Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Future of the App Store

Marco Arment (tweet, Hacker News):

I think the most likely long-term outcome isn’t very different from the status quo — and that’s a good thing.

I would like to see big changes, but I think he’s probably right that we won’t.

Apple will still require apps to use their IAP system for any qualifying purchases that occur in the apps themselves. […] Most apps will be required to also offer IAP side-by-side with any external methods.


Apple will have many rules regarding the display, descriptions, and behavior of external purchases, many of which will be unpublished and ever-changing. App Review will be extremely harsh, inconsistent, capricious, petty, and punitive with their enforcement.


I’d expect any app offering external purchases to have a very high chance of being escalated to a slower, more pain-in-the-ass review process, possibly causing it not to be worthwhile for most small developers to deal with.


Most importantly, many products, services, and business models will become possible that previously weren’t, leading to more apps, more competition, and more money going to more places.

I don’t see why that would happen given the very limited scope of the changes.

Nick Heer:

I keep thinking about the likelihood of the sideloading doomsday scenarios that Arment writes about. […] I could see Facebook creating its own app marketplace for iOS, but I am unclear why developers would need to submit their apps to multiple marketplaces, so long as Apple gets to keep its first-party App Store.


This modest corrective action is, I think, a good step toward a store that improves users’ experiences while opening up new possibilities. I still hope Apple takes greater advantage to simultaneously release regulatory pressure and the hostility felt by developers.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Now imagine that Apple abides by the injunction but also attempts to continue forcing IAP upon developers who don’t want it. The gag orders are gone, because that was the anti-steering provisions explicitly prohibited by the injunction. Which means developers have to offer something they don’t want to offer, but they’re free to present that offer as they see fit. Can you see where this is going?

Not the way he thinks, I expect. Apple will probably get away with having lots of rules about the allowable language, require that IAP get top placement, and do various other things to make the non-IAP flow needlessly feel second-class.


Update (2021-10-20): Mike Rockwell:

I don’t understand the argument that, if Apple allowed sideloading and third-party app stores, then companies like Facebook would pull all their apps from Apple’s App Store and release them exclusively on their own app store. Facebook can already do this on Android and they haven’t. You can still get Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp in the Google Play Store and I don’t see any indications that this will change.

15 Comments RSS · Twitter

A lot of these changes would have been great if it was done in 2016 / 2017. May be even 2018 or 2019. But right now Apple felt they are being forced into submission with what they thought as unfair requirement leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

This is better than game of thrones.

"I don’t expect side-loading or alternative app stores to become possible, and I’m relieved, because that is not a future I want for iOS."

Do people not know that Android exists, that there are third-party app stores for Android, and that this didn't cause some kind of apocalypse to occur? Nobody *has* to put their apps into third-party stores, but devs often choose to because third-party stores offer better conditions than Google.

Now explain to me again how this is bad for devs.

Arment's take is so far removed from reality that it's just impossible for me to even figure out how he came to those conclusions. Is this some kind of Stockholm Syndrome-type situation? That's genuinely the only explanation I can come up with.

Kevin Schumacher

@Plume His argument has nothing to do with whether developers would or wouldn't be required to use third-party app stores. It's to do with the unchecked power of a Facebook type that requires their users to download apps directly from them.

If it was a case where they could hit ~100% of devices in the developed world by withdrawing from both Google Play and the App Store and offering their apps exclusively from their website, do you not think they would jump on that in a heartbeat? The fact they don't do it today for Android says more about the fact that they can essentially publish whatever they want in the Google Play store than it does about what they would do if they had the potential for unfettered access to hundreds of millions of iOS devices.

Nah, this is just developer self-interest. You can have the cake, or you can eat it--you can't do both. Either take side-loading and the risks, or pay the price of being in the store. I've no trouble with that. The real story here is simply that developers are (still!) of the opinion that Apple is in their corner, which is obviously wrong; Marco here is admitting this will remain the case by suggesting that Apple will continue to find ways to mistreat them. It's tragic. We saw a similar style of apologism when Gatekeeper was first introduced.

And, FWIW, I respect the work Arment has done, as well as his advocacy. But, really, this is just petty. Apple is not your friend. Your customers are.

And can I point out that the concern over side-loading/alternate app stores is just simply completely overblown, bs?

I don't know how we've come to the point where that gets repeated, rote, unchallenged, like it does. But is absolutely nonsense.

First off, would side-loading POTENTIALLY create an attack vector? Sure. Absolutely. But Apple's "curated" App Store has shown itself completely incapable of stopping attacks too (fake apps, knockoff apps, spyware apps, fraud apps, etc etc etc). So that's a straw-man distraction right off the bat.

But the entire web, heck, the entire INTERNET model of security currently works on a "web of trust" involving public key infrastructure. And nobody is Chicken Little-ing THAT the way they do side-loading/alt app stores!

Apple ABSOLUTELY could shim in a layer of indirection whereby the current "trust" model could be used to trust other stores. That would be the "root" for those stores intermediate certificates. The rest of the process—AS IT CURRENTLY WORKS—would continue to work. It would ultimately require Apple to run a certificate authority. Which, surprise, they're already doing. So…

As for side-loading, if Apple can/could be made to "trust" 3rd party stores, then there is no reason why *users* could not additionally inject their OWN "store" self-signed certificates and sign apps with the same level of "trust" as Apple claims for themselves. Again, Apple ALREADY has the process in place, with the Developer Enterprise Program!

