Archive for April 6, 2020

Monday, April 6, 2020

App Store Sandbox Dropping Requests

Jacob Eiting (of Revenue Cat):

Alright, it’s been 2 weeks now and the App Store Sandbox environment has been basically in failure mode for 4 hours every day.

About 50% requests are just being dropped with no error code, the server just disconnects before returning anything.

This doesn’t just affect developers building apps. When App Review tests your in-app purchases, they use the Sandbox environment.

We’re seeing tons of apps, new and old, getting rejected for no reason. Causing all sorts of panic and wasted time, costing a ton of money for devs.

We’ve even had customers temporarily remove IAPs from their app just to get through App Review.

Needless to say, the system status page doesn’t show any problems.


Amazon Prime Video Now Allows In-App Rentals and Purchases

Nick Statt:

Prior to the change, Amazon would not allow you to rent or buy content on the Prime Video app, instead, directing users to a web browser to avoid the App Store fee. You could still sign up for a Prime Video subscription through the iOS app if you are not an Amazon Prime subscriber, but even then, you could not make individual content purchases from within the app.

Now, when users log in to the Prime Video app, there should be a message reading, “Browse, rent, or buy new release movies, popular TV shows, and more — now within the app.”

The prices do not appear to have been raised to account for the 30 percent fee, as some platform owners like Spotify have done in the past.

This is one of the biggest changes in the history of the App Store. I don’t see anything in the App Store guidelines about it, though. They still say:

If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc.

Rene Ritchie:

Basically, if Amazon wants 30% from content creators to aggregate videos for Prime, and Apple wants 30% from Amazon to aggregate Prime for the App Store, and the content creator still wants 70%, it breaks the math.

A few years back Apple dropped the second year subscription revenue share down to 15%, but that still makes multiple middle vendors tough. Neither Amazon nor Apple can earn together what they would earn separately, selling directly.


It seems clear, if and when we emerge from COVID-19 and regulatory attention turns back to tech companies, App Store policies will be front and center.

That’s why it would behoove Apple to come up with something more modern, something that lets them defray the cost of hosting the App Store and serving free apps, but also drives revenue based on security, privacy, and convenience, rather than policy, and that allows all these apps to provide better and more convenient experiences for all their mutual customers.

John Gruber (tweet):

If you already subscribe to Prime (full Prime or just Prime Video), when you rent or purchase a movie in the app, the transaction is now handled by Amazon, using your credit card on file with Amazon.


If the Amazon account you’re signed into does not have a Prime subscription, you can purchase or rent movies in the Prime Video app, and they will be processed as Apple In-App Purchases. This is true even if Amazon has a credit card on file for your account. If you are not subscribed to Prime, in-app purchases are Apple’s In-App Purchases.

I wonder how they implemented this. Do they have an IAP SKU for each video in their catalog?

That’s not even the most interesting part. If you don’t subscribe to Prime, you can subscribe to Prime Video in-app for $9/month and it’s an Apple iTunes subscription. Apple gets a cut and your subscription to Prime Video is managed like any other iTunes subscription.

Guilherme Rambo:

The Prime Video app has a special “” entitlement. This reminds me of the “requestData” property on SKPayment, which has been “Reserved for future use” for a long time. Hmmmm…

Mark Gurman:

Apple says it has had an “established” program for “premium” video apps subscriptions, now including Amazon Prime, to let them use their own payment methods instead of in-app-purchase, which gives Apple a 30% cut. This program has been in use already with Altice One and Canal+

To be clear, Apple says this an an established program. Amazon Prime is new today and most significant partner. I have never heard of this program until today and we all know I’d know about it 😀

Michael Perry:

In speaking to Canal+ friends, this program (at least from a user perspective) has not been their experience. They have not been able to buy directly from Canal in the way it’s implemented here with Amazon. It would seem this ‘existing program’ stuff is very much spin.

Nick Heer:

Apple’s statement does not seem to fully reflect exactly what is going on here. The features described as being part of an “established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers” — a phrase that, I think, needs more words — do not appear to be unique to apps that are allowed to bypass Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism. The Netflix app on tvOS, for instance, is part of universal search; CBC’s Gem app integrates with the Apple TV app but uses standard iOS in-app purchases, not its own. So those “benefits” are not unique to the listed apps: Prime Video, Altice One, and Canal+.


Why is Amazon Prime Video allowed to use a non-Apple payment method for its movie purchases and rentals, but not for subscriptions? Why is this entirely undocumented? Why did it take until today to enable this for Amazon Prime Video, and not something that has been available all along for the app?


No clarification was provided on how a developer would go about joining this program, though it seems like the “benefits” that Apple described in its statement — AirPlay support, universal search, and the like — are something a developer has to agree to integrate in order to get this special entitlement.

Last year, Apple said:

At its core, the App Store is a safe, secure platform where users can have faith in the apps they discover and the transactions they make. And developers, from first-time engineers to larger companies, can rest assured that everyone is playing by the same set of rules.

Dieter Bohn:

Must be nice to be a premium subscription video entertainment provider and be allowed to use your own payment system instead of Apple’s.

I am sure that distinction makes total sense to all developers and other app makers who offer services in other categories like music or apps

Tim Schmitz:

I can’t tell whether this is an encouraging sign of progress toward the end of Apple’s payment processing monopoly or a discouraging sign of special treatment for big developers. Indie devs need a break too, especially now.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Apple, how about extending this privilege to the rest of us? Not just some special class of huge corporations.

Dieter Bohn:

It’s still dumb as hell that the Kindle app can’t even reference the fact that some books are available for purchase elsewhere, much less include a buy button.

