account.
Before the change goes into effect in early 2022, Apple will update its guidelines and review process to make sure users of reader apps continue to have a safe experience on the App Store. While in-app purchases through the App Store commerce system remain the safest and most trusted payment methods for users, Apple will also help developers of reader apps protect users when they link them to an external website to make purchases.
Sweeney disputed Apple’s statement that “developers of reader apps do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase.”
“This bit isn’t really true, now, is it? Amazon video offers digital goods for sale, like individual movies for purchase or rent, that can be experienced in-app,” Sweeney wrote.
Apple also recently agreed to let developers tell users about purchase options available outside the iOS App Store. Although this will apply to all types of apps, it will only allow communications with users to happen outside the app, such as through email addresses that developers collect from users. That change is part of a class-action settlement that still needs approval by a US court.
The class-action settlement got a cold reception from the Coalition for App Fairness, an advocacy group launched by Epic, Spotify, and other companies. The group said the settlement doesn’t fix the App Store’s structural problems and that it is a “sham” and a “desperate attempt to avoid the judgment of courts, regulators, and legislators worldwide.”
Spotify CEO: “It doesn’t solve the problem”
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said yesterday’s announcement of changes didn’t go far enough. “This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” he wrote. “App developers want clear, fair rules that apply to all apps. Our goal is to restore competition once and for all, not one arbitrary, self-serving step at a time.”
Spotify Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez pointed out that pending app-store legislation in Congress would do more for app-makers, as the proposed law would prohibit the “requirement of in-app payment system usage,” forbid “restrictions of communication by developers to their users inside or outside of the app,” ban “self-preferencing” by Apple, and impose other requirements. That bill would also force Apple to allow third-party app stores and sideloaded apps.
We contacted Netflix about Apple’s announcement and will update this article if we get a response.
South Korea plans to impose a law that would stop app store owners from requiring developers to use in-house payment systems. Meanwhile, in the US, Epic Games’ lawsuit against Apple recently went to trial. Epic alleged that Apple’s in-app purchase requirements and other restrictions (such as the ban on sideloading and third-party app stores) violate US antitrust law. Epic asked for an injunction forcing Apple to “take all necessary steps to cease unlawful conduct and to restore competition.” The sides are waiting for a verdict.