June 30, 2016
Let’s get this out of the way: Apple is completely within their rights to set whichever app approval policies in their platform. It’s their OS, their store, their rules. I’m not a lawyer, but when it comes to Apple enforcing their own policies: I don’t think Spotify has a legal leg to stand on.
That said: Apple may (and should) lose in the court of public opinion, and their behavior is asshole-ish to say the least, and likely anti-competitive to the point that they may (and should) be punished.
I get it, you built the store and thus are entitled to take a cut for setting up and facilitating a profit center for app developers, and I realize Apple feels they deserve a cut for digital goods and subscriptions for apps that charge nothing up front. Throughout the course of the app store, Apple has become competitors in many of these markets, and are now using their platform ownership to slant the playing field in their favor.
In the case of Spotify: aside from the fact that Apple Music is a red hot mess, Spotify has superior music discovery features and an easy way for me to interact with my friends and embed playlists in various posts. At the time, it’s a superior product, but Apple is hiding behind their app store policies to give themselves a competitive advantage in price-point. Sure users can sign up through the Spotify web site to get avoid the Apple tax, but it’s asinine that even mentioning that through their app prevents the update from being approved. This “Minister of Truth” garbage makes no sense.
As the app ecosystem has evolved, many legitimate questions have arisen about how app makers can continue to monetize based off their apps. Now that we’re reaching a saturation point with users, we’re finding out that it’s not sustainable to pay $3 for a Podcast app and expect feature enhancements until the end of time. I’ve come to accept that in order for apps I love to stay in business, I’ve accepted that I may need to fork over an annual fee for an app like PocketCasts or Tweetbot. Apple facilitates the platform and should probably maintain their cut. Their new subscription platform does offer some reprieve if users subscribe into their second year. This seems like a fair way to do business.
On the other hand, there are apps, platforms and business models that have developed their own sustainability and are expected to be omnipresent in all computing platforms: Amazon Kindle, Spotify, Netflix, Comixology to name a few. These apps have their own revenue streams and ultimately the app store doesn’t play a meaningful role in delivering that content to the user. Apple is just another platform – albeit one of the biggest – in this service’s eco-system. By forcing these apps to tax their users or simply pretend they don’t sell the content (Comixology does this) and trust that you’ll figure out to go to their web site, Apple demonstrates that they don’t give a crap about your user experience while using this app on their platform – which goes completely against their mantra of simplicity and elegance in their UI.
Then there’s apps that are in all places (e.g. Social Networks), making their money by selling advertising through their own platforms (combined with the user data they can harvest). I could be wrong, but Apple doesn’t get a share of that ad revenue. In many ways Apple and the social networks have a symbiotic relationship with one another. I’m pretty sure that for some apps like Facebook, some money has exchanged hands with Apple to get the deep OS integrations – but I don’t believe for a second that the App Store is taking a cut from the ads that Instagram serves me. How is this different than the content that’s being served up the previously mentioned omnipresent apps?
As much as I’ve enjoyed having the latest and greatest apps on my elegant piece of hardware, the anticompetitive stupidity that results in these awful experiences may ultimately drives away users like me. What’s 30% of $0 spent, Apple?