“Apple needs to take bigger action, faster.”
From Martin Peers and Josh Sisco’s The Briefing mailed Thursday to The Information subscribers ($):
Law schools may want to start introducing a new program to train lawyers in interpreting Apple’s App Store rules. The company’s latest changes, introduced to settle a Japanese antitrust investigation, add a layer of complexity to already-opaque rules. The rules have long had an element of arbitrariness, treating developers differently, as The Information’s founder has written. But the latest batch of changes—including those last week settling a developer lawsuit—only make matters worse.
For instance, the Japanese agreement this week allows developers of “reader apps”—those apps that let people access previously-purchased content or subscriptions—to put a link inside their apps to outside websites where users can pay for their content. Japan’s Fair Trade Commission indicated e-book apps were covered by the changes. That makes sense: You can read previously-purchased books on apps like Amazon’s Kindle.
The change implies Apple will let Kindle put in a link to its store website for “account management”—that presumably means future book purchases. If so, shouldn’t Epic Games have the right to put in a similar link to let people buy games on its website? (Apple won’t comment on the new rules’ impact on individual apps). Another anomaly is Match.com, the subscription dating app, which we hear doesn’t consider itself a reader app. That means it doesn’t plan to add a link to an external payment option. But what’s the difference between a subscription service like Match and a music or video streaming subscription service?
By dealing with the onslaught of investigations and legal actions through tiny concessions made one at a time, Apple is trying to avoid stalling its App Store profit engine. But these piecemeal moves, by creating complexity and aggravating disparate treatment, may only worsen the situation. (Even Spotify, which benefits from the changes, said they didn’t go far enough). It also adds to the uncertainty about the future profits of the App Store, which should be a big deal for investors. Legislation coming out of Korea and pending elsewhere mean wholesale changes are likely. Apple needs to take bigger action, faster.
My take: Apple’s concessions are a work in progress.