New In-App Purchase Rules: Why is Apple doing this?
One might think there’s nothing new in the controversy surrounding Apple’s new in-app purchase rules. After all, this is a recurring pattern that occurs every time a developer loudly complains about their app getting rejected for seemingly unfair reasons.
But that’s not correct. There is indeed something new in this situation.
People who appreciate Apple’s commitment to providing a great user experience have been able to justify most previous controversial decisions. Even the infamous Section 3.3.1, which restricted programming languages to those native to iOS, was justified on the grounds that non-native apps were commonly poorer in quality than custom built native apps.
On the contrary, in the case of the new in-app purchase rules, even hardcore fans are finding it difficult to defend Apple. Sure, in-app purchases do improve user experience. That’s not the problem. As Marco Arment explains, even the 30% cut is not the real problem. The real problem is that Apple is now forcing all subscription services to use Apple’s system. And frankly, such a move is hard to justify on the basis any altruistic goals.
So why is Apple doing this? Is it simply greed, as many have alleged? That really doesn’t make much sense. Raw greed is plain stupid, and stupid is one thing that Apple is not. It’s not even clear if subscriptions will ever be a significant revenue source.
I suspect the real reason is that Apple wants to protect iTunes.
So far, no online service has been able to compete with iTunes in any significant manner. This is because of the iPod. Apple’s devices and the iTunes store are exclusive to each other. The iDevices have ensured the dominance of iTunes so far. For anybody to compete with iTunes, they’d first have to make hardware that’s better than Apple’s while being price competitive. And that’s very hard.
The rise of the iOS platform and the App Store has changed that situation. It has now become possible for an iTunes competitor to avoid the hardware problem and directly run on Apple’s hardware via the App Store. Services such as Spotify already do this. Apple fears that such services may eventually threaten iTunes, which is precisely what Apple would like to avoid. I suspect the new in-app purchase rules have been designed specifically to thwart such competition.
If this is indeed true, then the rejection of the Readability app is merely collateral damage. I can understand Apple trying to defend their turf, but I wish they tried harder to avoid collateral damage. It will go a long way in improving their negative perception within the developer community.