When you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if you’re an angry developer, every Apple policy looks like tyranny.
For years, Apple has been criticized for demanding that iOS developers use Apple’s own payment system in apps, rather than processing through third-party institutions. The Cupertino tech giant has always maintained that this is to protect users from scammers, but the policy also ensures that it receives 15 or 30 percent of its revenue. You can take any side you want, but I think users and developers should probably be given an informed choice about which payment system to use, and it’s a good thing Apple is starting to give in.
A recent development in this gradual thawing is the announcement this week that the Netflix app for iOS now has a remote subscription button. This means that users of the app who want to renew their subscription or pay for a new one from scratch can do so without having to go through Apple’s internal payment system, and thus without earning the company a dime.
It’s pretty clear that Apple isn’t keen on users doing this. After all, the Netflix app is free, so if you lose the subscription discount, you wouldn’t be making any money at all providing a platform for an extremely popular app. It’s clearly in Apple’s best interest for developers to use a system that gives up a portion of their revenue, but in all fairness it’s also in the company’s best interest to minimize the incidence of users being ripped off by unscrupulous third parties. over which Apple has no control. This is one of those situations where selfish and altruistic motives coincide at least in part.
So it should come as no surprise that Apple is doing its best to persuade customers to use its own payment system. Click on Netflix’s third-party subscription button and you’ll see a pop-up warning that Apple disclaims any responsibility for the security and privacy of the payment system you’ll be using.
“You are about to exit the app and go to an external website,” the warning reads. “You will no longer trade with Apple. Any accounts or purchases made outside of this app are controlled by the developer ‘Netflix’. Your App Store account, saved payment methods, and related features such as subscription management and refund requests are not available. Apple is not responsible for the privacy or security of any transactions with this developer.”
Tim Sweeney, the boss of Epic Games and a longtime Apple critic, isn’t happy with this disclaimer. In a tweet yesterday, he called the “terrifying customers by making all competing payment processors untrustworthy” tax” and a “horrible sham”.
Let’s put aside the obvious fact for a moment that Sweeney hates Apple on a deep-rooted level and would probably disagree aloud if Tim Cook said the sky is blue, or that ice cream is a treat on a summer’s day. . Let’s disregard the lengthy legal dispute between the two companies, which makes it unlikely that he would comment impartially on any Apple developer policies. Let’s just focus on what can reasonably be expected of Apple in this situation.
Apple could allow third-party payments and write a popup glorifying the benefits of customer choice and encouraging users to try other systems. I mention this only for completeness.
Apple could seamlessly integrate third-party payments into iOS and iPadOS without any notice or warning.
Apple could set up and run a program that checks all third-party payment systems, and custom pop-ups for each system that evaluates security and privacy.
Apple could include a flat warning for all third-party systems that simply says that the user is about to use a process over which Apple has no control, and therefore cannot guarantee privacy and security, or the usual suite of payment functions.
Apple chose the fourth option, and I don’t see how a reasonable or impartial critic could be surprised. Naturally it wants you to stay in the app. Naturally it wants a share of the revenue. And naturally it wants to control the security, privacy and user experience of the payment process. We can see Apple’s motives here. But that doesn’t make the warning box dishonest or scare-mongering.
We’re always talking about Cupertino’s walled garden, and it’s a policy with pros and cons. Some like it, and some don’t. What we have here is a situation where Apple has been pressured to allow users outside the yard, but that’s not enough for the most extreme critics: the company should also be happy with this and refrain from pointing out the reasons why it has built the garden in the first place.
Apple has been dominant in much of its dealings with developers and controlling in much of its dealings with customers. That’s both true and worth challenging, and the pushback from high-profile voices like Tim Sweeney is helpful; indeed, the battle with Epic may have been one of the key factors in allowing the company to admit and make recent App Store concessions. Sweeney is often right, and usually worth listening to.
But if he expects Apple to send customers to third-party payment systems without advocating for the benefits of the system it owns, he’s lost touch with reality. And he has to put the hammer down.