Apple announces App Store settlement


Apple today announced a number of changes coming to the App Store that, pending court approval, will resolve a class-action suit from US developers.

Key there is “pending court approval”, so this could still change.

Key changes:

The agreement clarifies that developers can share purchase options with users outside of their iOS app; expands the price points developers can offer for subscriptions, in-app purchases, and paid apps; and establishes a new fund to assist qualifying US developers.

Homing in on that first change:

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. Users must consent to the communication and have the right to opt out.

And this, from the plaintiff’s motion for approval:

Apple has agreed to revise its App Store Guidelines to permit developers of all app categories to communicate with consenting customers outside their app, including via email and other communication services, about purchasing methods other than in-app purchase. See Berman Decl., Ex. A at § 5.1.3. Under the App’s Store existing Guidelines, developers may not use contact information (emails, phone numbers, etc.) obtained within an app to contact their user base outside the app. As a practical matter, this prevents developers from alerting their customers to alternative payment options. The proposed Settlement lifts this restriction, and it does so for all app categories.

So theoretically, I could put an app in the App Store that was purely a demo (limited features), with a notification that pointed to a web site (outside Apple’s control) to sign up for the full version. Again, theoretically, I could put in language that said, you’ll save me Apple’s 15%/30% commission if you sign up on my web site.

My question is, would Apple approve an app with language like that?

There are other changes as part of the settlement. One interesting one:

Apple will also establish a fund to assist small US developers, particularly as the world continues to suffer from the effects of COVID-19. Eligible developers must have earned $1 million or less through the US storefront for all of their apps in every calendar year in which the developers had an account between June 4, 2015, and April 26, 2021 — encompassing 99 percent of developers in the US. Details will be available at a later date.

This strikes me as a pool, split among all eligible participants, something common for class suit settlements. You get a notification from the settlement fund, certify that you meet the conditions, become part of the settlement, get a check or credit (usually tiny, depending on the number of participants). Not certain that’s what’s going on here, we’ll learn more once the settlement is approved.

There’s definitely a lot of spin in the press release. Maybe Apple trying to prove a point to anti-trust folks? Follow the headline link for all the details.