Apple antitrust defense suggests iOS developers create web apps to bypass the App Store

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,912   +762
Staff member
Why it matters: If you owned a first-generation iPhone, you might remember that there was no App Store at the time. However, there were a plethora of web applications that functioned much like native programs. You could even add shortcuts to the home screen that made them seem even more like they were working natively.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission's (ACCC) antitrust probe against Apple's and Google's distribution platforms has provoked an intriguing defense from the Cupertino tech giant. Initially, it requested that the case be dismissed because developers agree to settle any legal disputes in Califonia—a move likely to be denied since the agreement has no bearing on the ACCC's actions.

In a more recent filing, Apple suggests that it cannot have a dominant position for app distribution as the Australian watchdog suggests because developers are free to make web apps. It contends that it has no restrictions against developers distributing apps via the internet using "rich" HTML5 websites.

"Even if a user only owns iOS-based devices, distribution is far from limited to the Apple App Store because developers have multiple alternative channels to reach that user," reads the filing. "The whole web is available to them, and iOS devices have unrestricted and uncontrolled access to it."

It says developers are free to distribute their software over the internet for free or for a price without going through the App Store. They can also conduct in-app purchases without paying the 30-percent commission. It listed some examples of app stores and applications that it feels are in "direct competition," including Steam, Epic Games Store, PUBG, AppStream, Chrome Web Store, Setapp, Microsoft Store, Google Play, and Amazon's app store. Many of these have policies similar to the App Store, so Cupertino feels that the ACCC is unfairly singling it out.

While reverting to a nearly 15-year-old app distribution model seems regressive, HTML5 has improved over the last decade mading it possible to create web apps with all the functionality of native applications. Earlier this year, Microsoft revealed plans to switch out its desktop Outlook apps for web apps. Google has long provided functional alternatives to productivity software delivered via the internet. Even game streaming services like Stadia and GeForce Now are turning to web-based clients to bypass App Store restrictions.

It will be interesting to see how regulators in Australia and elsewhere view this defense. It will also be interesting to see if Apple isn't shooting itself in the foot. The App Store raked in $64 billion last year. If developers take its defense as advice and begin ditching the App Store en masse, Apple will likely take action to save its distribution platform—a move that may land it right back under the microscope.

Image credit: Ymgerman

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NeoMorpheus

Posts: 416   +802
If someone can create a proper install of RetroArch that runs at the same speed as a native app, then ok, bring them on.

But we know that webapps dont work for all circumstances.

So as usual, Apple is full of cr@ap.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 385   +662
The argument falls apart when you want to use an app while you have no data connection.

Hey if the court takes Apple at it's word and follows this logic they could force Apple to let you download and install any app you want, bypassing the store altogether.

It doesn't sounds like the argument of "A website is the same as an app" can hold up to any scrutiny but I'd love the irony of Apple painting themselves into a corner with it.
 

Plutoisaplanet

Posts: 404   +562
The argument falls apart when you want to use an app while you have no data connection.
Untrue, but it does take more (unique) work to get PWAs to work offline: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-edge/progressive-web-apps-chromium/offline

In effect, if a consumer wants an app not on their platform and the website didn’t invest in their PWA then yes consumers will get a dumbed down experience. I’m assuming the same is true for notifications, but idk if PWAs even support them.
 

Cubi Dorf

Posts: 320   +208
I like apple product and probably wouldn’t buy app from other store if it is existing. still I am thinking this argument from apple is very weak and kind pathetic. It is like if one company is having monopoly over all food sales in one country and saying you can go outside and eat some dirt so they don’t have a monopoly over eating, and say food store in other country are competition.
 
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FF222

Posts: 262   +201
This is pointless, as
1. web apps don't have the same level of access to functionality as native ones, which means in most cases there's no direct replacement possible
2. Apple could always pull the plug on web apps support any time
3. does not punish Apple for its anti-competitive behavior, which will just encourage Apple to do 1. and 2. to have its way
 

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,912   +762
Staff member
The argument falls apart when you want to use an app while you have no data connection.
Other than when wandering through a temporary dead spot, why would someone have no data connection on their phone. Not being cheeky, just seriously want to know. I imagine there are those out there without data plans, but I don't know any.
But we know that webapps dont work for all circumstances.
Yeah, that's the biggest problem with the argument. When the iPhone was first introduced Steve Jobs envisioned web apps being the way to go with smartphones. Of course, he realized they would be slow and for apps like games, web apps wouldn't cut it. Didn't take him long to figure it out either considering the App Store was born the following year.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 385   +662
Other than when wandering through a temporary dead spot, why would someone have no data connection on their phone. Not being cheeky, just seriously want to know. I imagine there are those out there without data plans, but I don't know any.

The store also includes the ipads, which have a substantial user base and most of them have no phone signal or only have it as an option and not a requirement so it is basically offline as soon as you take it well, anywhere.
 

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,912   +762
Staff member
The store also includes the ipads, which have a substantial user base and most of them have no phone signal or only have it as an option and not a requirement so it is basically offline as soon as you take it well, anywhere.
Ah yeah. Sometimes I forget about the iPad. lol
 

Hexic

Posts: 935   +1,292
TechSpot Elite
Ah yeah. Sometimes I forget about the iPad. lol

The iPad is a fantastic device... When you don't leave the Apple ecosystem. Compared to the rest of the industry, I've been spoiled by Android's truly free ecosystem - specifically iOS's inability to install their equivalency of .apk files as I see fit.

If they opened up the ability to install anything I would like, not what they deem I like, that would be a pretty big game changer. But it defeats the entire purpose of their user base, who knows nothing else but the walled garden approach.
 

sreams

Posts: 124   +219
Other than when wandering through a temporary dead spot, why would someone have no data connection on their phone. Not being cheeky, just seriously want to know. I imagine there are those out there without data plans, but I don't know any.

I go camping and use my phone for it's GPS capabilities (among other things) in areas where there is absolutely no data connectivity.
 

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,912   +762
Staff member
I go camping and use my phone for it's GPS capabilities (among other things) in areas where there is absolutely no data connectivity.
What app are you using for gps navigation? It’s not the native one because it requires WiFi or cellular.