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ProtonMail CEO calls Apple's forced in-app purchases 'Mafia extortion' (techspot.com)
681 points by illuminated 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 370 comments

I'm actually happier to pay a small premium for IAP based subscriptions because of the cancellation options.

Having been subjected to asinine "retention" policies that make ending a subscription service an onerous and time consuming process (ex: NYT), and having seen first hand how a company purposefully makes subscription cancellations difficult, being able to open a single interface and click `Cancel` is a massive UX benefit.

I'm not debating if a 30% cut is reasonable, but in the drive to move everything to a subscription model, I have started avoiding services without an IAP option.

This is the opposite argument to what the problem is right now. It's not that IAP is bad, or that it shouldn't be available. It's that there's no alternative permitted in addition to Apple's IAP model. You're not even allowed to HINT at the fact that you might have alternative ways to pay for the things you want to pay for. Even if your name is hugeservicethateveryoneknows, you can't tell people that you have a website where they can manage their account.

IAP is great, and setting rules such that if apps offer IAP, they have to at least offer the platform's own payment service as initial and preferred choice, is perfectly reasonable. But it's extortion if you own the entire ecosystem and promise to ban anyone who wants to offer additional, alternative means of account/service management for a product/service that you have no business ownership of.

This seems like a pretty large misreading of the situation.

Yes, the most disagreeable thing about Apple's IAP policies is where they forbid links to alternative purchase pages. But it is also the smallest of the current complaints.

It's not "additional" means of purchases many companies are pushing for. They want to be able to avoid offering Apple's IAP whatsoever.

I mean, ProtonMail did not have IAP in their app at all, but offered options to pay for their service on their website. Apple insisted, as you suggest, that they "at least offer the platform's own payment service as initial and preferred choice," and now ProtonMail is saying that is "Mafia extortion."

Yep. Having gone through multiple review cycles with Apple, they'll look for any hint of a way that a user might wind up paying through a different mechanism and force you to excise that. A great example we faced was a feature that was only offered on the web (it didn't make sense on a phone), and we weren't allowed to link to it or mention it (even though you got access with an in-app subscription) because someone might go check it out on the web and subscribe via the CTA on the page.

That's not what Apple insisted, if you have IAP you can't have a button below that says "or buy direct 30% cheaper". It's either IAP or no mention of payments.

ProtonMail had no IAP in their app at all, but offered paid subscriptions on their website. Apple insisted that they offer IAP in the app, and ProtonMail is upset. Here:

> "Out of the blue, one day they said you have to add in-app purchase to stay in the App Store. They stumbled upon something in the app that mentioned there were paid plans, they went to the website and saw there was a subscription you could purchase, and then turned around and demanded we add IAP. There's nothing you can say to that. They are judge, jury, and executioner on their platform, and you can take it or leave it. You can't get any sort of fair hearing to determine whether it's justifiable or not justifiable, anything they say goes. We simply complied in order to save our business."

Yes, as I said, ideally Apple would allow other forms of payment alongside IAP, but that's not even the issue here. The issue here, as I said, was that ProtonMail was trying to avoid implementing IAP at all.

The problem is bigger then that. Apple takes a 30% cut(and the fanboys will say it is legal and fair and theoretically Apple could make it 99% and should still be legal) and on top of that cut they are forcing you not to inform the customer about alternatives, YES Apple prevents you to be informed by better reals and deciding for yourself what is better, so you could say that Apple is protecting you because you are too stupid to decide or you can just be honest and say it is just for money and Apple protects their budget.

> The problem is bigger then that. Apple takes a 30% cut

You have described a different objection, which is not "bigger". It's a different problem people have.

> they are forcing you not to inform the customer about alternatives

That is part of what's going on but you're missing the main issues. They are forcing an app owner to add a purchase that gives Apple revenue if Apple can find ANY other way that the owner is offering to be paid for app features. There was no advertisement or inform within the app at all. Also, you cannot inform the use about WHY the alternative exists (apple gets part of it).

That's how it's worse than even you think.

If Apple thinks people are paying for something, they force you to add something that is preferred that pays them. It's extortion (via a protection racket, "i heard you got an inheritance, be a real same if something happened to your app") or racketeering, depending on how broadly you want to define things.

In addition to the annual $100 (if it hasn't changed) developer fee, should they start charging a per install/download fee. What do you say to that?

I also don't like Apple's insistence of "only IAP or nothing at all (not even a mention)" but how do you suggest they make profit from the developer side? Or they should not do that at all?

It should be 10%? 20? 5%? What will be an acceptable %? Who decides that? What's the framework for deciding that?

I see one solution, and it's far fetched, developers/companies should fund and push for an alternative open platform, along with phone/device makers. Something that's not tightly controlled like iOS and Android. But then they will be losing on iOS. I think they will have a choice to make, consumers as well. Also, it's not an easy and short term solution.

We gleefully buy Macs, but imagine you buy a Lenovo/etc laptop and you are told you can't install Linux on this, only Windows. I won't be comfortable with that, but I am comfortable with the Mac buy where I Windows can be installed only via Mac (and Linux isn't even supported) - of course there could be work around with lots of circus and you cna live with a broken system.

