Apple and Google are facing intense scrutiny and even lawsuits over the handling of their respective app stores. Just recently, a new law in South Korea will force the two giants to open their stores to other payment systems. Potentially facing a similar loss in Japan, Apple has now announced that it will be updating its App Store policy that will allow developers to provide in-app links to sign up and manage accounts outside the app, but only for a specific class of apps.
Traditionally, Apple forces developers and users to do everything inside the app itself, from signing up to managing accounts to buying content. While many services do have their own account management systems on their websites, they aren’t allowed to even link to those if they want their app to be accepted into the App Store. This, of course, works in Apple’s favor since it practically means that Apple will always get that 30% cut, especially for subscriptions like Netflix that require an upfront payment.
To appease the Japan Fair Trade Commission, Apple announced a change that will apply globally to all app developers. Starting early 2022, Apple will allow certain apps to have an in-app link to an external website where they can sign up and manage their accounts.
The slight catch to this beneficial change is that it only applies to “reader” apps, that is, apps that let users access already purchased newspapers, books, music, or video. That list doesn’t include games, which is probably one of the most profitable classes of apps in mobile today. The reasoning is that these apps don’t offer in-app purchases, so Apple is more willing to let them off the hook. Another smaller catch is that developers can only put a single in-app link to avoid spamming users with obvious redirects to the services’ websites.
This announcement comes on the heels of another App Store policy change announced last week. Apple will be allowing developers to inform users that they have alternative payment options outside the App Store, provided they only advertise that fact through emails. These are just the latest concessions that Apple seems to be willing to make to avoid heftier fines and bigger changes should it lose ongoing lawsuits across the world.