In a nutshell: In agreement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission, Apple will allow some apps to link to their respective websites to set up subscriptions without going through its payment system. While it seems to be a step in the right direction, the rule sets up a double standard that Epic's Tim Sweeney is not happy with.
On Wednesday, Apple announced that starting in 2022, it will allow certain apps to link to their external websites to subscribe and make payments. Currently, developers can notify customers to subscribe on their external websites but cannot link to them directly. Soon they can have a button users tap to go to their payment portal, skirting the App Store's 30-percent take.
The rule change comes as a settlement to a Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) investigation. The concession only applies to "reader apps." Apple defines reader apps as those that offer previously purchased content or subscriptions but do not have in-app purchases.
This is what you get when trying to sign up for Netflix on the iPhone today. In early 2022, it’ll be a button that points you to Netflix’s website to sign up and pay there. This is a major, structural change that will save Apple a lot of scrutiny. pic.twitter.com/8iWDUTceZK— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) September 2, 2021
Netflix and Spotify are two examples that fall into this category. Both services have long protested Apple's 30-percent "App Store Tax" by not allowing customers to set up, manage, or pay for their subscriptions within their apps. Technically, they still can't, but they can link to their external sign-up and payment portals starting next year.
"We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we've done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up and manage their apps and services, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust," said App Store boss Phil Schiller.
Apple's announcement set off a flurry of tweets from Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who see it as a sweetheart deal for services that are structurally no different than Fortnite.
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.
"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," tweeted Sweeney. "Even more so if Apple deems Roblox, a game from 2006-2021 that became 'an experience' mid-trial, a reader app."
Epic Games is in the throes of a year-long legal battle over this very issue with the Cupertino powerhouse. Last year, Apple booted Fortnite from the App Store after Epic implemented an off-platform payment system that circumvented Apple's 30-percent cut and passed the savings to its customers.
Apple's new rules for reader apps will not take effect immediately. The company says it needs to draft new guidelines and revamp its App Store review process. The policies should then go into effect sometime in early 2022.