App Store Updates: What You Need to Know in 2020
Isadora Teich wrote this article
As you know, the two main sources for app downloads and purchases are the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Their rules, updates, and issues play a big role in which apps succeed, fail, and ultimately how they are constructed in the first place. Their constantly changing regulations and rules influence the innovation of apps and each every day.
That’s why it’s so important to stay up-to-date on the news relating to each of these major stores.
Currently, Google is taking steps to level the playing field for users, while Apple is coming under legal fire.
Let’s take a look.
Google’s Rolled Out A New Method Of Selling Subscription Services
Google is letting select developers test out something new.
Customers can buy app subscriptions from the Play Store without ever installing the Play Store app. They accomplish this with an updated version of developer tools. This includes processing payments and handling the purchases of other digital goods. The result is that developers can process their own payments.
This gives developers more control, but also benefits users.
Users can install, get a free trial, and subscribe to apps they choose with one single action. They won’t have to later confirm payment details inside the app itself.
While Apple has been criticized by many for policies that make things more difficult for developers (which we will get into later) Google appears to be taking a different route.
They seem to embrace updates, like this, which reward developers and make things simpler for users.
Google Is Seeking To Eliminate the Free-Trial Bait and Switch
Maybe it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit, but if you are into apps, something like this has definitely happened to you:
You find a cool new app that you are super excited about. The advertising and user reviews look promising. You download it and are ready to dive in, only to find out that you actually can’t.
It turns out that it’s more of a trap to get you to pay for more features than an app.
Maybe it was free or affordable to download and subscribe to, but using any of the advertised features costs extra.
Maybe you subscribe to an app to try it out. When you realize that you don’t like or use it, you try to cancel it.
Surprise, there are so many weird loopholes that this is almost impossible.
Almost all of us have been there, and Google wants to eliminate the problem by changing its store rules. They want to make sure that developers create apps that are easy to both subscribe to and cancel. They also want apps to have more transparent costs, billing cycles, and rules around free trials.
Some Problems With Apple?
Currently, there are a lot of mounting complaints against the App Store, as well as two entirely separate antitrust cases filed against them in the EU.
These cases claim that their rules in regards to payment and the apps they allow are strategically anti-competitive. Numerous companies have stepped up in support of the cases against Apple, including Match Group (the creator of apps like Hinge and Tinder) and Epic Games (the creator of Fortnite).
To keep it simple, companies claim that Apple is ripping off developers and users with high fees. Currently, it is Apple’s policy to take a 30% cut of all App Store sales, largely due to the fact that they claim to provide “digital services.”
However, while taking this high cut for the services they provide, developers claim that these services are poor.
Spotify, for example, claims that Apple actively stifles innovation and limits consumer choice by pushing its own Apple Music app. On top of this, some creators wonder why they are charged 30% of their revenue, while other apps are charged less or nothing at all. For example, why does Epic Games have to pay 30% of their revenue to Apple, while Airbnb is completely exempt from this fee?
Apple claims that they treat all developers the same to create “a level playing field,” and all of the companies that are complaining “just want a free ride” and “don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
However, it has been proven that they do not treat all creators the same. Most ride-sharing apps, for example, are also exempt from this so-called “Apple Tax.”
So, what gives?
The Arbitrariness of the Apple Store
While Apple seems to act consistently in its own interest (which might be why the EU is conducting two antitrust cases against them to see if they break EU competition rules by manipulating markets) it also does not seem to apply its rules to other developers evenly.
A writer for The Verge Dieter Bohn says that, “Arbitrariness is a feature, not a bug.”
Bohn is not the only one who feels this way.
Here is the Apple App Store policy 3.1.1. Bohn and many others take issue with it:
If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.
This is almost exactly the opposite of what the Google Play Store is doing now, as we mentioned earlier in this post.
Of course, many people would not consider this a problem.
After all, it is their store and they can make their own rules for how they want to conduct business, right?
However, like any major rule, the text is not all that matters. It is important to understand context. How rules are enforced and their real-world consequences for users, developers, and companies alike needs to also be considered.
3.1.1 So Far
The rule states pretty clearly that if you want to sell any digital goods or service associated with an app that’s in the App Store, this transaction must be completed within the app, and you are then subject to a transactional fee.
However, this has not been exactly true of many apps for quite some time now.
Conducting subscription sign-ups ‘off’ App Store has long been the ‘unofficial’ official workaround to Apple’s transactional fee of 15-30%. We ourselves mentioned it here on the blog a few months back as means to save when it comes to app monetization.
For example, you can access Amazon on the App Store, but you sign up for a Prime subscription on their own site separate of the app (same goes for Netflix).
Just to verify we’re on the same page here, the App Store’s own review guidelines say they require an in-app purchase option if an app wants to offer access to content purchased on another platform.
Even within the app, Amazon pays way less to Apple compared to many other businesses. Technically, this breaks the app store rules. It also may demonstrate that their rules are not always evenly applied.
Recently, Hey.com was very publically delayed after getting their app’s initial approval into the App Store due to using this web workaround. Apple cited the reason above as to why, and they’ve held their ground since. They also claim to make exceptions for apps that include music, video, and magazine apps, but email apps are not one of the approved exceptions.
Despite this, several subscription email apps are currently in the App Store that do not offer in-app purchases.
The new email service from software developer BaseCamp is available for $99 per year, and users who wish to use the iOS app are brought to Hey.com’s website to signup for a subscription. They’d needed to fix a bug, and upon resubmitting the app for upload, they were denied for not offering in-app signup for Hey.com.
Yes. It’s confusing and somewhat randomly implemented, like many other Apple Store policies.
While certain larger companies with leverage and power seem to skirt or skip many of Apple’s rules entirely, other developers are stuck wondering how to classify their app under Apple’s rules and are unsure of what they are allowed to do.
Why has Netflix been able to do this for years with no problems, but email platform Hey.com has been threatened to get kicked out of the store for doing the same thing?
No one knows, and that’s a big problem.
What Is Apple Doing To Fix This?
Previously, their approach to damage control was more dismissive.
They’d called the EU investigations baseless, and implied that all of the complaining companies are entitled. When asked to testify before Congress and discuss anti-competitive behavior, almost all of the big-name CEOS agreed to show up except for Apple’s Tim Cook. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos all have said they will do so. Apple, on the other hand, said they will send a senior executive.
However, the recent public and media outcry surrounding Hey.com’s unfair rejection and the pressure of two separate anti-trust cases (in part spurred by long time rival Spotify) in Europe have resulted in Apple making a few concessions in a press release with positive implications for those looking to launch an app in 2020:
- First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself,
- Second, for apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. Developers will instead be able to address the issue in their next submission.
- Finally, Apple will no longer delay app updates intended to fix bugs and other core functions over App Store disputes.
A lot of interesting things are happening in the world of the Google and Apple App Stores right now. While Google is appearing to make positive steps forward, Apple is embroiled in legal controversy for alleged anti-competitive behavior and unevenly applying its own internal rules.
Where do you stand? Do you think that a company should be allowed to apply its own rules however it sees fit, and Apple has the right to operate in this manner? Or do you think that these changes are a step in the right direction?
As a user or creator, how do you feel about Google and Apple’s rules respectively?
Talk to me.
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