Problem is not the cost. Problem is mono/duopoly of walled gardens.

> It should be 10%? 20? 5%? What will be an acceptable %? Who decides that? What's the framework for deciding that?

The framework is called competition. If Apple's IAP billing or the whole app store in general faced any competition on iOS they wouldn't be able to charge anywhere close to 30%.

But Apple designed their platform specifically to prevent that, to retain a tight grip over app distribution and billing.

> I see one solution, and it's far fetched, developers/companies should fund and push for an alternative open platform, along with phone/device makers.

Good solution, but we won't get to it. The moat of Apple-Google mobile duopoly is way too massive to overcome naturally at this point. We need some regulation to reign this in. Mobile computing is just as essential as telephony and internet access. We can't have two companies dictating the rules of the game for the whole economy.

I can bet $100 even if someone could raise a $100 billion they will still have no chance of breaking the current Mono/Duopoly of iOS and Android.

As much as I wish there is third option ( I cant believe Microsoft is something I considered, giving what I went though in the 90s ) the Smartphone moat make it pretty much indestructible.

I still remember thinking, we could make something better than Microsoft with tens of billions dollars, decent management and strategy in the 90s. Despite my disagreement with Apple's App Store, I am not sure I can make something better than Apple. It is so well run, with so many loyal customers, that when they were doing good ( Under Steve Jobs ) I was very happy. Now under Tim Cook, it is damn right scary.

I'd take that bet if it was the right person raising the $100B. It'd have to be an Elon Musk type with $70MM+ to develop the foundational ecosystem first to solve for many of the core problems to counter the various layers of walled garden ecosystems to capture a willingly attentive audience and fan base; I can see the path - I just don't have the starting funds and I can't really even begin to execute on it in a slower fashion due to pain I have that causes severe executive dysfunction - there is a path there and hopefully there is a platform and systems thinker out there with their own funds to put into the same system I've dreamed up over the years.

The app store ecosystem clearly has value, and I think Apple are entitled to make a profit off of it. (See, for example, comments below about how difficult it is to cancel subscriptions to other kinds of services.) The problem is that the 30% Apple charges has no relationship whatsoever to the amount of value that the app store provides - it's simply how much Apple can get away with charging. If alternate app stores were allowed, or alternate payment mechanisms were allowed, Apple would only be able to afford to charge a premium commensurate with how much "better" their experience is.

As other said, competition, Look at web hosting, how many choices you have with different prices, features and support.

My main point about he number x% tax is that the number itself is irrelevant, a judge should not decide that if the number is 30 then Apple is fine but if is 31 or 29 then is not fine, so people looking at the number are looking at the wrong thing.

Cut >50% and it's now a extortion with no further analysis. And extortion is illegal in any civilised state, including USA.

>Cut >50% and it's now a extortion

Extortion (or blackmail) has a legal definition and this isn't it. In California (where Apple is incorporated and headquartered), the statute states:

Extortion is the obtaining of property or other consideration from another, with his or her consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.

Wrongful use of fear exists in this context as there is a threat to expel the developer out of Apple ecosystem if he does not accept the cut.

Yeah, Apple's practices are far from ideal, your insults aside, but I'm not sure how much of that is relevant here. On this thread at least, nobody seems to have mentioned percentages but you.

This is false, at the moment I wrote this comment the "Apple tax" was mentioned a lot. IMO the fact that is 3%, 30% or 99% is irrelevant . What is important is that Apple uses it's dominance to remove choice from users.

I am sorry if fanboy will hurt someone feeling, but if for example: Google (or Apple) would have a new rule that if you want your website to be opened in Chrome(or Safari) and not marked as malware you have to include Google Pay(or Apple Pay) and remove the Visa/PayPal and all the other payment options and some person would say "this is exactly what we wanted, no more choices - force everyone to a Google(or Apple ) tax , this choices are overwhelming my poor brain then tell me the correct adjective to describe this person that thinks removing choice and forcing the big coorporation way is the best thing.

This is the reason free software is important. Imagine json beeing licensed to pay per file. I do also expect Mirosft to take the word ```open source``` down, because it will strengthen them- but cuts outliners. Gates was great.

I don't see how any of that is not relevant here.

Yes, ProtonMail's ideal is no IAP. That doesn't mean the "Mafia Extortion" isn't related to the above. It's perfectly possible for ProtonMail to be angry about more than 1 policy at a time and at varying levels accordingly.

It's also possible for 2 people to read the same thing and come to different conclusions so please don't imply others must have misread something to have disagreed with you. Not only does it not move the conversation forward any it's needlessly insulting.

It sounds like they weren't taking any payments via phone. Purchase only happened on the web, and Apple reviewers found text that led to web.

