For the first time, Apple will allow apps like Netflix and Spotify to connect to a website where users can sign up and manage new and existing accounts. Apple says the change to what it calls “reader apps” will be implemented globally from early 2022. The change was agreed with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), which closed a five-year investigation.
The deal does not affect in-app purchases in games, which are currently the subject of a lawsuit against Apple in the US. Currently, app developers are required to use Apple’s in-app purchase systems, and they often cannot direct users to purchase content elsewhere. This means that some apps already work if you have a subscription obtained elsewhere and don’t offer in-app links to websites you can sign up for.
Apple said the deal will “help reader app developers make it easier for users to install and manage their apps and services while protecting their privacy.” The company currently takes a commission between 15% and 30% on in-app purchases. The App Store is a significant contributor to the firm’s roughly 54 billion dollars from the “services” segment.
The JFTC outlined its investigation, saying the deal covers “reader apps.” Apple says this will include apps that provide pre-purchased content or subscriptions to “digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.” The changes don’t cover games, however, for which App Store rules are currently the subject of a high-profile US legal dispute with Fortnite developer Epic Games. Reacting to the latest news, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney accused Apple of attempting a “divide and rule” strategy.
Apple should open up iOS on the basis of hardware, stores, payments, and services each competing individually on their merits.
Instead, they're running a literally day-by-day recalculation of divide-and-conquer in hopes of getting away with most of their tying practices. https://t.co/2L9n7EvSo0
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 2, 2021
Apple and legal hurdles
Apple is also facing other legal challenges over how it runs the App Store. On Tuesday, South Korea’s National Assembly passed a bill that, after approval, would block Apple and Google from requiring apps to only use in-app payment systems. Apple previously told The Verge that the bill would “put users who purchase digital products from other sources at risk of fraud,” among other issues.
On Thursday, another lawsuit was filed against the firm in India over the required use of the in-app purchase system. According to Reuters in the filing, “The presence of a 30% commission means that some app developers will never get to the market. This could harm consumers,” he said. Apple is also facing App Store-related competition review from the European Commission and the UK Competition and Markets Authority.