Benjamin Mayo:

The intricate App Store framework of rules now means that game streaming services are disallowed completely, music streaming apps must use In-App Purchase and give Apple 30%, but favoured video streaming apps can evade all of those restrictions. Wacky.

Dieter Bohn (Hacker News):

Anyway, you can suss out the outlines of the deal that was struck. Amazon gets buy buttons inside its app for current Prime Video subscribers, Apple gets Amazon’s complete and total participation in the Apple TV features it cares about the most. Instead of just being yet another icon in the home screen grid, Amazon’s services are now deeply integrated into the user experiences Apple wants to move everybody towards.


But if the rule is you pay Apple a 30-percent cut of your app’s cost unless Apple really needs something from you to bolster its own subscription business, that’s neither fair nor consistent. I asked Apple if there was something other developers could do to qualify for a deal that’s similar to what Amazon now has. The company referred me to its original statement.

Michael Love:

If you assume that one of the main strategic purposes of the money-hemorrhaging TV+ service was to give people a reason to do all their TV viewing through Apple’s centralized UI, it stands to reason they’d also be willing to give up some commissions for that.

Nick Heer:

It does seem like an all-around win. However, the question remains why this policy is something that is seemingly only available through channels not generally available to providers of comparable services, and why it so far seems to apply to just three service providers.

Nick Heer:

The shrewdest quality of this deal is that it allows Amazon to exclude some of its in-app purchases from Apple’s usual cut while incentivizing people to more fully embrace Apple’s ecosystem.


We had a paid chat app for social media celebrities/models to earn money chatting with their fans years back. Apple argued that despite a human being doing the work it ‘took place in the app’ so that makes it a ‘digital service’. That means we had to accept IAP and of course pay them 30%. Made it impossible to to pay our influencers fairly.

One of the many silly rejections we had was due to the images on our influencers profiles being too sexy despite being linked through the Instagram API. After explaining they were the same as you can find in the Instagram app we were told we had to actively censor them anyway. Shame on us for not being as big as Instagram, right?

After a year of making less margin from our own business than Apple they concluded paid chat was no longer appropriate for the app store and decided to just put us out of business one morning. Meanwhile, tons of other apps with the same functionality and far more sexualized are alive and doing well.


Update (2020-04-08): Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

In other words, Apple TV+ was actually about Apple TV Channels: give customers a reason to use the Apple TV app, and then sell subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, Crunchyroll, etc. That is certainly the best way to understand Amazon Prime Video: there is not nearly enough content to seriously challenge Netflix, but there are shows worth watching, which makes the Amazon Fire TV boxes worth owning, and the Prime Video App worth using — and that means more subscriptions on which Amazon can take an ongoing percentage.

In this view, then, Apple is the clear winner: Amazon just made the Apple TV interface better, which means that Apple can sell that many more Apple TV Channels subscriptions — presumably at the expense of Amazon. I think Amazon was willing to make this tradeoff for a few reasons (that I first detailed yesterday)[…]


This is the most compelling lens with which to view Apple and Amazon’s recent partnerships. Both, given their desire to be a platform for over-the-top services, are on the same side when it comes to a potential Netflix-dominated future: neither want it to happen. Netflix dominating means that shows are sold directly to Netflix; channels are pointless. Apple and Amazon both, though, want channels to exist, if only so that they can sell subscriptions to them.

Update (2020-04-10): Benjamin Mayo:

The press statement is masterfully worded in the way that it diverts attention. If you skim it, it sounds like Apple is offering a financial incentive in exchange for supporting Apple’s latest system technologies like AirPlay 2 and TV app integration. I don’t read it that way at all.

If you read it carefully, the statement does not say what the requirements are to “qualify”. I think that’s because they aren’t any; Apple picks who can participate in accordance with what best suits Apple’s business. Those aforementioned features are the benefits of joining the program, not the entrance requirements. The important takeaway is that Apple decides who gets invited.


These deals are a positive outcome from the perspective of an end-user. The inconveniences of being kicked out to Safari to rent something from Amazon Prime have now been removed. However, it does nothing to make the App Store a fairer marketplace. If anything, it has the opposite effect.

No Shortcuts Files

Jordan Merrick:

One of my favorite features of Workflow was its ability to share workflows as files. It was this functionality that made it possible for me to start Workflow Directory and create my own GitHub repository of workflows. Unfortunately, Shortcuts doesn’t support this functionality and I suspect it never will again.

Although it’s possible to jump through some hoops to import workflow or shortcut files, lack of file support makes it impossible to maintain my GitHub repository. Instead, I’ve started the long overdue process of creating iCloud links to my shortcuts and publishing them here instead.

Mike Rockwell:

I understand why Apple made that decision — if there was a malicious shortcut going around, since they can only be shared with an iCloud link, Apple would have the ability to remove the shortcut from their server and prevent it from spreading further.

But this limitation makes backing up your shortcuts a major pain. If you build a shortcut to automatically backup all of your shortcuts to iCloud links and then save the links into a notes app, you have to tap through a prompt for every single shortcut you have.


App Store Rules Limit Rival Gaming Services

Mark Gurman (tweet):

Video-game fans suddenly have their pick of a huge menu of titles thanks to a raft of new mobile subscription services from Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Nvidia Corp.

But for the more than 1 billion users of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, the only real option is Arcade, the subscription service launched by the company in September.

That’s because Apple imposes strict limits on the kinds of apps users can access on its devices. For example, App Store guidelines ban services that rely on streaming from the cloud. Arcade adheres to the requirements, in part, because it’s included as a feature within the App Store itself.

Tim Sweeney:

Apple can’t go on like this. Their bans on competing apps and competing payment services on iOS is breaking the evolutionary cycle of technology and even economics[…]