It would be one thing if they were selling phone and skipping Apple that way. But if their are no phone payments, and only non-obvious links, it should not be required (or maybe I am misinterpreting this)

Yep. I’m guessing the ProtonMail app opens a web view to display their terms of use, or some informational page, completely unrelated to subscriptions. However if any of those pages link to a purchase page, no matter how circuitously, it is taken as a pretext to require IAP.

And your reading of the situation lacks one crucial piece of information: Apple does not allow app authors to forward the “Apple tax” to the user. For example, if a newspaper subscription costs 300$ on the website, the publisher must not charge more than that in the app store event though he only gets 210$ after the “Apple tax”.

This isn't actually the case. That policy was part of a set of changes that were meant to go into effect in July but that Apple rolled back. You're allowed to charge a different price but you can't tell the user that they can get it cheaper elsewhere or that you're paying 30% to Apple.

Man, I thought the first one was damning, but uh, this second explanation is just more plain non-competitive behavior.

That has not been true since 2011, nine years ago!


As your sibling comment demonstrates, Apple will try and try again to reinstate that policy. One way or the other, they’ll squeeze developers until the last ounce of profit goes to Apple. They are the supermarket chain of software now, and that’s what supermarket chains do.

I don't think this is true.

Look, Apple does all kinds of terrible things, and I definitely think the government ought to take action against them.

But Apple one time, in 2011, announced that they were going to put in a rule that you couldn't charge a different amount outside the App Store than inside, and when furor erupted, they never implemented the policy. That's it. One time, never actually in practice.

They are still 100% terrible with this nonsense about not being allowed to link to or even mention alternative forms of payment, but let's focus on what they actually do that's bad, rather than what we imagine they might like to do in alternate realities.

I mean if you're going to hang Apple for crimes they haven't committed yet then you could at least be more creative about them.

Apple is going to force all apps that offer messaging as a feature to integrate with iMessage!

Apple is going to force companies with an iOS app to turn over 30% of their total gross revenue! And it's additive!

If you don't buy an iCloud subscription Apple is going to randomly delete some of your alarms!

You joke, but that’s what they do. Even with no rule change, the obligation to have IAPs has clearly ramped up in the last year or so, simply by getting reviewers go through each and every app-screen with a finer comb. What else will they ramp up in order to increase their profits? All developers in the appstore are effectively sharecroppers; when the landowner needs some money, he can squeeze them at will.

It may be ProtonMail's situation but speaking as a consumer, far from being the smallest complaint; my largest complaint is that Apple intentionally require third parties to mislead me about my options.

Yea, I have trouble understanding how this is any different than how people purchase things in person. When you go to Best Buy and buy a TV they obviously aren't going to let the TV manufacturers advertise that you can buy the TV for cheaper directly from the manufacturer.

Obviously it's not a 1-1 comparison, but Apple is giving the apps a similar platform to sell their product.

Well, a slightly flawed analogy is that you bought a Best Buy house and the only way to get a TV is to get it through Best Buy.

It's the fact that not only are Apple providing a platform to sell the product, they're also the only distribution method for the product and are slowly clamping down on the loophole of providing a "free" app that requires a subscription bought elsewhere.

To continue the flawed analogy, the Best Buy houses are clearly the best houses in most other respects in the opinion of a lot of people and it's hard for the market to apply pressure about this one specific limitation. Whether that's fine or not is basically the philosophical argument being had.

> Well, a slightly flawed analogy is that you bought a Best Buy house and the only way to get a TV is to get it through Best Buy.

Not really. For Epic, you can buy things in Fortnite on other platforms and you get them in the iOS account. Same goes for ProtonMail I assume. The issue is that you can't advertise in the app that users can purchase the things elsewhere.

It's not a 1-1 comparison only because it sidesteps the crux of the debate completely and focuses on the strawman portion. What's argued as anticompetitive against these app stores is the integration of consumer devices with storefronts not that independent storefronts exist and don't advertise other storefronts.

Except in that real world, you only have two choices, Best Buy or Walmart ( iOS and Android ).

The problem and complain is much more complex once all these additional factors comes into play. It isn't so much a problem if we look at it in isolation. As in your Best Buy example, which I agree is perfectly valid.

The huge difference is you can buy your TV from many places (BestBuy, Target, Walmart, Amazon, etc) but you can't sell your iOS app outside the AppStore.

I'd rathe like Apple to do what they are doing with "Sign In With Apple". If you have any other sing up option in your app you have to have Sing in With Apple as well. I don't mind that.

If you want to be a payment gateway, compete with other payment gateways. If the app has any other payment method integration, there should be IAP as well.

But the problem is: if IAP is available, at least I am never going to opt for custom payment methods ever unless there's a clear cost benefit. Just like the OP I've had nightmares dealing with cancellation and automatic reactivations (of course that means automatic billing as well).

But the question is will Apple allow apps to show, or does it even make sense to do this:

Pay With Apple: $13

Pay with CC: $10.03

Pay with X: $11

This doesn't look like a solution at all now.

Your question has been answered multiple times in this thread and the answer appears to clearly be no. Apple will not allow an app to even mention that they can get it at a cheaper price on another device. Personally, I think if Apple will continue to insist on this anti-competitive behavior, iOS users should just pay the 30% more for their subscriptions (so app developers end up with the same revenue) for the benefits you describe unless they're savvy enough to actively look for other payment options on desktop, Android, etc.

