Apple admits apps like Netflix, Spotify, and Kindle can link to the web to sign up

While vocal app developers last week accused Apple of turning a lawsuit settlement into an App Store change that was barely a change, today the company appears to be making a real, albeit small, concession: Apple says it’s making developers of “reader” apps (think Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon’s Kindle app) link their customers directly to their own sign-up website, where they may be able to completely escape Apple’s in-app payment system (and its 30 percent cut), in those cases where they already do.

In a press release, Apple claims the move will close an investigation by the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) and that it currently only applies to those kinds of “reader” apps — a category originally designed by Apple to target companies like Netflix. and Hulu by allowing users to simply sign in to their existing account instead of signing up for a new subscription through the App Store (and paying Apple’s fees).

The JFTC has confirmed the agreement in a press release of its own, saying that Apple’s move would “eliminate the suspected violation of the Antimonopoly Act.” The committee, which has been investigating Apple since 2016, says the company has committed to reporting once a year for the next three years on the status of app review transparency. According to the JFTC, Apple has proposed changing its app review guidelines in response to the investigation.

Currently, the Netflix and Spotify apps on iOS are useless if you don’t already have a subscription: both offer only a login page, with no link to their website, and a cheeky apology. “You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle,” reads the splash page of the Netflix app. The Amazon Kindle app, on the other hand, offers a ‘Create a new Amazon account’ master page within the app itself, but doesn’t let you buy books there, or even in the default Amazon app. You need to go to a mobile browser to purchase.

The message that greets you when opening the Netflix app on iOS.

The rule change has an extremely limited scope, as Apple claims it has only agreed to developers of so-called reader apps to “share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their accounts.” Apple also says it will “help reader app developers protect users when they link to an external website to make purchases,” suggesting it will have specific guidelines for how those links appear.

It’s also worth noting that when Apple turned down the Hey email app, and even after it later changed that controversial decision, the company was very clear that email apps don’t count as “reader” apps, even if you’re on the same page. way subscribe outside the app and all you can do without an account is log in.

It also seems that Apple is redefining what a “reader” app means a bit: While the company’s App Review guidelines suggest: that a reader app “may” give users access to previously purchased content (presumably in addition to in-app purchases, such as Netflix has been offered for years), Apple’s new press release specifies that “reader app developers do not offer in-app digital goods and services for sale (which make us fat).

That would mean that Apple only offers this exception to companies that don’t contribute in-app purchase commissions to Apple anyway. Which, admittedly, includes some of Apple’s harshest critics, such as Spotify.

Some critics of Apple’s anti-driving rules have suggested that they could charge users less if they could direct them to their own website instead of Apple’s IAP, because they wouldn’t have to pay Apple that extra 30 percent and thus be able to enjoy the savings. pass around. But if Apple’s “reader” category doesn’t end with apps that offer IAP, that idea probably won’t be possible under Apple’s new rule.

It may be a while before we find out the answers to these questions: Apple says the rule won’t go into effect until early 2022.