Policy

Apple will let developers email users about payments outside iOS

Apple's limits on developers' communications with users had been at the heart of many developers' complaints about the App Store.

iPhone apps
Photo: Getty Images

Apple announced a slew of changes to the App Store on Thursday that it hopes will help settle a class action suit by developers. Among those changes, the company said it will let app developers email users about payment options outside of the iOS system, which would allow those developers to circumvent Apple's fees.


Apple captures a fee on several kinds of in-app transactions, and developers have often complained that they can't steer users to other outside payment methods.

The would-be shift was proposed after negotiation with developers in the Cameron et al v. Apple suit, which is before federal District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. She will now decide whether to approve it.

The announcements come, however, as Apple also awaits a verdict from Gonzalez Rogers in a separate lawsuit brought by Epic Games. During the trial in that lawsuit earlier this year, Gonzalez Rogers repeatedly questioned the logic behind stopping apps from communicating with their own customers, and Apple told reporters on Thursday evening that her statements had influenced what it was willing to accept.

"We would like to thank the developers who worked with us to reach these agreements in support of the goals of the App Store and to the benefit of all of our users," Apple's Phil Schiller, who oversees the App Store, said in a statement.

Users will have to opt in to receive outside messages from apps.

In addition to the communication changes, the proposed settlement also includes a $100 million fund for small developers, which will grant them between $250 and $30,000. The fund will be available to those apps that are earning less than $1 million annually.

"This hard-won settlement will bring meaningful improvements to U.S. iOS developers who distribute their digital wares through the App Store," Steve Berman, a lawyer for the developers, said in a statement.

The settlement also proposes that Apple will increase the number of possible prices for an app, from less than 100 potential price points to more than 500. Apple also said that it had agreed to keep its app search results "based on objective characteristics like downloads, star ratings, text relevance, and user behavior signals" for at least three years, and to try to help apps better understand the appeal process for rejected apps.

The settlement would also see Apple put in place a new transparency report that will include information about "the number of apps rejected for different reasons, the number of customer and developer accounts deactivated," and other data like app removals.

Donald Cameron, the developer of a baby-naming app who was one of the named plaintiffs in the suit, said the changes would help ensure "that good apps have a better chance of being discovered."

For big developers like Epic, Apple's cut of in-app digital transactions is 30%, although smaller developers that are the focus of some provisions of the settlement have been paying 15%.

In addition to lawsuits, several states have looked into bills that would regulate app stores over fee concerns. Apple and Google have largely beaten them back. Yet a bipartisan bill introduced earlier in August in the Senate would also completely upend app stores, letting apps communicate with users about prices, protect sideloading and allow third-party app stores.

The EU is cracking down too: In April, the European Commission filed antitrust charges claiming Apple abuses its position in the market for music apps, after years of investigating a complaint by Spotify, which competes with Apple Music.

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