Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Reuters Interviews Phil Schiller Ahead of U.S. Antitrust Hearing

Stephen Nellis, Reuters:

“One of the things we came up with is, we’re going to treat all apps in the App Store the same – one set of rules for everybody, no special deals, no special terms, no special code, everything applies to all developers the same. That was not the case in PC software. Nobody thought like that. It was a complete flip around of how the whole system was going to work,” Schiller said.

I know I wrote this once before today, but this simply isn’t true and I don’t understand why Apple’s representatives keep repeating it when it is so easily proved false.

Peter Steinberger enumerated several entitlements given to high-profile developers in a Twitter thread:

Panic’s com.apple.developer.security.privileged-file-operations

BBEdit’s com.apple.security.automation.apple-events

Microsoft’s com.apple.security.files.user-selected.executable

com.apple.developer.passkit.pass-presentation-suppression that we didn’t get

Amazon’s com.apple.storekit.request-data to run purchases without that 30% tax.

Uber’s com.apple.private.allow-explicit-graphics-priority

These entitlements are given to apps from trusted and revered developers; I do not necessarily think that it is wrong for Apple to be selective about the use of these exemptions. But the very existence of anointed apps shows that Schiller’s claim is not accurate.

It also means that it’s harder for an ordinary developer to compete with these apps. Uber’s use of that entitlement allowed it to improve the performance of its Apple Watch app; the entitlement afforded to Panic allows a user of Transmit, purchased through the Mac App Store, to edit unowned files. Microsoft’s products have a host of entitlements that allow for a similar user experience no matter if they were purchased through the Mac App Store or separately. Normal developers, lacking access to these entitlements, may not be able to implement some features with the same experience.

Nellis, Reuters:

In the mid-2000s, software sold through physical stores involved paying for shelf space and prominence, costs that could eat 50% of the retail price, said Ben Bajarin, head of consumer technologies at Creative Strategies. Small developers could not break in.

Bajarin said the App Store’s predecessor was Handango, a service that around 2005 let developers deliver apps over cellular connections to users’ Palm and other devices for a 40% commission.

With the App Store, “Apple took that to a whole other level. And at 30%, they were a better value,” Bajarin said.

This piece of analysis is pretty generous to Apple, and Nellis does not adequately contextualize it or push back. Software differs from physical goods in that it is both pragmatic and typical for creators to sell their product directly to users. I get why the App Store is being compared to other stores and marketplaces, but it isn’t as though buying software from the developer is uncommon.

But the App Store had rules: Apple reviewed each app and mandated the use of Apple’s own billing system. Schiller said Apple executives believed users would feel more confident buying apps if they felt their payment information was in trusted hands.

“We think our customers’ privacy is protected that way. Imagine if you had to enter credit cards and payments to every app you’ve ever used,” he said.

That’s how it has been done for ages, but I think Schiller’s right — I prefer using Apple’s in-app payment mechanism. I wish it was a better solution for developers, even without considering Apple’s commission. I wish it was something developers and users got to choose rather than having it forced upon them.