It’s a Friday, so of course some piece of tech news drops. Time for everyone to go crazy on Twitter and speculate in blog posts until the involved parties actually put out some sort of guidance on what happened/what will happen.
I am not immune to that siren song.
Today (September 10), Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers put out her ruling in the long-running Epic v. Apple suit. The suit was basically Epic saying Apple was a big meanie for kicking them out of the App Store for blatantly violating the rules. Epic was obviously violating the rules so they could claim damage and get this lawsuit up and running. And it worked.
Epic lost 9 of the 10 counts, but they won on the big one. Here’s the part everyone is zeroing in on:
Apple Inc. and its officers, agents, servants, employees, and any person in active concert or participation with them (“Apple”), are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from (i) including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.
There’s a lot of speculation about this because of what I see as a missing comma. There should be a break between “metadata” and “buttons”. That will all shake out in time, I’m sure.
What Does It Mean?
Quick answer is - nobody fucking knows.
Anyone telling you they do know is lying. There will be appeals, App Store rules changes, more lawsuits, and other legal and political wrangling before anything happens. Probably.
My take is this - If it’s not Judge Rogers in the United States, it will be some other judge or government somewhere. Apple should bite the bullet and make the changes necessary now. Don’t fight it any more, it’s just looking pitiful at this point. Apple could easily change App Store policy in a matter of days. Update the developer guidelines, train the app approval teams, and roll it out.
There’s an iPhone event in 3 or 4 days. That’s a great stage to stand up there and announce that changes are coming. The changes don’t have to be set in stone, but give developers an indication that things are happening in the right direction.
The Possible Changes
There are probably a lot of things Apple could do to follow the letter of the law, but here’s what I would do… Change the App Store rules to allow third party payment systems, with some guardrails.
- Apple’s In App Purchase system should be an option, even if you add your own payment system
- If you use your own system, it must follow existing App Store rules around parental controls, payment notifications, etc.
- If you use your own system, subscriptions must be listed in the App Store account for the user, right next to the Apple IAP subscriptions, with the same options for cancelling or changing the terms.
- You must charge the same amount for your own purchase system as you do for Apple’s system. No “sales” within your app’s UI.
- Apple will provide and maintain the APIs for all of this.
Matt Birchler has a great mockup of what a couple of these screens could look like:
I could also see Apple requiring a few other things, knowing how they operate. Things like:
- Your alternate payment system must include ApplePay as an option
- Your new account sign up flow must include “Sign In With Apple” as an option
- Apple could, by the letter of this law, collect a small percentage even from third party payments. This would be a bookkeeping nightmare for developers, but it could happen.
What Won’t Change
I’m sure Apple will still keep a pretty tight grip on whatever they can. You still won’t be able to side-load, operate alternative app stores, or bypass any other App Store rules for now. This only affects where you pay for in app purchases and sign up for services from an app.
Assuming all of this survives appeals (I hope Apple just accepts it and moves on, but I’m not confident they will), this is a boon for big developers. Huge companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Zynga, Epic, Netflix, Spotify, etc. will be able to switch to their own payment systems and still allow users to sign up in-app. This is a win for users and companies.
Smaller developers may not be as affected. Many small developers will continue to use Apple’s IAP system because it’s easy. They don’t have the resources to roll their own payment systems, keep taxes straight, and deal with all the other things that are outside their purview now. The big companies already do this, so it’s trivial for them.
Hopefully other payement processors like Stripe and Square can come up with a system and an SDK that devs can use to have a less expensive alternative to Apple without creating their own systems.
Bottom line is - and we’ve seen it coming for a while - Apple will have to make changes to the App Store rules. This isn’t 2008 anymore. This is the first of many lawsuits all over the world that Apple will lose. It’s (well past) time to be proactive.
Do they want to make the changes on their terms, or on someone else’s order? The answer seems easy to me.