Apple updated its developer guidelines this week to “allow” for external linking to third-party payment sources for app developers. From the Apple Developer site:
In addition to using Apple’s convenient, safe, and secure in-app purchase system, apps on the App Store in the United States that offer in-app purchases can also use the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement (US) to include a link to the developer’s website that informs users of other ways to purchase digital goods or services.
The change comes with many specific requirements, including:
The link you provide in your app must:
- Go directly to your website without any redirect or intermediate links or landing page;
- Open a new window in the default browser on the device, and may not open a web view;
- Not pass additional parameters in the URL in order to protect the user (for example, their privacy);
- May not be displayed on any page that is part of an in-app flow to merchandise or initiate a purchase using in-app purchase.
I understand not wanting any tracking or privacy tracking parameters in these links, but it’s not a great user experience to be dumped out on a generic web page, requiring you to either sign-in or find what you were trying to purchase manually.
Apple is using a 7-day attribution window for all purchases made on the web through these links, and a commission of 27% (or 12% if you’re in the Small Business Program):
Apple is charging a commission on digital purchases initiated within seven days from link out, as described below. This will not capture all transactions that Apple has facilitated through the App Store, but is a reasonable means to account for the substantial value Apple provides developers, including in facilitating linked transactions.
If you adopt this entitlement, you will be required to provide transaction reports within 15 calendar days following the end of each calendar month. Even if there were no transactions, you’re required to provide a report stating that is the case.
There’s just a ton of hoops to jump through and extra work to make this happen, and developers still will owe the 27% commission for the sale externally. What’s the point? I don’t see how any developer actually goes through the effort of doing this, and that’s the point.
This is quite the change and has caused a justified uproar in the Apple development community:
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, on Twitter/X:
Apple filed a bad-faith “compliance” plan for the District Court’s injunction. It totally undermines the order allowing “buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to IAP”.
Epic will contest Apple’s bad-faith compliance plan in District Court.
Apple doesn’t care about you personally in the least tiny bit, and if you were in their way somehow, they would do whatever their might — effectively infinite compared to your own — enables them to deal with you.
Luckily, Apple has just provided us all with a reminder. Just like the sixth finger in an AI-rendered hand, Apple’s policies for Distributing apps in the U.S. that provide an external purchase link are startlingly graceless and a jarring, but not surprising, reminder that Apple is not a real person and not worthy of your love.
Graceless and jarring indeed.
John Gruber, on Daring Fireball:
Apple should have been looking for ways to lessen regulatory and legislative pressure over the past few years, and in today’s climate that’s more true than ever. But instead, their stance has seemingly been “Bring it on.” Confrontational, not conciliatory, conceding not an inch. Rather than take a sure win with most_ of what they could want, Apple is seemingly hell-bent on trying to keep everything.
Nick Heer, on Pixel Envy:
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 the U.S. legal system?
Ben Thompson, in a Stratechery Daily Update:
I don’t, to be clear, like this state of affairs. While an iPhone may not be a technical standard, I do think that it is an essential platform for businesses of all kinds, and that Apple reaps a multitude of benefits from having a thriving app ecosystem. At the end of the day, though, Apple’s intellectual property is their property, and they get to charge whatever fee they like. That they will jump through whatever hoops are necessary to collect said fee should not be a surprise to anyone at this point.
I like Tim Cook, but there are moral issues he seems completely blind to, like this 27% tax nonsense. Forget iOS. By Apple’s logic, they could also charge 27% (or anything!) for any business that has a Mac app and links to their web site. Never in computing have we seen a company so overreach.
David Heinemeier Hansson, never one to mince words:
Apple would be wise to study the long arc of Microsoft’s history. Learn that you can win the battle, say, against Epic, and end up losing the war for the hearts and minds of developers. And that while the price for that loss lags beyond the current platform, it’ll eventually come due, and they’ll rue the day they chose this wretched path.
I don’t have any issue with Apple expecting some sort of payment or commission on purchases in the App Store, and a reasonable attribution of other purchases. It’s their store, their platform, and their prerogative to do so. The 27% isn’t a payment processing fee, it’s an “IP license”, which Apple is going to collect from developers no matter what. I think this license is extremely high and aggressive, but they can charge what they decide.
There’s a reason I’ve spent most of my career working on the open web. Sure, the web has its deep flaws, but I can’t imagine running a sustainable long-term business subject to the whims and demands of one corporation. In the early days of the app stores, this type of behavior would have been more reasonable (I guess), but mobile devices are (as Ben notes above) an “essential platform for businesses of all kinds” and it’s a shame that there are so many rules and regulations governing how they work.
The past decade or so of the Tim Cook era at Apple has been mostly positive: incredible shareholder value generated, industry-leading environmental policies, and of course some amazing products. But I think the long-term stain on Apple and this era will be its relationship with China and how it treats the App Store especially its entitlement to receive a “license fee” for all commerce on its platforms.