Apple’s Subscription Requirements Continue to Be Confusing for Third-Party Developers

This series of posts compiled by Michael Tsai regarding Down Dog’s App Store rejection — ostensibly for not automatically charging users after a free trial period has lapsed — illustrates the still-confusing world of subscription pricing. Everything from an app’s registration screen, through the free trial process, and through cancellation is, for any app, not good enough for users and developers.

I think there is a lot that Apple can and should do to improve subscriptions. First, I agree with Ryan Jones that the subscription opt-in process should be consistent systemwide. To say that Apple’s design guidance isn’t always followed would be an understatement. Bad faith merchants have exploited subscriptions for years and, even with a team attempting to crack down on abuses, it remains a problem.

In the midst of the controversy a couple of weeks ago regarding Hey’s rejection, I saw plenty of calls for Apple to allow third-party payment processors within apps. I understand that argument and I get why Apple’s solution sucks for developers for reasons beyond money. But the in-app payment screen means that I don’t have to trust that an app from some developer is going to steal my credit card details. I prefer Apple’s dialog to just about anything else I’ve used. I’d like to see it improved and extended to the entire subscription process, not scrapped.

Second, users should be notified when billing is about to start after a free trial and be allowed to cancel in the notification. I’m sure this will cut into revenue for some apps, but it’s only fair to users.

Third, I think active subscriptions need to be easier to find. Right now, the easiest way to find them is either via the App Store, by tapping on the profile picture in the upper-right, or in Settings in the topmost menu item. But neither of these things look like buttons — the item in the App Store is just a picture, and the Settings menu item looks like no other table view cell in iOS. Its description also provides only the faintest of clues: “Apple ID, iCloud, Media & Purchases”. It does not say “subscriptions”.

Lastly, apps should be required to show a “cancel subscription” button in their settings if they offer subscription purchases. Making it easy to cancel shows a degree of trust and transparency that the subscription is worth the cost. Good apps lock users in by being continuously compelling, not by making cancellations difficult.