Yesterday, Apple issued a press release that stated the company was willing to make a handful of changes to the App Store to try to wiggle out of a lawsuit regarding the App Store's billing policies. While many are positioning these changes as some long-awaited reversal of the App Store's anticompetitive practices, the strict facts of the concession are much milder. Apple has merely agreed that developers can tell users they can make purchases outside the iOS app. That's it.
In Apple's words:
"To give developers even more flexibility to reach their customers, Apple is also clarifying that developers can use communications, such as email, to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app. As always, developers will not pay Apple a commission on any purchases taking place outside of their app or the App Store."
In essence, when it comes down to actual payments in the App Store, Apple still requires that developers exclusively use its in-app billing and give Apple its 15-30% cut. The only difference is that now developers can actually tell customers they might get a better deal somewhere else — and Apple isn't even clear if developers can actually do that in the app itself. It simply cites "email" as an example.
There is one other notable concession for publishers, and that's the fact that this new policy also allows media companies that participate in Apple News to drop down to that 15% commission rate as well, matching the reduced rate that smaller App Store developers got when that policy rolled out last year. That means companies like the New York Times, National Geographic, or other publishers that both push content to Apple News and have apps that might leverage in-app purchases can enjoy a reduced rate.
Apple also highlighted a handful of other commitments it's willing to make in the case, including making sure the App Store's Search functionality remains based on objective metrics and attributes and a five-fold expansion in the granularity of prices for subscriptions, in-app purchases, and app prices. Apple even graciously committed to continuing to "maintain the option for developers to appeal the rejection of an app based on perceived unfair treatment," which certainly doesn't sound like some kind of veiled threat.
Apple's settlement "concession" has yet to be approved by the court, but even if it is, it still means developers can't offer their own billing systems in their apps, which means every single iOS app has to use Apple's in-app billing, giving Apple a cut. Apple, of course, still blocks third-party app stores and sideloading/self-installation of apps from other sources that could make this whole rigmarole a non-competitive non-issue, unlike Android. Google also has similar in-app purchase policies (though it won't aggressively enforce them until the end of September), but the fact that developers can publish their own apps and distribute them either themselves or through third-party stores makes the situation a little different — any developer that wants to implement a separate billing system in an app can, and customers can still install that app from outside the Play Store.