And honestly, I have no problem with Apple even insisting there be an Apple IAP model (like they require "Sign in with Apple" offered alongside alternatives). Because choosing to pay the Apple tax is perfectly fine, especially if you feel it provides you benefits.

The issue is Apple's requirement that you can only use IAP, cannot offer alternative, cheaper, prices, cannot direct people to your website to sign up for things, and cannot even disclose what portion of the bill goes to Apple.

Your post proves Apple could still make money with offering it as an option for informed users. But Apple is being a bully and a thug by disallowing alternatives, and actively preventing app developers from telling people about them.

What Epic did with Fortnite should be the gold standard: Buy direct or pay through Apple. The latter providing potentially better privacy/security and user experience at a price premium.

I somewhat disagree. I think the gold standard would have been for Fortnite to simply increase the prices of IAP purchases on iOS devices to pass the 30% on to consumers who choose to use iOS IAP.

I can't seem to find a rule that says pricing must be the same for IAP as elsewhere in current guidelines:


That seems like the best of both worlds in the sense that as a user you can choose to purchase in iOS for convenience or go to Fortnite elsewhere and purchase there for cheaper. This move just seems like Epic wanted to pick a fight, they weren't actually interested in offsetting the Apple cut.

I think there's something inherently unethical about Apple making it against the rules to let people know they're paying more to buy it on Apple though.

That’s like Apple selling their watches in a Target store and on their box advertise lower priced wrist bands on apple.com on the box. No way would Target tolerate that.

I think it's more like Target dictating what marketing materials may not appear inside the box, because this happens after you already have the app.

Lower price on apple.com ? Hahaha...good one!

> ex: NYT

NYT is a great example of this. It took me multiple attempts over a span of 2 days to cancel my NYT subscription. There have been a few times since then when I've been tempted to re-subscribe (their election results tools are great), but remembering how hard it was to unsubscribe, I don't think I'll go back.

It took me multiple attempts over a span of 2 days to cancel my NYT subscription

I've had to cancel the Times a couple of times over the years. Telling them that I lost my job only got one offer to extend at a discounted rate. But what really worked well was this:

NYT: "Can I ask why you want to cancel your subscription?"

Me: "No."

It's not on their script, so the operator just took care of it immediately.

On the plus side, at least you can speak to a human being at the Times pretty quickly. Good luck getting through to anyone at the Albuquerque Journal in under three days ("It looks like you're calling from a cell phone. Let's continue this conversation by text!").

Wouldn't surprise if it IS on their script. If they do too overtly scummy things bad things will start happening to them. The kind of guy who says "No." is the kind of guy who will chargeback or write a letter to his representative.

Same experience here. I've cancelled all subscriptions that use this tactic and made myself a promise to never participate in implementing such a system.

Whenever I subscribe to any service on Apple I will immediately unsubscribe. If I find myself wanting to use the service again after it expires it's a simple tap to resubscribe. I think I actually end up with more subscriptions this way, but at least I know I'm getting use out of all of them. I wish I could a similar setup for all subscription services.

Big companies tend to be run by psychopaths who think it is ok to make it impossible to cancel a subscription.

It took me ages (more than a year I think) to unsubscribe from AWS. Luckily since we've deleted all the contents the fees were pretty nominal but still ...

It might help to set your billing address to some random place in California. It worked for me a few days ago when I canceled my WSJ subscription, a "Cancel subscription" button magically appeared in the settings that wasn't there before.

I actually tried that with NYTimes (I cancelled during the SlateStarCodex debacle) and it didn't work. Ultimately, I had setup payment via paypal and canceled the automatic payments.

I find it absurd that subscription services don't offer a "Cancel Subscription" button somewhere. That being said, it's also absurd that I have to pay Apple a 30% premium for this "feature."

Many local libraries offer NYT subscriptions through their portal. I think they only last for a year, so you have to renew them each year, but it's better than having to worry about cancellation.

This is a good tip.

In several cities where I've lived, your library card would grant you online access to dozens or hundreds of newspapers from around the world. Some you could even download to your iPad to read later.

I'm not sure if it's still the case, but...

If you change your address to an address in California you're given the option to cancel online.

The process to unsubscribe should be no more onerous than the process to subscribe. The NYT falls flat on this one intentionally I'm sure.

Am curious: what made it so difficult to cancel / unsubscribe?

If you subscribed with a credit card, did the option of chargebacks ever come up? (Asking because these sorts of situations seem perfectly in line for disputing with your credit card provider.)

Chargebacks are way harder in real life than people think. It took me multiple calls, emailing evidence/screenshots, and months to get a $300 charge back processed. That was for a completely fraudulent charge at a bar. The way it was explained to me, banks will only process a chargeback when you have provided evidence of trying to contact the merchant and they refused to provide a refund and couldn’t show a valid contract supporting the charge. So in this case you couldn’t just charge back NYT just because their cancelation policy is slightly burdensome. And they don’t stop that business from charging you again, so even if you can charge back a charge, it doesn’t solve the issue of canceling the subscription.

