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 […]

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Apple’s App Store polices are bad, but its interpretation and enforcement is worse

From The Verge:

The real issue is Apple’s power, of which this whole Kafkaesque series of changing rules is a symptom. We all know the score here: Apple needs to protect the 30 percent cut it takes, and if it allows too many apps to circumvent that cut then some sort of dam may break. From Apple’s perspective, it’s not so much the money for its services bottom line but that if everybody used a different payment system, the experience on the iPhone would genuinely be degraded, if not fragmented. (The money doesn’t hurt, though.)

[…]

There’s a cognitive dissonance to calling Apple a monopolist. After all, people are free to buy an Android phone and well over 80 percent of smartphone buyers on the planet do just that. Apple’s marketshare in the US is significantly higher than it is in the rest of the world, but it’s not that high.

Ben Thompson at Stratechery has been writing about this for years — he recently pulled his 2018 article on this very issue out from behind the paywall. In it, he writes that “I don’t believe the relevant market is smartphones, but rather digital goods and services.” Indeed.

The monopoly Apple has is a monopoly over the iPhone itself, not over smartphones. And that is a very strange way to think about a monopoly. Shouldn’t Apple be free to make whatever rules it wants on the devices it sells? Is it unfair for Apple to demand a cut of all digital commerce on its platforms?

If you aren’t keeping up, HEY is a new email service that has popped up and costs $99/year. They built native apps for all of the major platforms (although wrapping their website in an electron app is hardly a native app, but I digress) with Apple’s iOS being one of those platforms. They did not include a way for users to buy a subscription to their service via in app purchases, instead sending users to the HEY.com site to sign up. Apple rejected the app, saying that they should allow users to buy a subscription in the app. Now customers who signed up for the service can’t use the mobile app and the developers have said they won’t give Apple 30% of their revenue to simply process payment.

This whole thing is such a mess. Incoherent rules and inconsistent enforcement by Apple have created a situation that is bad for consumers and developers.  Ultimately, I think a situation closer to what Google allows (any 3rd party can use their own payment system for anything other than IAP and in all games) as well as allowing for easier side loading on iOS would keep the regulators away and allow for more innovation. Would their services revenue numbers take a hit? Surely. But given most of the big players already have found workarounds, I don’t think it’d be as bad as you’d think.  I also expect more from Apple than essentially rent-seeking.

Additionally, if the argument from Apple is at least partially around providing consistency and clarity for customers, having these Easter egg hunt-style messages in apps like Netflix, Kindle and others (saying things like “you can’t buy content here. Sorry!” due to Apple’s rules around linking to external signups) makes things worse, not better. With WWDC & EU antitrust discussions looming, I’m sure this will be top of mind for the folks in Cupertino over the next few weeks. I hope Apple does the right thing and at a minimum updates their rules to be more clear. If they really want to support their developer community they need to do way more than that, though.