Apple and Google representatives met recently before a Senate antitrust hearing on their app store practices. In particular Apple has been under fire for activating developers who have made the platform so valuable, and consumers paying the price. For example, the dating app company Match testified that App Store fees are their biggest expense. Spotify shared how Apple’s rights forced them to raise prices on consumers when Apple launched a competing streaming service, Apple Music. And Tile claimed that Apple used its platform to dismantle Tile’s products and pave the way for Apple’s AirTag.
Legislators and regulators around the world are paying attention. The European Commission recently announced that it sees the App Store’s policies as anti-competitive and intends to take regulatory action. Australian regulators have reached similar conclusions in an interim report presented last month. And Apple’s behavior in the app distribution market was subjected to further scrutiny during its ongoing trial with Epic Games.
These policies harm not only developers looking to distribute their apps, but also the 1.65 billion iOS mobile device users throughout the world. When Apple requires 30 percent of developers ’revenue, it limits its freedom to offer new and innovative customer experiences. And by preventing developers from communicating with their customers through their own apps, consumers end up with an app ecosystem that fails to put their interests first.
Apple’s commitment to privacy and security benefits users, but Apple often argues that its App Store policies are necessary for these priorities when they aren’t. On Mac computers – which, by Apple’s acceptance, are safe and secure – there are no limitations in third-party app stores or payments. Even if the apps can be installed from outside the App Store on an iPhone, they won’t be able to track the situation or access the camera without permission. The phone’s operating system protects users more than the App Store, and apps installed from alternative app stores may be cheaper or have more functionality, but they will benefit from the same security protections. In fact, despite Apple’s fury, the iOS app store is full rip-offs and scams.
Meanwhile, legitimate apps and services are being held back by Apple’s limitations, causing people real problems. Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple made it difficult for users to pay teachers and trainers who were forced to move their classes online by demanding a further 30 percent reduction in the fees they collect, before issuing a temporary shooting.
Last year, the popular fitness app (and Coalition for App Fairness member) Down Dog tried to offer to customers the ability to download the app for a free trial before committing to a subscription plan. The company did not want to automatically charge users at the end of the process, hoping to avoid forcing them to go through the frustrating cancellation process, or trying to get a refund because they forgot to cancel. Apple has refused to allow app updates until the company agrees to automatically charge its users.
And many users of music, appointments, or other subscription services don’t realize that they pay more for their membership because they sign up through an iPhone app rather than directly with the company. Unfortunately, Apple does not allow these service providers to communicate directly with their customers through its own app, which could help millions of consumers save money every month and get better service.
The biggest loss has nothing to do with developers and users having to work around Apple’s restrictions – it’s those apps and services that don’t even exist because app store rules make it impossible.
Some major developers, such as those who testified in the Senate last month, can speak out. But there are many others who are afraid to do it for fear of Apple’s revenge. This makes them even more noticeable when smaller developers are forced to talk about them anyway, since the threat to their business may exist.
There are clear steps that need to be taken to end this anti-competitive behavior and ultimately make it a priority for users and developers. No app should be blocked from distribution because it seeks to offer a better way for users to make payments or because it competes with a platform’s preferred apps. Offers on pieces like those from Apple, as well Backdoor offers for individual apps, are not enough.
Customers should also be allowed to access their apps from any store that best meets their needs. These things are possible without endangering users, and if they were to compete, Apple, Google, and other platforms would have the incentive to improve their app stores for both consumers. and developers.