I've only made a few chargebacks but each time it was really easy. I've never had to provide any sort of documentation and have gotten the money back quickly each time.

The most recent time was with a company that wouldn't honor their refund policy. They were awfully rude over email so I made sure to take screenshots of the policy on their website in case they disputed the chargeback and/or changed the wording on their site. Turns out, there wasn't even an option to upload that information when I filed with my credit card, and I won the case without doing anything further.

Where did you get your credit card? Name-and-shame is important when dealing with corporations, but so is name-and-praise for the few that actually work correctly.

USAA credit cards have been fantastic for me over a 31 year period. In that time, I can only recall 3 chargebacks and all were decided in my favor quickly and easily. Other service is also great; cash back levels are just “okay” but I’m not giving up convenience and USAA service for 50bps more cash back.

Good idea. The card is through Chase. I've had the card for years and overall I haven't had any big problems.

U-haul charged me three times for the same thing. I spent several hours on the phone with u-haul trying to get them to reverse it. Ultimately they said the agreed I was triple charged but they couldn't reverse it and I had to contact my bank

It took EIGHT MONTHS and SEVEN phone calls with my bank to get them to charge back. And haul fought me every step of the process when they're the ones that told me to go to my bank. U-haul went as far as to straight up lie to my bank. I'm surprised they didn't forge documents with all the shit they were trying

Maybe it depends on your bank? I’ve had to do a couple chargebacks on Chase CC’s in the $200-300 range and I just had to click a button in their web portal.

It was more difficult for me to get reimbursed when I tried depositing $300 in a Chase ATM and then it crashed halfway through. But that just involved a 2 minute phone call to resolve

Chargebacks only delay the inevitable. If the card is still in use they'll simply try again at the next billing cycle.

I had an Amazon subscription charge I could not track down for a year. Every month I would call Amazon, who's CSR couldn't find it, and then my bank to reverse the charge.

Found out I had Amazon Premier still signed up on Amazon IT. The card worked globally but subscriptions displayed locally.

IIRC, each chargeback charges the merchant a nonrefundable $35 fee. So even if you get your $10 back, the person who took your money is out $45. If someone were to keep charging me after a chargeback was won in my favor, I’d just keep issuing more chargebacks to spite them. They also can only lose disputes so many times before Visa or MasterCard looks closer at them.

Had similar problem with The Times in the UK, but it seems it's pretty common for newspapers.

The online subscription could only be cancelled by telephone, on a phone line with small and inconvenient windows of opportunity, with long waits. When you get through, you have the normal retention/upsell attempts, and then are told that it will take at least two months to process your cancellation, and that you will continue to be charged in the meantime.

It was easier to cancel my card, at which point they somehow managed to withdraw access as soon as the first billing failed.

Usually I respond with where is that in your contract? If it isn't there with my signature I will be charging those two months back.

I saw that coming and turned the tables on them by initiating a payment dispute and a merchant block with my CC company after I realized that the NYT is wasting my time intentionally.

I immediately tried to cancel my subscription after discovering that they will still show ads even if you paid for the content.

You know, this hasn't been my experience. The ability to get CS via chat to work on subscriptions stops/cancels has worked for me, albeit with a non-blocking wait. Edit0: wanted to add that my subscriptions (personal, gift) were done via PayPal (pre-approved payments) so I could cancel via there as well but the NYT chat/cs worked fine for me.

Mine was by credit card. I called the support number, got picked up quickly, told them I didn't have enough time for it and wanted to cancel. I also made it clear that I just wanted to cancel my newspaper subscription, not my crossword subscription, and mentioned that I realized I would no longer get 1/2 off on the crossword puzzle subscription.

He cancelled the newspaper subscription, and then told me that I was mistaken about no longer getting 1/2 off on the crossword puzzle subscription. I'd only go back to full price on that if I let it expire and then re-ordered. As long as I have the subscription on auto-renew and those payments go through, it will stay at 1/2 price.

In the EU consumer protection law mandate this. You have to be able to cancel in all the same ways that you can sign up. The most common way to pay subscriptions is with SEPA direct debit, and banks have to let you revoke those authorizations even retro-actively for 90 days.

SEPA direct debit? First time I hear that anyone is using this for subscriptions, aren't you from Germany? :-) SEPA direct debit is also used here (Slovakia) but usually to pay for internet/phone/electricity/ and other bills, you basically give them a mandate to draw up to a certain amount and you can revoke it anytime. Debit (or less common credit) cards are I think pretty common for subscriptions but I haven't heard about any shady tactics of preventing you from unsubscribing, I guess that's because all of that is regulated. And in worst case I guess I could call my bank.

Netherlands. Internet/phone etc are also subscriptions, as least in Dutch the word for a Netflix and a phone subscription is the same.

