Apple's App Store Policy Solution is Staring Them in the Face

Apple App Store Demo

Apple has a problem with their App Store. It’s potentially a big problem if it turns in to an official antitrust case, but at best it’s a problem with developer relations and looking like a bunch of greedy jerks. You may say that Apple has lots of problems, but this is problem I’m referring to: Payments on the App Store and the forced 30% cut of purchases.

There is been an ocean of ink (and podcast chatter) spilled over the last few weeks talking about this problem, but briefly, Apple forces everyone who has an app on the iOS App Store to use the Apple payment system, and part of that system is that Apple takes a 30% cut of your purchase [Note: It’s a bit more complex in that subscriptions can earn a drop in Apple’s cut, but generally, 30% is the requirement]. This isn’t illegal (yet) but developers are starting to get more than a little annoyed about the whole thing.

Apple has dug in on changing the price or bending the rules, so what can they do to fix this? Let’s put a pin in that question, and let me tell you about the latest Apple service that was rolled out and mandated in the App Store: Sign in with Apple

Sign in with Apple is…a way to sign in…with Apple. Meaning you can use your Apple ID to sign in to an app rather than making a new account or using other similar solutions from Facebook, Google, GitHub, etc. Apple has baked privacy forward features in to their login to make it attractive to Apple’s customers, and they required that Apple login be an option on all apps that use other login solutions (Facebook, Google, etc.). While a lot of eye-rolling occurred over yet another Apple mandate, it has been successful. Apple isn’t stopping developers from using the login they want, Apple is offering choice for users, and with their login’s feature set, they can appeal to users on the merits of their solution and get people logging in via Apple. Most importantly? No one is complaining about “Sign in with Apple”.

So just do that with iOS purchases.

If Apple just tweaked the requirement on iOS purchases to match the Apple login things could clear up pretty quickly. What would that look like? Well, the mandate would change to say that if you offer purchases in your app, one of the options must be Apple Pay and the other options are up to the developer. This means that Epic could have their own payment method for Fortnite, but it has to be right along side the Apple option. If users’ use the Apple payment option, and for only the Apple payment option, Apple gets their cut. Yes, some payments would drop off, but my hunch is it wouldn’t drop off much because Apple’s option would be faster, more focused on privacy, and would integrate better in to iOS so it would still be very appealing. Plus, smaller developers don’t have another option and won’t support multiple paths anyway so there would be no change for the vast majority of apps. If Epic can convince it’s users to go through it’s slower payment system and user’s understand the trade-offs then good for them. While Apple won’t be seeing 30% of that, I bet they see far less of the inside of a court room as well.

Yes, there’s a lot of details here. Apple could require that the price difference between the payment options has to be within some range (or non-existent). They might also want to mandate the initial buy screen so that the options are all clear, such as they require with the “Sign in with Apple” mandate. Regardless, this seems like the best way for Apple to trade some revenue for good will and not seem like they are walking back the rules they have been fighting to protect. The announcement on stage at a keynote could not be easier: “Today we are standardizing our iOS requirements in an easy to understand way and to give both developers and users greater flexibility in how they sign in and pay for products within the apps they love.” …swoopy slide action…wait for thunderous applause…then move on to those touch screen iMacs they’ve been working on.