U.S. Apple Developers Can Now Offer Non-App Store Purchasing Option macrumors.com

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple is making major changes to its U.S. iOS App Store policies, and developers are now able to direct customers to a non-App Store purchasing option for digital goods. Apple is allowing apps to feature a single link to a developer website that leads to an in-app purchase alternative, but Apple plans to continue to collect a 12 to 27 percent commission on content bought this way.

Clover says it and Apple says it but I feel compelled to emphasize this one point: this is a U.S.-only capability. In the Netherlands, Apple permits dating apps — and only dating apps — to use a similar entitlement, or a different one that permits in-app purchases with another payment system. Soon, Apple will be enabling sideloading for E.U. users, a capability I could see coexisting with the Dutch entitlements, and it seems likely Japanese regulators could demand the same.

Developers sure will have a lot of paperwork to complete in the near future if they want to take advantage of these additional capabilities. Apple is creating this bureaucracy because it says this is how it gets paid to develop iOS; Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found, on page 114 of her decision (PDF) Apple’s arguments were “pretextual, but not to the exclusion of some measure of compensation”. I find that line questionable mainly because Apple has developed MacOS continuously for over twenty years without taking a commission on digital purchases. But who am I to question that?

I do believe the App Store costs money to run and, also, that Apple would like to make it profitable. In addition to a payment infrastructure, Apple pays for hosting, marketing, DRM — whether developers want it or not — and developer events in-person and online. I do not know if this costs anywhere close to its App Store revenue and I question the merits of it, but this argument seems like a nominally defensible, though not P.R.-friendly, justification for a commission if these are the terms by which the App Store will operate. (Judge Rogers came to more-or-less the same conclusion.)

The snag is that Apple needs to make the App Store uncompetitive by design because no third-party app distribution platform would have extra costs. I think I would prefer if the App Store needed to compete on its own merits, but it could mean other knock-on effects. Maybe Apple would charge separately for all of the other developer programme features, for example, or increase the price of a developer membership.

In the interim, this is the messy system we have. Instead of one App Store around the world — with minor asterisks — there will now be different permissions depending on which geographically-restricted features a developer chooses to use. And Apple has created a bureaucracy to ensure it captures all the money it believes and has argued it is owed. Many developers would be right to question that, but should not be surprised when E.U. sideloading rules are similarly un-Mac-like.