US consumer laws have been woefully inadequate for decades, and this is another instance where they’re lacking. You can issue an individual chargeback if you happened to use a credit card, but that can have adverse effects on both you and the merchant. If you used an ATM/bank card, your bank may go to bat for you, but there’s no guarantee.

I’m in the same boat re: Apple/Google subscription options. They don’t have a vested interest in keeping you attached to a single subscription, so they’ll keep the cancellation option easy in favor of keeping you in their ecosystem.

I think a biggissue in this space is how dated the US banking industry is. They trail behind in so many ways that are anti-consumer and then they're used to justify draconion mafia moves like this one from Apple.

As a consumer, I really like(d) my US bank accounts besides some technological limitations. If you can afford to pay your bill every month (worth emphasizing), credit cards have far better benefits and are more consumer-friendly than in seemingly any other country I've been to or looked into, and are even more advantageous abroad than any domestic credit card where I live.

This applies to checking accounts as well. I pay no fees on my account with no minimum balance or usage restrictions and still have free unlimited ATM use worldwide (i.e. my bank doesn't charge a fee for the use or currency conversion and they actually refund me the foreign ATM's fees) and fee-free overdrafting on my account (paying a very nominal margin trading interest rate). I actually still use it even though I don't live in the US because it's cheaper to use here than my domestic bank account...

Good luck cancelling pretty much any service in Germany without literally sending them a letter in the mail, regardless of how you signed up.

Germany is very specific in many of these things and the rest of EU is different :-).

Right, but that contradicts the parent assertion that it's outright illegal. FWIW I'm not sure I buy that - there are way too many services and companies, large and small, that don't have this symmetry of subscription.

It's a recent EU directive (2017 I think) and might not be implemented in every national law yet, I don't know. A lot of companies haven't caught up yet and enforcement might vary.

It's an EU directive.

I don't know when you last tried to cancel anything, but if you cite the court case from 2017 on this, pretty much every service is very quick to accept your cancellation via email ;)

By now it’s law (unless I’m misremembering badly) that you need to be able to cancel the same way you signed up. So unless you signed up via a letter, you’ll be able to cancel without one, even in Germany.

I don’t think stopping automatic payments automatically cancels the subscription. It just stops the money flow, but keeps you liable for the payments.

It means the company has to make an effort to get money flowing again, though. Many will know that’s not worth it and stop the service instead.

(Corrections welcome)

That's correct. However, it's useful for situations where you tried to unsubscribe, and have proof, and the company is still charging.

But there are some who will let you accrue your debt over the years and then send you to collections.


Signing up for shady services which clearly void the law is not the same as not having any rules.

The directives mostly concern draconian "send us a passport copy and cancellation letter" when you signed up online or via phone. Those are no longer allowed in most EU countries. If they do not comply you are free to cancel your subscription via the bank/creditcard by revoking their SEPA permission and reporting them to your local responsible authority.

edit: Both my mobile phone, internet and television service I can cancel directly online without problems starting next month. You cannot cancel yearly services unless specified in the first year but after that it is a monthly thing.

ah, well. then i guess upc, tcom, orange...they are just "shady services" ok. good to know. you've change my life.

30% is not an amount I would consider a "small" premium.

The premium is actually higher than that. For $100, the developer gets $70. Which means the premium is $30 on a $70 base price, i.e. a ~42% higher price. That's a very steep price for easier payment cancellation.

It is the percentage of the market price that the customer paid, not what developer got. You're twisting this.

Think about it this way - if Apple was not in the middle, the developer would have received $100. So it is 30% less than what they would have received without Apple cut.

They meant the user pays a 42% premium. If the developer needs to earn $70 they need to charge $100 on the App Store which is a 42% increase for the user. So if you’re talking about passing along those costs it’s +42% on every purchase.

No! The supply-demand curve intersects at $100 and not $70. 70/30 split is an internal transaction and cost of doing business. No different than distributor cut if you’re selling physical products.

The customer paid $100. That is by definition the price. All costs are relative to the price. For example, sales tax or transaction fees.

>if Apple was not in the middle, the developer would have received $100.

You are never going to get 100% because of payment processing, license management, and content hosting costs. If not Apple, then somebody else. You can have a payment processor and manage the licensing and hosting yourself. Or, you could use an all-in-one vendor, but you will still be paying 10-20%.

> I'm not debating if a 30% cut is reasonable

Neither am I. I'm debating whether it is small.

> I'm actually happier to pay a small premium

Yes, Apple subscriptions are a reliable way to signup for HBO or Showtime to binge-watch a specific show. Signup and immediately cancel the subscription, that gives you 30 days to watch. No further payment management actions needed.

It is funny that if you sign up for a 7 day free trial of Apple TV+ that if you cancel immediately before the end of the 7 days your trial is up immediately as well.

But that's a free trial. If you sign up for an Apple TV+ subscription and immediately cancel, it does the same thing as any other subscription.

Free trial is a bit different then what the parent was describing though. Which is paying for a month and turning off auto-renew effectively.

Also applies to 1-year Apple TV trial.

Rules for thee...

