By Dan Moren
September 2, 2021 6:13 AM PT
Last updated October 7, 2021
Apple to let “reader” apps link to their sites
Late Wednesday, Apple said that, prompted by an investigation from the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), developers of “reader” apps—a category that Apple has previously defined as programs that primarily let users consume previously purchased content or subscriptions—will be able to include a link to their website in the app. Despite the agreement being made in Japan, the change will apply to the App Store worldwide.
While the exact implementation details have not yet been disclosed, Apple says that the link will be for users to “set up or manage an account.” And yes, the singular is accurate here: it’s one link. The change goes into effect early next year, and Apple will update its guidelines before that point.
As always, the devil is in those details. The company has never shied away from spelling out exactly when, where, and how developers can present certain information inside their apps. It’s not at all out of the question that Apple would say, for example, that such a link could only appear on, say, a first-launch splash screen or buried deep in a settings screen.
But, even if the company does make those restrictions very specific, this is still a crack in Apple’s App Store veneer, and something developers have been clamoring for almost since the beginning. The prohibition for apps like Netflix or Kindle, which are more or less useless without an external account, to show a link to sign up for their service has always been one of the App Store’s most onerous (and most user hostile) restrictions.
The challenges to the App Store have been coming fast and furious recently. Late last week, Apple announced “changes” to the App Store as part of a settlement with developers, but after a flurry of initial reports lauding this as a big deal, the fine details ended up being a whole lot of nothing. (In short: most of the “changes” were things that Apple was already doing, though the company spun it as a huge improvement for those selling apps.)
Then, earlier this week, South Korea passed legislation that would ban platforms from requiring app developers to use the platform’s own in-app purchase systems. Apple has registered its disapproval with this decision, and it remains unclear exactly what the ultimate effect of the law will be.
Along with last week’s developer agreement, this move also demonstrates that Apple believes it can manage its way out of the many regulatory, legislative, and legal threats that are currently circling it. For example, this change clearly won’t apply to Epic’s Fortnite, which doesn’t fall into the “reader” category—a fact that will no doubt infuriate the company, with which Apple is currently embroiled in a high-profile court case.
I’m not sure this particular change will be enough to let Apple avoid antitrust scrutiny, but it’s certainly an arrow in the company’s quiver when it comes to showing politicians that change has been made.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]
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