Apple - Master Of Malicious Compliance
Wednesday, 14 February 2024

Apple is under pressure to open up its closed eco system, but it still has the power to resist. It is difficult to force a horse to drink and it is turning out very difficult to make Apple comply with the spirit of the law. But why should we expect any different?

 When Apple introduced the iPhone the very definition of "computer" changed. Before this a computer was a general purpose machine capable of doing anything that could be computed and acting in place of any device that was slow enough to be simulated in software. More to the point, you bought a computer and you did what you wanted with it. You could program it to do anything you wanted it to do and then offer the software to others, either for money or just for the love of it.


Enter the iPhone and computers were overnight commodity devices and as a phone Apple controlled the software that could be run on it. If you wanted to write some software then you needed and still need Apple's development tools, which are available only if you have an Apple Id. You can develop what you like and run the app on an iPhone, but there are restrictions on what APIs you can use and you have to jump though a number of hoops to do it - in particular you can only install on a max of 3 devices. When you look into the small print it is fairly restrictive and forces you to sign up for a developer account proper very soon. This is so different from where we started out. You could say Apple invented an even more aggressive from of close source software and still hides this behind the small print and a set of interacting conditions that poison the playing field.

This is the sort of response to demands for more openness that we are seeing at the moment. We have already reported on the way Apple implemented the changes mandated by the Epic Games law suit - Apple Wins Either Way. They had to allow developers to direct users to external websites for purchases. Apple has done this but in such a way that it is off-putting to the user with warning signs that something terrible might happen and with charges that means it is unattractive to offer lower prices for direct sales.

This is perhaps the first recent example of malicious compliance, but I would argue that it has been in Apple's DNA from the start. Offer something that seems good and wholesome, but poison it with difficult to fathom additional "gotcha" conditions.

Now we have the news that Apple is at it again, but this time with the EU. New regulations, in principle, force Apple to allow alternative phone stores, but again we have alledgedly malicious compliance. Mark Zuekerberg is reported as saying:

"... the way they have implemented it, I would be very surprised if any developer chose to go into the alternative app stores that they have. They’ve made it so onerous, and I think so at odds with the intent of what the EU regulation was, that I think it’s just going to be very difficult for anyone, including ourselves, to really seriously entertain what they’re doing there.”

Basically Apple will allow alternative app stores, but only if they pay a fee that makes selling via such an app store more expensive than selling through Apple's.The deal is that an independent app store can charge what it likes, but it has to pay a 50 centavo fee for every download over one million per annum. This rule particularly impacts popular, low-cost to free, apps.

Is this what the EU intended? Almost certainly not and the regulators have stated that they will look into it, but this is likely the start of another long legal battle.


More Information

Apple Has a New Plan for Its App Store. Many Developers Hate It.

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Epic Games Takes On Apple - Unintended Consequences

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 February 2024 )