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A hot potato: Apple is finally instituting a policy it told the courts it would last October. The rule change involves what Apple refers to as "reader apps." These are apps with the specific purpose of serving subscribed content to mobile users. Primarily this affects apps like Netflix, Spotify, Kindle, or even Amazon's Comixology.
Previous App Store guidelines prevented reader apps from linking to their website counterparts. Presumably, this was to influence developers to use its payment system in their apps so the App Store could take a 30-percent cut. However, it only prompted these players to add pop-up notices saying they could not perform transactions within the app.
Last September, Apple agreed to start letting certain apps link to their corresponding websites to close an antitrust investigation in Japan. A month later, a ruling in the Epic Games v Apple lawsuit mandated that the Cupertino giant allow apps to direct customers to their subscription and account pages. Both Apple and Epic were not happy with the judgment but for different reasons.
Apple didn't care for the judge's decision because it shut down all possibilities of the App Store taking a cut from external service subscriptions immediately. It ultimately asked the judge to stay the ruling until December, citing that it would open its users to fraud to implement it so quickly. Presumably, the stay would also have allowed Apple's legal team to tie up the judgment in court proceedings potentially for years. Clearly, it didn't delay it for nearly that long.
In Apple's carefully-worded statement on safety, it's hard to discern the rationale that this is safe while Fortnite accepting direct payments remains unsafe.--- Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 2, 2021
Even more so if Apple deems Roblox, a game from 2006-2021 that became "an experience" mid-trial, a reader app.
Epic was unsatisfied because the ruling excluded secondary app stores and payment methods. Its entire case was based on Apple's tight control over how games could distribute content and in-game currency, allowing it to collect a 30-percent fee for content that Apple did not help maintain.
"Apple's special deal for 'reader apps' like Amazon video, Netflix, and Kindle just got more special!" a disgruntled Tim Sweeney tweeted. "Starting in 2022, they can link directly to the web to signup and 'manage' accounts (presumably meaning: buying stuff with non-Apple payment methods)."
Epic's CEO and founder saw it as a sweetheart deal for apps that were not much different from Fortnite's in-game store. He especially took issue with Roblox deeming itself an "experience" rather than a game and Apple using that as justification to label it a reader app.
Apple's example of a link's flow.
For at least a few apps, the user experience should improve, but it's not as simple as developers just adding a link to their website and calling it a day. Apple has some stipulations on its developer support pages outlining how it has to be done.
First, the developer must ask Apple for an "entitlement" to include the link. Next, when clicking the link, users must be presented with a blurb informing them of the "risks" of giving their personal information to third-party developers outside of Apple's ecosystem.
Furthermore, the website must open in a browser and cannot use the in-app web view API. The link also cannot pass on any additional information to the website. So no linking directly to the user's account page. Lastly, the app cannot discuss prices in any way — essentially no promoting discounts or what have you within the app.