Apple’s App Store Issues

If you’ve been under a technology rock, you might have missed the kerfuffle Apple’s been in for the past few months. We’ve seen a few high-profile dust ups over Apple’s control of what goes on the App Store (HEY, Microsoft’s xCloud, Fortnite). The arguments vary for each of these but the common issue is that Apple seeks to control how developers build their apps, wants to take a cut of all revenue coming into their apps regardless of how much value the store provides, and restrict many types of apps based on what tend to be arbitrary standards.

There’s a good read in Stratechery about this same issue but from an economic / antitrust angle that I recommend you check out for more detail.

If Apple isn’t careful, they’re going to wade into antitrust regulation that could potentially strip the company of a lot of control over their store. If they get ahead of it, they can set the terms. Here’s what I wish they’d do:

Reduce App Store Commission

Reduce the cut for iOS purchases. You would see fewer complaints about other problems with the App Store if the cut Apple took was closer to 10-15%. I doubt that will happen without government intervention, but one can dream.

Sideload apps

Apple should allow users to sideload apps like on a Mac. Here’s what a user sees in the security panel on MacOS:

Apple could require all apps to be signed to maintain a level of “break in case of emergency” control. Even if iOS required users to plug into a computer and load an .apk rather than a more seamless TestFlight-like experience, that’d solve for apps that are categorically not allowed (xCloud), apps that want to do their own thing payment wise (Fortnite), and fringe jailbreak-like apps.

Clearer Rules

Next up, Apple should revamp their rules to reflect the world of 2020, not 2007. Clearer rules for developers with an escape hatch to side load if push comes to shove would make most folks happy. As it currently stands, many developers are fearful of investing time and money into app development that may be rejected on a technicality.

In-app Links

Apple should allow apps like Netflix, Kindle and Fortnite to send users to an in-app webview that would allow you to purchase in-app content or sign up for the service. Apple would not get a cut of these purchases. Let the better experience and safety of Apple’s IAP compete to win out over a popover web view.

Will Any of This Happen?

I don’t anticipate they’ll do any of these unfortunately, especially the commission cut. I do worry that Apple is stifling innovation on their platform and if they do it enough times you could see a situation where entire categories of users start to choose Android over iOS because there are important things they just can’t do on iOS. Most of the things Apple has gotten into hot water for lately are not policies that put customers first. Instead, they are things that solidify Apple’s ability to make money, protect their interests or keep things “simple”. Given the push to present the iPad Pro as a computer, their limitations on the types of things that are allowed on iOS make me reconsider how much I’d like to invest in iPads or iPhones.

Even Apple’s privacy push could have an unintended outcome. A lot of apps rely on advertising to make their money and if Apple makes it prohibitively difficult for developers to monetize their apps, they may choose to slow or stop development on the platform. It is a difficult tightrope to walk but I trust that Apple can do it. Whether they will is another story.

Ok, now what?

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