Friday, June 19, 2020

Highway Robbery

Nilay Patel (tweet, MacRumors, Hacker News, David Heinemeier Hansson):

Apple is acting like a monopolist and a bully, according to the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee.


“Because of the market power that Apple has, it is charging exorbitant rents — highway robbery, basically — bullying people to pay 30 percent or denying access to their market,” said Rep. Cicilline. “It’s crushing small developers who simply can’t survive with those kinds of payments. If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen.”

The 30% is a lot, and there are certainly problems with the guidelines and conflicts of interest, but the larger problem is that the App Store is the only way to distribute software. iPhone is not a gaming console. Phones are the new personal computer—more than that for many people, really—but you don’t get to choose what apps to run on them. Even if you find the app yourself via the Web, even if you trust it, even if it’s sandboxed, even if no money is changing hands, you can’t download and install it unless Apple approves of it.

Toyota doesn’t prevent you from installing your own tires or hanging ornament. Your electric company doesn’t ban certain devices from receiving power—or require a percentage of whatever you produce using its energy. Your Web browser doesn’t prevent you from viewing certain sites. But, somehow, people have accepted that a sort of network neutrality for your phone or tablet would not only infringe on Apple’s rights but would put you at risk.

Jason Fried (tweet):

Money grabs the headlines, but there’s a far more elemental story here. It’s about the absence of choice, and how Apple forcibly inserts themselves between your company and your customer.

Does the world’s largest company really get to decide how millions of other businesses can interact with their own customers? In fact, Apple’s policy distances you from your customer.

When Apple forces companies to offer In App Purchases in order to be on their platform, they also dictate the limits to which you can help your customer. This has a detrimental impact on the customer experience, and your relationship with your customer. It can flat out ruin an interaction, damage your reputation, and it can literally cost you customers. It prevents us from providing exceptional customer service when someone who uses our product needs help.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Now Apple is telling us how to design our products too! They don’t just want to dictate distribution, they also want to dictate product design, and define what an “acceptable” email client is.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple would like to think people are just upset about their tax rate, but it’s not just that — it’s about interfering with perfectly reasonable apps for self-serving reasons and pretending they’re protecting customer interests, and channeling ‘innovation’ down pre-approved paths

Daniel Jalkut:

I’ve come around quite a bit on the subject of Apple’s stronghold over developers with the App Store. I now believe side-loading, and perhaps even the ability to install 3rd party STORES should be a requirement for consumer and developer protection.

Daniel Pasco:

App store policies - and the pricing drought - have unquestionably eradicated innovation. Most people that could do something significant are reticent to do so as it’s extremely rare to be able to make enough to sustain a product, let alone make a profit.

Michael Love:

One can certainly take the position that it’s not robbery, but in 2008 I paid Palm/Microsoft $0 for the privilege of writing mobile apps for their platforms, and in 2010 I paid Apple 30% of my revenue.

They didn’t greatly increase my sales, they didn’t greatly decrease my customer support burden, they just came in with a new platform, lured all my old customers over to that platform and then demanded I fork over 30% to keep selling to the same people I was already selling to.

My personal experience of the App Store has been very, very similar to the Mafia protection metaphor that @dhh has been pushing, there’s nothing unfair or vitriolic about calling it what it is.

Kyle Howells:

I own multiple physical hardware products (cameras, drones, remote control cars, light bulbs), which are very expensive paper weights without their bluetooth companion apps.

Apple can put those companies out of business and take away my access to my stuff by rejecting their app.

John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

Even if you think Apple is doing nothing wrong, it’s not healthy or sustainable if the developers of a huge number of popular apps are only in the App Store because they feel they have to be there, not because they want to be there, and if they feel — justifiably or not — that Apple is taking advantage of their need to be there. Tim Cook rightly loves to cite Apple’s high customer satisfaction scores as a measure of success. I think if Apple measured developer satisfaction scores on the App Store, the results would be jarring.


6 Comments RSS · Twitter

I've long maintained that the IAP policies Apple has are customer and developer hostile. There is no reason in 2020 that I should have to go out of the app to sign up, and there is no reason Apple should require that.

They have a couple of options:

1. Allow side loading. Problem solved.
2. Require a one time payment to start an IAP (say $1 or some percentage). IE sign up for Netflix, and that first payment instead of 100% going to Netflix, 10% does.
3. Require non-IAP subscriptions are a $1 app.

Instead, they chose the worst option.

John Daniel

Funny that you would choose the auto industry and the electric grid as comparisons. Those are two very highly regulated industries. If you have many millions in cash to invest, and a couple of decades to grow the company, then you can break into them.

Is there an industry other than the App Stores where individuals can develop a product from their couch and get it in front of 1 billion of the best customers in the world? All for $99 a year and 15-50%?

"But! But! But! It's not fair!", cried the developers. The rest of the business, industrial, legal, tax, regulatory, and government worlds asked in unison, "what is this 'fair' of which you speak?"

“ individuals can develop a product from their couch and get it in front of 1 billion”

Have you heard of this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web? Or hell... Android?

@John There are lots of reasonable products that you can’t get in front of that audience, for any amount of money, because Apple forbids them from existing. And there’s no reason that software should be so highly regulated. Other general-purpose computing platforms and the Web aren’t. Again, I think it’s a mistake to look at this as developers trying to get access to a market. The larger harm is the individuals who can’t access the full potential of the devices they’ve purchased. They don’t have much ability to vote with their wallets because of platform lock-in and network effects, and there’s only one other player to switch to, anyway.

Yet this other platform haven’t lured all the poor developers and customers away. Not before the lock in nor after. Why is that? I don’t know a single iPhone owner who bought their phone believing they could install any software they like on it, yet they bought it.

And if the web is not regulated use that. Except that the browsers *are* regulated and for good reasons.

I see the problem with the cost - I think it would be good if the 30% cut be deemed an “unfair” fee by EU and/or USA. But I believe most other suggestions like side loading and competing app stores would eventually put most customers in a worse spot than now. The App Store and Apple’s strict policies are not perfect, but they’ve kept the eco system safer and easier than the unregulated older models.

One argument against it seems to be that the idea that you could force the builder of a product to do business in a different way than they like offensive, yet that is what you would like to do with Apple itself.

Apple doesn’t have a monopoly, but it has built the platform where customers are willing to spend money and this no small thanks to the very regulations you now oppose.

@Daniel Because mobile is not a fully competitive market. There are only two major players, and there are all sorts of ecosystem effects, exclusive hardware, etc. If you’re really invested in a platform, it would be easier to move to a different house than to switch to another operating system.

I think the idea that sideloading would be so dangerous is FUD. Otherwise we would be seeing lots of horror stories about bad things happening on the Android side. It wasn’t a problem with prior mobile platforms such as Palm. Sideloading didn’t cause any cellular networks to go down, as Jobs predicted. No one is clamoring for Windows or Mac to ban sideloading. I have a lot more confidence in safety through sandboxing and engineering than through the review process catching bad actors.

There are all sorts of cases in other industries where there are basic rules to protect consumer rights.

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