Friday, August 21, 2020

Seeking Special App Store Deals

Benjamin Mayo (tweet):

A letter signed by a trade group that represents top newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Washington Post says that Apple’s rules prevent them from investing in quality journalism. Among other changes, the letter asks for Apple’s cut of in-app purchases to be reduced to 15%.


Court documents revealed that Apple has privately granted these terms to Amazon, in order to attract Prime Video to its platform. This seems to be the central motivation behind this letter from the trade group: why is Apple willing to give these more favorable terms to Amazon but not to other media companies?


At a hearing before the Committee on July 29th, Rep. Hank Johnson asked Apple CEO Tim Cook whether the terms between Apple and Amazon are available to other developers. Cook assured the Congressman that they are “available to anyone meeting the conditions.” Interestingly, at the same hearing, Cook talked about how platforms are in fierce competition for developers.

So, this week, DCN’s CEO Jason Kint, wrote to Cook to publicly call for the disclosure of the terms of this deal so that “anyone meeting the conditions” can apply for them. This is a key test for Apple: Will app developers of any size (the ones for which Apple claims to be competing) be able to get the same terms? Did Cook speak the truth before Congress? Will Apple’s behavior match its trust-based branding?

The secret conditions must have something to do with water. The three members of the “established” program are a river, a canal, and a company headquartered below sea level.


Clearly this must be some kind of mistake. All developers are treated equally by Apple, and no one ever gets to skirt the rules or a better deal – at least according to congressional testimony under oath.

Nick Heer:

Apple’s credibility on the fairness of its application of App Store policies is increasingly tattered by cutting special deals like these. It is widely rumoured that a similar agreement existed for Netflix as well.

Juli Clover:

According to Apple, Epic Games in June sought a special deal from Apple’s Phil Schiller that would change the way in which Epic offers apps on the App Store. From CNBC:

“On June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a ‘side letter’ from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform,” former Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller wrote in a declaration.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney previously said that Epic was not seeking a special deal from Apple and was instead fighting for “open platforms and policy changes equally benefiting all developers,” but it appears that Epic did attempt to establish a unique relationship with Apple prior to when the lawsuit was filed.

It seems totally reasonable to ask for a special deal when other companies are clearly getting them (Schiller and Cook statements notwithstanding). Suing for special treatment would look bad, though, so Epic’s lawsuit seeks to change the rules for everyone.

Update (2020-08-21): Tim Sweeney:

Apple’s statement is misleading. You can read my email in Apple’s filing, which is publicly available. I specifically said in Epic’s request to the Apple execs, “We hope that Apple will also make these options equally available to all iOS developers…”


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Note the update where Sweeney provides the text of his email, pointing out that it called for making that deal available to all iOS developers.

It is worth mentioning that Altice One includes an Apple TV in its plan as a set-top box. Canal+ did the same until recently (the Apple TV is no more available since the spring because of a sold out, according to Canal+). Special deal with ISPs and TV broadcasters which distribute the Apple TV (the set-top box) ?

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