You may be interested in https://privacy.com/. I use it for all online subscriptions. It allows me to block all transactions, which brings me back control of what I am paying for.

Users who don't like Apple policies are often told to 'switch to Android'. But how one does that when the subscription cannot be managed without an Apple device/account and there's no way to 'pass' your subscription directly to the merchant?

That's pretty much the definition of lock-in - there's no way to cut Apple out. Apple on the other hand could remove the user out by banning all its subscriptions - which is far more damaging than any one merchant deciding to do so. The power imbalance is utterly on Apple's side.

You're right. The "just switch to Android" excuse is so disingenuous, as the problem here is not just the switching cost for users, but the cost for businesses who might only employ iOS developers.

Saying that a company "just" has to fire most of its staff if Apple ever detrimentally change their App Store rules is more obviously unreasonable than telling a user to buy a new phone.

Hmm interesting dilemma I hadn't considered. I've been pretty okay with blaming low information consumers for buying any Apple product, but this is totally different.

How can users escape Apple? You are not the first person to complain about getting locked in because they used an Apple account.

I don't have a good solution, but maybe this will be a good lesson you can carry on for the rest of your life.

While I don't have any data on it. I think that retention tactics that drag out the process might be more harmful in the future. Especially in terms of brand image. I might be cancelling the service for a short while or I might be switching companies/priorities. If the cancellation process is tedious, I won't feel like returning to that service.

In terms of the argument here, it feels like Proton Mail is trying to mirror Spotify's argument. The only problem is that, Spotify was a direct competitor to Apple Music. This is entirely different. Apple is providing a marketplace for apps, and many companies like Proton Mail are actually exploiting the system.

The only fault here is Apple's approach to the issue. But in this specific case, I don't think there's any mafia action going on unlike the whole Spotify drama.

> I think that retention tactics that drag out the process might be more harmful in the future.

I agree, but the case I directly observed was when the only focus was on the current period. What happened in the current month or quarter was the only concern. Long term effects were "too complex to worry about". This form of business myopia is all too common.

It's awful that in today's world, a feature of a platform is that they don't partake in a particular scummy business practice. It's a shame that we even have this issue.

Blame the "no regulation" crowd for that. Well functioning regulation and consumer protection is what promotes good things by forcing bad actors to get in line.

In theory, a competitive market could achieve the same goals, but in practice, it seems like marketplaces often need some regulatory nudging to get over the humps.

Completely unregulated free markets lead to extremes like slavery and leaded toys.

Regulatory practices can be abused or coopted (leading to regulatory capture) but that shouldn't mean we shouldn't keep pushing.

Would you frequent a completely unmoderated online forum? We all know how chatroulette turned out...

Every time we say "in theory a competitive market could achieve the same goals," we find that the entrepeneurs don't have the same goals. The problem isn't the mechanism of capitalism, it's the naive belief that consumer goals and seller goals are aligned.

Actually the problem is more that the theoretical concept of a competitive market bears about as much resemblance to any real consumer goods market as a homogenous sphere of bone, meat and skin in a frictionless vacuum bears to a cow.


There's no guarantee that regulation is good regulation.

And there is no guarantee that bad regulation is worse than no regulation.

Very true, which is why a smart merchant won't push their luck by abusing their customers.

Turns out a lot of them, such as the NYT, aren't that smart.

I feel it's the contrary. We are generally happy to refund customers that are not happy with our service, but the app store is the only payment system where we cannot refund them (I don't really know what the UX looks like on the customer side, but I think they have to contact Apple to ask for the refund and it's not always as easy as it should to get the refund)

Note that things might have changed since I worked on this stuff.

I can confirm it's not straightforward to get a refund from Apple for an App Store purchase, it was for me at least.

In the most recent case I tried to request a refund immediately after buying an app, only to get a vague and unhelpful error message. After a little Googling I learned that you have to wait a period of a few hours before requesting a refund. Of course I forgot to go back and request the refund later so I ended up paying for an app that didn't do what I expected it to.

It's the same for Android too

No, I believe we can refund ourselves payments on the play store (or at least I'm pretty sure we at least used to)

I meant the calling up an Appstore rep and asking for the refund part. I know you definitely have to have a human to human interaction to get a Playstore refund.

I think HN discussions have always been focusing on developer/business side of things but people don't realize that users - they don't care what happens in the backend. They care about the experience and Apple delivers, and then some.

I think Apple's 30% can be debated but a vanishingly small slice of users know this and care about it, millions of users just want to do their thing with beautiful ease and experience.

I find it so weird because retail seems to be a huge race towards the lowest quality due to demand for the lowest prices. If you put 2 identical products in the retail world and charged +42% for one of them no one would buy it. My impression is that it’s tough to sell a much better product at higher prices.

The only way I can make it work in my mind is that from the users’ perspective there are no alternatives. IE: They don’t know it’s 30% off at the store down the road.

No reason to think that this UX can't be duplicated in non-Apple app stores. It only artificially looks like that because Apple forces users and devs to only use their store. If users don't trust other App stores, they can simply avoid using them. Millions of people trust non-apple online stores with their money. Apple doesn't have a monopoly on good customer service either.

