What will happen to Apple’s AppStore in three months, when the injunction signed yesterday by Judge Yvonne Rogers goes into effect? Yesterday the trial that saw Apple and Epic Games opposing each other for a year ended, as we have already written, the judge ruled in favor of Apple.
The theme was the dominant position in the mobile gaming transaction market, and with a market share of less than 50% Apple it cannot have a dominant position and therefore has not even abused it.
The judge, just reading the papers of the sentence, accepted many of Apple’s theses that the App Store is a safe place, according to which the in-app payment system with age control can be a brake for compulsive purchases. and according to which many developers have become great thanks to the ecosystem developed by iOS and by Apple itself, recognizing the merit.
However it also reprimanded Apple’s anti-competitive behavior: some rules that developers must comply with, in order to have an application approved within the AppStore, today represent an obstacle to free competition. For this reason, it has issued an injunction where it effectively overturns the 3.1.1 rule of Apple’s Review Guidelines.
The Apple standard, unfortunately there is no Italian version, says that:
“If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.”
We leave English because the language, in this case, is very important.
The injunction from Judge Yvonne Rogers says Apple is
“permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from 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 communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.”
The same words, which refer to the famous prohibitions that keep the user inside the app and prevent him from going out to circumvent the payment system.
When Apple wrote that standard, it thought of every possible exception to avoid the classic loopholes “Made the law found the deception“. The interpretation of that rule, as we have seen several times, has not always been approached objectively: some apps were discarded and others approved, even if the behavior of a link was similar. With a manual review process it can happen: two different reviewers can interpret a button differently.
Now everything changes: Apple will always have its app review process, but the developers contesting the injunction will be able to argue that a button, or a link, is entirely legitimate. And the last word will be up to a judge, not Apple anymore.
We are quite certain that on the subtle difference, even technical, between a link (clickable text that leads to a destination) and a button (graphic element that activates an action), many developers are ready to seek legal advice.
We are equally confident that Apple and the judge will review this sentence together to avoid technical misunderstandings. In short, the rule 3.1.1, that of the injunction, will be made clearer in such a way as to fully satisfy the requests of the judge but at the same time avoid misunderstandings.
Will it really be possible to insert other payment methods in the apps?
The real question to ask, however, is another: will a developer really be able to insert an alternative payment method directly into the application, thus skipping the Apple commission?
According to some interpretations, the word “Direct”In the injunction because it refers to external payment methods. The link and buttons must “redirect”.
Not only that: the injunction clearly states “in addition to In-App Purchasing”: this means that nothing could prevent Apple from asking that developers who add links or buttons that refer to other payment systems must also enter Apple’s In-app Purchase.
Today apps such as Netflix or Spotify do not have links to external payment systems, but they do not even have the button that allows you to subscribe with Apple’s in-app system, precisely in order not to leave the percentage of 15% or 30%.
According to the judge’s injunction, Apple could not prevent Netflix from adding a button or link to another payment system, as long as it is in addition to Apple’s.
In conclusion, the aim is to give consumers choice, and the fact that Netflix puts a link to sign up with its payment system without putting Apple’s one would no longer give consumers the choice of the most suitable solution for them. At the most, prices could be differentiated to stimulate competition: subscribe directly to Netflix and save.
There are also stricter interpretations: the injunction prohibits Apple from preventing a developer from inserting links and buttons to alternative payment systems, but in fact does not allow alternative in-app purchase systems.
Epic, we recall, would have liked a direct system: in the case of games, the “buy” button is more effective and stimulates compulsive buying. He even wanted sideloading and alternative app stores.
None of this can be done.
Reading through the 170 pages of the sentence, it is clear what the judge’s thought is, a thought that in many respects coincides with that of Apple.
The judge, as stated above, did not pronounce on the percentage of 30% and did not even consider it excessive, but above all, more importantly, recognized that Apple should be rewarded and should receive commissions for the use of its intellectual properties, then the SDKs that accompany Xcode and that allow you to develop apps.
Apple’s in-app purchase and its percentage account for according to the judge the most normal way to receive a reward for the intellectual properties exploited by the developers, while the ways proposed by Epic would have damaged Apple economically and would also have violated the terms on the exploitation of intellectual property.
More importantly, according to the judge, having multiple in-app payment systems for each individual application would create problems for users and developers, and it would weaken the store. The quality of the Apple AppStore is mainly linked to the presence of a centralized purchasing management system, with expense control, with parental control and with the possibility of canceling subscriptions from a single screen. So the injunction must not be read as a “green light for alternative in-app purchase systems“
If we link these parts of the judgment to the part of the injunction, the most obvious interpretation is the following:
“Apple will not be able to prevent developers from inserting buttons and links that refer to external alternative payment systems, nor can it prevent developers from exploiting app data to contact users. However, Apple must somehow be rewarded for the exploitation of its intellectual properties and therefore if there are links that refer to alternative payment systems there must also be Apple’s in-app purchase system, it can be the only one present. Other in-app purchasing systems would create confusion and worsen the experience, according to the judge.”
With a similar interpretation it is also clear why Apple sang victory, and why instead Epic has announced an appeal. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney himself announced that today’s ruling, including the injunction, is a defeat for consumers and developers.
At the moment Apple has not announced an appeal and if this is the interpretation it is unlikely to do so.
If that word of the injunction “other than“Is interpreted as”in addition to“, Or in addition, it would mean that those who want to put links that refer to other systems must also put Apple’s in-app purchase system, to reward the company, as the judge wrote, for the exploitation of intellectual property. Apple it could even earn from apps, such as readers, which today do not recognize commissions of any kind.
In the end, a balance will be found: everything like today, but you can put buttons and links within all the apps, and not just the reader ones.
Those who want to buy directly from the app will use the Apple system, those who want to save, as long as the external price is lower, will take a few more steps.
Apple, if developers and companies are crafty, could lose a lot: users in front of a 30% discount are willing to take two more steps.
However, if the “commission free” prices are the same as those that have to be paid with the in-app system, most users will continue to use it. Nothing will change.