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InfoQ Homepage News Apple Allows US App Store Apps to Link to External Purchase Methods

Apple Allows US App Store Apps to Link to External Purchase Methods

A recent decision by the US Supreme Court forces Apple to make it possible for iOS and iPad apps to link to alternative payment systems. The decision only applies to apps published in the US App Store and raised some debate since Apple still wants to collect a commission on external purchases.

As a consequence of the US Supreme Court decision, Apple has published a new version of its Review Guidelines, which clarifies how developers are allowed to take advantage of alternative purchase methods (see section 3.1.1(a), Link to Other Purchase Methods).

Developers may apply for an entitlement to provide a link in their app to a website the developer owns or maintains responsibility for in order to purchase such items.

After receiving an email confirmation that the entitlement has been granted, developers will need to configure their apps App ID to support the entitlement and then update their Xcode projects to include it and its associated metadata. The external purchase link itself must be statically defined in the app's Info.plist file.

To be granted the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement required to display external purchase links, developers need to comply with specific terms.

In order to display the external purchase link, apps need to use specific StoreKit APIs to check that the user may authorize payments, to ensure they are buying on the US App Store, and in this case, display a disclosure message. The external link may only be displayed once in the app and never from an interstitial, modal, or pop-up view, nor any view related to the app's regular purchase flow. Apple also specifies several other requirements aimed at protecting user privacy and security, such as not including additional parameters in the external link URL, nor using redirects or landing pages.

Possibly the most surprising part of Apple's requirements for developers wanting to include an external purchase link is that Apple will charge a commission on digital purchases initiated within seven days from the moment a user navigates to the external purchase page. Apple's commission will be 27% on proceeds or 12% for developers participating in the Small Business Program for auto-renewal transactions in the second year or later. Developers are required to submit periodical reports and Apple can audit developer records.

As mentioned, Apple's decision has stirred some online controversy.

According to David Heinemeier Hansson,

So now they have to allow external links, but can, and thus will, make them completely unviable.

Anyway, as Apple-focused tech blogger John Gruber noticed, these terms are "almost exactly in line with their compliance with Netherlands regulations", in force since 2022, so Apple's move should come as no surprise.

Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, who led the legal battle against Apple to open the App Store to additional purchase systems as well as to allow for additional stores, described the US Supreme Court decision "a sad outcome for all developers". He also announced that Epic Games will contest what he describes as "Apple's bad-faith compliance plan", focusing on the anti-competitive implications of charging 27% on purchase proceeds, forcing developers to only display the link from non-purchase-related views, and more.

As Gruber highlights, furthermore, Apple's move will end up having a larger impact than what is desirable for the company:

Whatever revenue Apple would lose to non-commissioned web sales (for non-games) is not worth the hit they are taking to the company’s brand and reputation — this move reeks of greed and avarice — nor the increased ire and scrutiny of regulators and legislators on the “anti-Big-Tech” hunt.

Instead, he says, Apple should pursue a different way to balance its business goals with developer- and regulator-friendly guidelines, for example by applying the same rules existing for so-called "reader" apps to other kinds of apps.

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