Simply put: to believe this nonsense is to reflect that you've been captured, manipulated by Apple's PR Reality Distortion Field generation machine.

That should scare you more than any of the hype.

Can we save users from themselves? No. And I argue: STOP TRYING! It is insane that we continue to allow nonsensical FUD about "security" and "privacy" stop users from being able to fully use their devices—THAT THEY PURCHASED AND OWN, wrapping it all in a warm blanket of nannyism that in previous generations would have been called out and extinguished with extreme prejudice.

In 1983, everyone* you'd have asked, shown a picture of the Macintosh UI, would have said it was impossible, Star Trek -level fantasy. In 1984 Apple SOLD it. And it wasn't some Microsoft Windows parlor trick with mirrors and lights, either. If Apple is saying something cannot be done, it is because it is financially beneficial FOR THEM for it NOT to be done. Understand that. And stop telling me what CANNOT be done with software. (*OK, not everyone… but that just proves my point: it could be, and was, done.)

I don't see why Apple couldn't simply update their developer terms:

You are now free to charge users outside of IAP, but if you do so, you must pay royalties to use Apple's IP. These are priced at 40% of gross revenue. This is enforced by the following entitlement. The additional 10% is required to pay for the administrative burden of collecting the 40%. You can avoid the additional charge by using IAP.

From the moment the judge accepted their to claim royalties on the use of their APIs and IP, it's basically been game over, as far as I can see.

This whole bit about “the fee is 30% to pay for use of Apple’s IP, the cost of running the App Store, placement in front of millions of customers, etc” falls flat when there are free apps on the shelf that pay $0.00. Very few people ever mention this, even the people who are fighting against Apple. I can’t figure out why not.

Apple should be charging 5% — 2.5% to Visa for payment processing, and 2.5% to cover the costs of running the payment/IAP side of the App Store. Anything else is a money grab until the day comes where there are no free apps on the store.

"It's to do with the unchecked power of a Facebook type that requires their users to download apps directly from them."

That's just not something I find very plausible in general. The reason everybody and their cat is on Facebook is because it takes three taps and typing "face" into a search field. Your parents aren't going to install a third-party store to run Facebook, or jump through any hoops. If they can't easily get Facebook the same way they installed Disney+, WhatsApp, and Tinder, they'll just open Facebook in Safari instead.

"The fact they don't do it today for Android says more about the fact that they can essentially publish whatever they want in the Google Play store."

That already happens on the iOS App Store, too. It's just that it only happens for devs like Facebook and Roblox, while everybody else is harassed by arbitrary rejections.

But assuming you were right, I think you just made a compelling argument for why having third-party app stores would be good for devs and users, but not for Apple: it would force Apple to stop behaving in such a monopolistic manner.


I don't follow your argument.

Isn't 30% of zero, zero?

If so, how does that make what the judge ruled fall flat on its face?

Exactly. So if the 30% is how Apple supposedly gets paid for use of its IP, dev tools, cost of running the store (excluding the payments side of it)… then 1) Why do free apps pay nothing? and 2) Why are paid apps charged a percentage fee? (beyond the 2.5% credit card fee) — Apple’s costs are fixed and don’t have any bearing on what the developer chooses as the app’s price.

It could aLeo be argued that many free apps use the most resources because they have bloated app sizes and are downloaded millions of times, and have more frequent updates. For example, look at the app size and update frequency of Facebook vs Overcast. The Facebook app is 40 times larger and updated 10x as frequently to billions more users. Yet Overcast is the only app that pays?

@Ben Free apps still pay the $99/year membership fee, and such fees are probably enough to cover Apple’s store-related expenses even without the 30%.

But, yes, it doesn’t seem right that Marco is paying more than Facebook.

@BenG: Ah, I see. From first principles the whole thing does seem bizarre. Indeed, it would seem Apple is double-dipping.

Apple sold the right to use their IP to the user (who bought the device and the OS). But Apple also makes "devs" pay a second time for use of said IP. The problem is that "devs" cover that cost by increasing the price of the software they sell. So users pay a first time, when they buy the phone, and then again every time they buy software that isn't free.

Software that isn't free often consists of tools that help make the phone more like a bicycle for the mind: tools that help users perform a task, such as Overcast. Software that is free, usually has an agenda, such as selling your attention, your privacy, or getting you addicted to something: treating the user as the tool for that agenda. Often in such cases, the user does not pay a second time for the benefit of using Apple's APIs.

Yet Apple claims it cares about privacy, and its users. An extraterrestrial guest would probably find it odd that they would structure the incentives in their App Store in a manner that so obviously contradicts their claims. It might conclude that Apple does not expect its users to think very deeply, and that given Apple's success, Apple is correct in that unflattering assessment of its users' understanding of reality.

Seems they really want to continue double-dipping.

So, enjoy your servitude, devs!

Nicholas Vance

> You can still get Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp in the Google Play Store and I don’t see any indications that this will change.

This same argument is also true of Fortnite which everyone seems to forget Epic made sideloading exclusive on Android for 18 months before coming to Google Play

They also continue to use sideloading today now that they are banned from Google Play

Leave a Comment