Apple allows 3rd party payments in the Dutch App Store, but also not really

Apple allows 3rd party payments in the Dutch App Store, but also not really
The Epic versus Apple was one of the crazy tech stories of 2021. Want a quick recap? Epic trolled Apple by putting a 3rd party payment option in Fortnite for iOS, bypassing Apple's fees entirely. Apple responded swiftly by removing Fortnite for blatantly breaking the App Store rules and guidelines. Epic fired back with a lawsuit it had at the ready.

The suit claimed that Apple was monopolizing and stifling the market and insisted that iOS gets opened up for 3rd party app stores and payment solutions. Ultimately, however, the court ruled that Apple did not engage in anti-trust behaviors, but is a bit strong-handed in anti-steering restrictions.

So, court ruled that no, Apple isn't obligated to allow other app stores on its own platform. However, Cupertino is to allow app developers to put a link for outside payments in their apps, giving customers a choice between an App Store purchase and 3rd party payment.

Back in December, Apple asked for a "stay" or a "hold" on the decision, giving itself more time to introduce the needed changes to the App Store.

It's worth noting that the Epic vs Apple case sent ripples throughout the world and other countries also started to look into the anti-competitive Apple allegations.

Just a month ago, the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) ordered Apple to make changes for dating apps on offer in the Apple App Store in the Netherlands by mid-January 2022.

So, this brings us to today — 

Apple allows Dutch dating apps to use 3rd party payment options

But — there's a but — Apple will still get commission from these payments. The percentage is not mentioned — Apple usually has a 15% - 30% commission on App Store and in-app purchases that go through its App Store system. We imagine its cut on outside payments isn't going to be much smaller.

Additionally, developers need to jump through some hoops. To enable 3rd party payments, developers need to use the brand-new StoreKit External Entitlements, implement them within their apps, and submit an app binary that has been specifically made for the Netherlands market.

Developers can not incorporate all payment options — they have to choose one. Either let users shop through the App Store, as before; use a link to the developer's own website; or use a link to a 3rd party payment service. Let me reiterate — only one of these three can be active. Developers that wish to stay away from this headache can just do nothing and things will stay as they are (which Apple would probably be very happy about).

Lastly — and of course that would be the case — if an outside payment option is used, Apple will not provide any sort of assistance for refunds, subscription management, or payment history.

Is this what's happening to the App Store in the US?

First, it's worth noting that Apple isn't really our of hot waters over at Netherlands, as the ACM has promised that it will vet the changes and actually sit down with the affected app providers to determine whether the changes are for the better. It's very much possible that the new conditions might be ruled as "unreasanable" again.

Over in the US, Apple will also need to comply with the court ruling (which is currently on hold) sooner or later. And here we have a pretty good idea of how the tech giant is planning to handle that. If processing payments through the App Store is the easiest, smoothest, least painful method to do it, app developers will have very little reason to choose otherwise.

But let's not be gloomy and remind ourselves of what the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled

Take note of the wording — "in addition to In-App Purchasing". Now, this author here does not speak fluent legalese, but it looks like Apple may not be able to put the same "Use one payment option or the other" restriction.

Who's right — Epic or Apple?

The Internet was set ablaze by this argument. On one side — Apple is a company that makes its own hardware and its own software, so it is kind of ridiculous to allow another company to come in, use the platform that Apple has already set up, and then claim "But I don't like that, change it."

On the other hand, it's hard to ignore that Apple has become a true behemoth in the tech world and anyone who wants to create a gadget, accessory, tracker, camera, app, game, et cetera, et cetera, kind of needs to be on an Apple platform or they risk losing out on a ton of potential customers.

In the words of Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers who presided over the Epic vs Apple case — "Success is not illegal". Fair enough, but will the same be true if Apple decides to raise its App Store commissions to 50%? 70%? Surely, it won't, but that's just a thought experiment.

This is why, in 2020 — when the Epic vs Apple argument first started — a number of high-profile companies started the "Coalition for App Fairness" (CAF). Spearheaded by Epic, Spotify, Match Group, and Tile among others, the group demands for lower fees and less restrictive rules on Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store. This whole thing is far from over.

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