When Apple ended up in court with Epic I did a lot of eye rolling. Epic’s lawsuit has some reasonable points in it, and it has some absurdities too. For one thing, Epic doesn’t seem to appreciate that Apple has spent a lot of time and money to get to the position it’s in now. And the argument that shops can’t add a markup to goods seems to run contrary to the entire notion of both capitalism and the way all shops have worked since shops were invented.
However Apple has recently been investigated by Japanese officials over its refusal to allow “reader” apps to link to a website to sell subscriptions. A reader app is Apple parlance for one which allows a customer to access an account and, in turn, use a service they already subscribe to. Spotify and Netflix are examples of reader apps. And after the Japanese investigation, Apple will allow these apps to link out from the start of next year.
So why do I think this is good? Well mostly because I find it harder for Apple to justify taking a cut of subscription services. While I certainly appreciate that Apple does a lot of work to develop and maintain the app store, I also feel that it’s a massive pain for Apple customers, and that should be more of a concern to Apple than being able to charge these companies for the services they provide.
- Apple’s most important iPhone for 2022 already exists
- Xiaomi's unbelievably cheap OLED 4K TV is selling VERY well, unsurprisingly
A good example of this is the Kindle app on iOS devices. Ideally, I would like to be able to buy books directly from the app. However if Amazon offered this then it would have to allow Apple a cut, which is clearly not going to happen. So instead, customers suffer through a painful experience of having to open a web browser and visit Amazon’s store to buy a book. That, for the record, won’t change under these plans but Amazon, Spotify and Netflix will all be able to provide a web link that at least makes it one step easier.
As much as I think Apple is entitled to some form of commission for things sold through its app store, I think the difference is slightly nuanced. Also, I’m biased because personally I’m not spending big money on apps, so it doesn’t massively affect me when it comes to other areas.
In the long term I do think Apple will have to re-think the app store strategy somewhat. I think it needs to do this for the sake of its own customers, as much as any other reason. If you’re buying an iOS device then you’re presumably a fan of Apple’s methodology. For the most part, this is based around powerful devices that are simple to use. Adding frustration to your own customers experience doesn’t feel like the right direction to me.
When it comes to Apple vs. Epic, I’m much less invested in Epic’s whinging. There’s a lot to be said for arguing a point, but Epic’s confrontational attitude and outright rule breaking felt silly to me. I’m all for an ongoing discussion in the industry about app charges, but when every app store on earth, and retail alike, take a similar commission on sales I think it needs to be a much wider debate than one massive corporation suing another massive corporation.
This is one step in the right direction, but no doubt more steps are needed. Also, I feel like it's worth pointing out that Apple, as a business increasingly invested in content, has a new horse in this race. It, presumably, will not want to hand over money to app stores for sales of Apple Music and Apple TV+ on, say, Android.