Apple Loosens Its Grip On The App Store But By A Tiny Amount
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 01 September 2021

This isn't the big result that the Epic Games lawsuit or any of the many anti-trust investigations may result in, but a tiny concession given by Apple in the face of a losing court battle.

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UPDATE 2/8/2021:

Apple has had to give just a little more ground under pressure from the Japan Fair Trade Commission. It now will allow "reader" style apps to share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account. So as long as your app is classified as a reader app you can include a link to your own subscription page. How big a step this is depends on how many apps qualify as "reader apps". My guess is not many.

End of Update

This is a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by two devs in 2019. What Apple proposes is that:

"Apple has agreed to revise its App Store Guidelines to permit developers of all app categories to communicate with consenting customers outside their app, including via email and other communication services, about purchasing methods other than in-app purchase... This injunctive relief is extremely valuable. By informing customers of alternative payment options, developers can avoid paying Apple's commissions and, moreover, exert competitive pressure on Apple to discipline its pricing,"

Yes, this means that you can sell things to your customers directly or via some other agent than Apple, but you can't tell them about this within the app. So you would have to contact your users via email, SMS or telephone to tell them that they could buy something from your own website.

This is a "when did you stop beating your wife" situation. In case you don't know the meme, it is that the question implies that you have been doing the unthinkable and only the dates are in doubt. Apple has, and still does, try to keep your audience boxed within the App Store. You aren't allowed to direct them to buy anything from anywhere else.

All you can now do is try and attract your users attention from outside of the app. So who's app is it anyway? Clearly Apple thinks it owns all apps and so creators aren't free to do what they like once they have in in the App Store.This goes well beyond just not trying to sell things to users on your own terms.

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The small step for Apple seems to be far from enough for most of the opponents of its monopoly. The Coalition for App Fairness, started by Epic Games, issued a statement:

“Apple’s sham settlement offer is nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid the judgment of courts, regulators, and legislators worldwide. This offer does nothing to address the structural, foundational problems facing all developers, large and small, undermining innovation and competition in the app ecosystem. Allowing developers to communicate with their customers about lower prices outside of their apps is not a concession and further highlights Apple’s total control over the app marketplace. If this settlement is approved, app makers will still be barred from communicating about lower prices or offering competing payment options within their apps. We will not be appeased by empty gestures and will continue our fight for fair and open digital platforms.”

What is clear is that Apple has focused on the fact that it has been indulging in practices that any reasonable person would regard as ridiculously restrictive. Not allowing devs to include offers in their apps that go via their own websites seems unreasonable and simply an attempt to keep all of the revenue for Apple - even though it does little to deserve it.

A recent report from Finbold  suggests that the App Store had $41.5 billion turnover during the first six months of 2021, so this is not a small matter for Apple. It will be interesting to see what happens as the wall around its garden continues to be chipped away.

For many developers brought up in freer times it seems inconceivable that we could be in the position we are in, but it does seem that we will sell freedom for an easy market ruled by an absolute dictator.

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More Information

DEVELOPER PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT WITH APPLE INC.

Coalition for App Fairness Statement on Apple’s Sham Settlement Offer

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 02 September 2021 )