Apple is relaxing a key App Store rule that has long been a source of frustration to developers. The iPhone maker will allow U.S. developers to link to outside websites for in-app purchases, according to the company’s updated developer guidelines.
The change comes shortly after the United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reconsider a lower court ruling requiring Apple to allow developers to direct customers to alternative payment methods. The change only applies to iOS and iPadOS apps in the U.S. app stores and developers are still required to pay a commission for in-app purchases not made via the App Store.
It seems that Apple will continue to maintain tight control over payments, even under the new rules. According to a support page, developers will need approval from Apple before they can take advantage of the new rule, and app makers will only be permitted to notify users about alternative payment methods in specific ways. For example, the company’s guidelines to developers stipulate that links can only be shown in an app one time, and only in “a single, dedicated location.” App makers are also prohibited from using in-app pop-ups or mentioning outside payments in their App Store listing.
The company is also officially requiring developers to pay it a commission for purchases made outside of its App Store. The commission is set at 12 percent for developers who are part of its small business program, and 27 percent for larger developers. But, as 9to5Mac points out, the company may have some trouble enforcing those terms.
In court documents, the company argued that it would be “exceedingly difficult and, in many cases, impossible” to collect the fees. In its messaging to developers, however, the company says that they are required to submit monthly reports, even if they haven’t processed any transactions, and that the company has the right to audit their records.
Still, the change is a significant concession for Apple, which has long been criticized for developers for App Store rules sometimes viewed as draconian and arbitrary. The company’s rule barring developers from communicating with users about alternative (and often cheaper) payment methods was a central aspect of the Epic v. Apple trial in 2021. The company had previously loosened some of these rules following the trial and a subsequent class-action lawsuit from developers. Apple also allows dating apps in the Netherlands to offer alternative payment options.
Some high profile developers who have previously run up against Apple’s App Store policies were sharply critical of the company’s latest changes. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney called it a “bad-faith ‘compliance’ plan” in a post on X. He called the 27 percent fee “anticompetitive” and said that “Apple will front-run competing payment processors with their own ‘scare screen’ to disadvantage them.” He added that Epic would pursue a legal challenge to its changes in District Court.
David Heinemeier Hansson, cofounder of the Hey email app, which publicly battled with Apple over its payment policies, also slammed the changes. “Apple is going to poison the one victory Epic secured in their lawsuit so bad nobody would ever think to use it,” he wrote on X.
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.