This week the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals in the Epic v. Apple anti-trust case that’s been underway for the past few years regarding the company’s App Store.

That means lower court rulings stand, and that Apple does not have to allow users to sideload apps that aren’t available from the Play Store or to enable support for third-party app stores on its platform. But it also means Apple does have to allow developers to post links to alternate ways to pay for apps and subscriptions. Now Apple has done that. But it’s made the process just about as difficult and unappealing as possible for both developers and users.

Apple has posted a new developer support page explaining how to add “an external purchase link” to apps, while making it pretty clear that Apple really doesn’t want you to do that.

According to Apple’s rules, developers need to follow a very strict set of guidelines and then submit a request to Apple to allow the approval of that external payment link, wait for Apple to approve the request, and only then can it be added.

But when you look at some of the specific requirements Apple is mandating, it’s unclear whether this is really a win at all for developers or end users:

  • Developers can offer third-party payment in addition to App Store payment, but not as a replacement. All apps with in-app purchases for goods or subscriptions will still need to offer App Store payment as an option.
  • Apps can only include a single link to an external site for payment, shown on a single page (that’s in a dedicated, persistent location in the app, and which cannot be shown anywhere else or in a pop-up, modal, or interstitial window).
  • That page cannot be the same as Apple’s in-app purchase screen.
  • It also cannot mimic Apple’s in-app purchase system or discourage users from use it.
  • The external purchase link must open a new window in a user’s default web browser. Developers cannot use a web view to show that page in the app itself.
  • Developers cannot include any information about external purchase options on the App Store product page for their apps or games.
  • Apple’s StoreKit External Purchase Link API will show a “disclosure sheet” when users click a link to external payment, letting them know that they’re “about to go to an external website” and that “Apple is not responsible for the privacy or security or purchases made on the web.”

While that warning technically true, Epic CEO Time Sweeney refers to this as a “scare screen” meant to put users off from trusting the third-party purchase links.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Sweeney’s complaints over Apple’s system. He also notes that by requiring users to pay through an external browser window, users will have to sign into the same app or service twice – once in the app and again in the browser.

But possibly the biggest challenge is that while Apple is now letting developers point users toward alternate payment methods, there’s virtually no way for developers to save money by doing so. That’s because while Apple takes a 30% cut of in-app purchases or subscriptions when users make a purchase through the App Store, the company also wants to take a cut of purchases made through external website.

Apple says developers are required to pay Apple a 27% commission on any sales made after users click a link to an external payment source. Once you factor in credit card processing fees, it might actually cost developers more to offer this option.

The same goes for 12-month subscriptions. Apple normally charges developers 30% on the first year and 15% the following year, but the company says developers who offer annual subscriptions outside the App Store will have to pay Apple a 27% commission the first year and 12% for each following year.

So much for incentivizing users to sidestep App Store billing by offering discounts to those who use external payment sources.

Epic’s Tim Sweeney says the company plans to “contest Apple’s bad-faith compliance plan in District Court.”

And thus the legal battle continues.

via MacRumors


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  1. Wow, what a masterclass in malicious compliance. The level of evil ingenuity on display is really impressive. Someone will certainly sue and we’ll have to wait another ~2 years before anything changes while Apple continues to rake in big bucks.

    If only the EU could move their asses and end this bullshit once and for all

    1. The EU is requiring sideloading which Apple says it totally intends to comply with, although it looks like they’ll be pushing it to the deadline. But there’s still all kinds of malicious compliance they could do there, too.
      -We already know it’s only for the EU. They can require an EU-model phone, attached to an EU telecom provider, and being physically present in the EU.
      -Sideloading might have to be enabled with some hidden setting like Android’s developer options. You’ll get a message meant to scare you away from doing that when you do.
      -You might only be able to sideload by plugging your phone into a Mac.
      -Binary files/installers you load will likely have to be signed by Apple and possibly certain other parties or the phone won’t run them anyway, and to get that signature apps and developers have to comply with rules about as strict as the app store’s rule anyway.

      All that said, if they don’t care about signatures, then suddenly there won’t be much of an argument against buying an iPhone. Nothing I can’t “refute” by repeating the bullying found within Apple’s viral marketing, anyway.

      1. I hear the “hidden setting” point all the time, maybe some phones do it that way but on a Pixel if you download something from the browser for example it prompts you with the setting option directly, no need to dig through developer settings or anything like that.

        But yeah, sadly Apple will continue to play coy and maliciously make things as hard and unappealing as possible. I’m in the EU so that part would be fine, but no way I’d pay or buy a second Apple device to be able to side load something just as I’ll continue to not buy even a first Apple device while this shit doesn’t change

        1. With Android you can normally download an apk and click from the download section or click on an apk using a file explorer, but Apple could make as unfriendly as possible and require debugging mode to be activated in hidden settings as mentioned, and then require people to install, maybe even compile, using a command line interface from a connected device ADB style, which would be beyond many people’s abilities or what they are willing to do/deal with

  2. Just pass the App Store cost on to the customer… iOS device subscriptions will cost more than web browser and Android. Problem solved. Everyone knows that iphone users are richer than Android users.

  3. I wish they would break up these large corporations already and make them have to compete again.

      1. That has been my experience too (little as I’ve had to do with Apple products). It’s hard for me to fathom how Apple can deal with customers the way it does and maintain (its undeserved) reputation for providing a superior computing experience.

    1. I presume you’ve seen Louis Rossman’s videos on YouTube dealing with the right to repair and Apple’s war against it — he slices and dices Apple up nicely!