May 26, 2022

Apple today announced that it will link a subset of apps sold on the App Store to a third-party website where users can create or manage their accounts with the app’s developer. The changes to the Apple App Store review policy only affect what Apple calls a “reading app,” which is primarily designed to provide access to certain types of digital content, such as magazines, books, audio, music, or video. Apple’s plans were first announced last September in the context of the tech giant’s deal with Japan’s regulator, the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), and were due to take place sometime in early 2022.

The company has previously said the changes will apply to all Reader apps in the App Store worldwide when they launch, but did not give an exact launch date.

Apple’s App Store review guide has been updated today with a new link describing how Reader apps can implement this feature.

Specifically, Apple instructs developers to request something called external link account entitlement to provide this feature in their own apps. A license is what Apple uses when it still wants to control the state in which developers can implement a particular feature. That is, instead of simply changing the App Store rules to allow this behavior for a supported app category, the permissions process requires developers to request and then receive approval for that particular use. This way, Apple can check very carefully which apps are allowed to add links instead of leaving them to the app review group.

The company has also published usage guidelines and implementation details for developers who are allowed to use the external link option. Here, Apple says that apps that don’t include all apps that provide access to digital content will be approved – access to digital content should be the “core functionality” of the app, Apple claims. For example, a social media application (hmm, facebook) where users can also stream videos are not suitable.

Apple also states that, in order to be compliant, the App must allow users to access previously purchased content or services outside of the App; They should allow people to log into their account; And they may not offer personal, real-time services such as live tutoring, fitness training, facility tours, or medical consultations.

image credit: an Apple

Specifically, Apple says that apps that have elected to use an External Link account will no longer be able to offer in-app purchases on an iPhone or iPad device. This is an either/or situation.

Apple’s instructions describe how links should work, such as how to open in a new browser window instead of in a web view, and how links should be displayed. The developer’s webpage also cannot advertise prices offered outside of the App Store. He can say something very simple, like: “Go to example.com to create or manage your account.” There are other technical requirements as well.

It’s worth noting that these changes are only due to government regulations, and not because Apple thinks it’s the right thing to do for their App Store. Judging by the rigid way in which this support is implemented and the rules for using it, the company sees this change as a slippery slope that could ultimately lead to loss of App Store revenue.

The changes come at a time when lawmakers and regulators are pressuring app store vendors, Apple and Google, over anti-competitive complaints. Platforms are also fighting it in the courts, as Apple and Google are now doing with Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, whose antitrust case with Apple is currently pending. Another class action lawsuit forced Apple to agree that developers can contact their customers about payment methods using the contact information collected in their apps.

In addition to today’s changes to reading apps, South Korea has passed a law that prevents Apple and Google from requiring developers to use their respective payment systems. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a bipartisan App Store bill targeting Apple and Google, indicating that US legislation is also in the works. But instead of staying ahead of the curve by tweaking how the App Store works, Apple keeps every last drop of control even when it tries to abide by the rules. This attitude has gotten so bad that Apple in the Netherlands has been fined ten times by the local regulator for failing to comply with new rules to support third-party payments for dating apps.

While Apple granted access today to request account entitlement with an external link, it notes that the API will be available to readable apps for building and testing “upcoming iOS and iPadOS betas.”

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