Why not just use temporary card numbers, a la Privacy.com (I am not affiliated with them, just a user)?

I've taken to using Privacy/temp card numbers for all subscriptions. They have strict spending limits set and if needed, I'll deactivate the number.

Sure, someone probably could send your "debt" to collections, but will they?

I wonder if there's a startup in that. Imagine a site where you pay a small premium and they manage your subscriptions - handling payment, cancellation and so on for you. You can see all of your subs, maybe even compare deals and stuff

Regarding the NYT: either use paypal, so you can cancel their ability to charge, or a CC with virtual CC numbers (e.g. Citi). That way, you can't be charged unless you want it.

There’s a lot of drama associated with this stuff. 100% of nothing is less than 70% of something.

When I was in college I interned at a company that negotiated retail placements for stuff like software. The 30% slice is a much better model than the terms our customers were stuck with.

In some cases, software people lose more in the channel for commercial software as well — companies like SHI skim the cream for doing almost nothing. I can say as someone running a big enterprise org that there is no chance in hell that I’m wasting time negotiating terms with little companies, but Apple’s App Store model makes it possible to buy stuff.

> When I was in college I interned at a company that negotiated retail placements for stuff like software. The 30% slice is a much better model than the terms our customers were stuck with.

When I was in middle school a computer costed as much as a small car. Times change. Physical distribution of most software is dead and the associated costs are completely different now.

Only for the tiny sliver of direct sales. There’s a whole industry of middlemen that exists for various reasons.

Agreed. Channel margin can exceed 30% commissions for enterprise SaaS.

I see more of an issue with Apple telling Telegram how to moderate their platform than with the high fees for distribution on the platform.

That's great. Apple's great app store should compete in a free market for all stores, and you can enjoy shopping there.

Great point, that has had a huge impact on the quality and pricing of applications on the Android platform.

I believe that in many countries it is now illegal practice to make cancellation difficult.

Being able to easily click 'cancel' is worth every penny

If you are happy then many others will be happy as well and Apple should be able to compete on merit.

I'm all for mandating an IAP option. But forcing apps to keep customers in the dark about other, cheaper options borders on deception.

The main problem there is you are not able to pay a premium for IAP subscriptions. Apple mandates that functionally equal options cost the same inside the app as outside, despite Apple taking the 30% cut for IAP.

> Apple mandates that functionally equal options cost the same inside the app as outside

Do they? I heard it before, but when I tried to search the developer guidelines, I couldn’t spot anything specific about this.

Apple is nothing else but the digital equivalent of a landlord extracting economic rents from everyone in the ecosystem. It's time to put an end to it, and while we're at it the same goes for all the other platform owners.

We (in this case the EU) should give it the same treatment we gave credit card companies. Cap their rates at 1% or whatever so they can cover the operational costs of their stores, stop them from banning apps from their stores that aren't breaking any laws, and that's that. If they want to make more money for their shareholders they should actually build things rather than abuse their gatekeeper position.

Just imagine if Microsoft had taken a 30% cut from every developer who ever compiled software for windows, or told them what software stack to use to develop their software. We'd have gone on the barricades immediately. Microsoft had to face scrutiny for bundling a browser, compared to what smartphone companies have done to their devices that was a joke

I agree with you, the say I have framed is.

I say Cisco should charge for every packet that goes through their router that is involved in a Financial transaction. If you don't pay, they add you to a blacklist. It's feasible, router has a blacklist, Cisco checks if you make money, if you do, they shake you down, if you don't pay, they add you to the blacklist and router downloads and refuses to route your IP addresses. Sounds ridiculous, but it's doable. After all they are facilitating the transaction.

Please don't give Cisco any ideas as they'll surely be doing this soon enough

What about video game consoles? Early in a generation, they are sold at razor-thin (or negative) margins, with the expectation that the manufacturer will recoup losses from licensing fees over the life of the console and that costs will come down in later revisions.

If manufacturers lose their substantial licensing fees, they would be forced to charge more upfront for the consoles which is objectively worse for consumers.

Consoles are much, much narrower in use than smartphones. Most consoles have a few thousand titles, if that. By comparison the App Store had millions of applications. And as you point out, manufacturers are building these consoles at a loss. Apple builds it's phones at a profit. Getting a game approved for sale on a console is much more involved than releasing an App on the App Store, and involves significant manual review not just of the quality of the game but also the content.

Apple does a manual review of the quality of their apps as well as their content (e.g. if you own a social app that allows users to publish images, they will verify there are no adult images being published and there are systems in place for banning these images.)

That doesn't sound like a good thing to me. Why must we be held to some extra moral laws for the ability to allow ios users to use our software?

Everyone here seems to be obsessed with the fact that a console is a "computer" in the turing machine sense but the fact is that people buy consoles with the strong primary purpose of entertainment.

Smart phones and tablets have gotten to the point where they are expected to be able to do hundreds of different things, with some peoples livelihood dependent on it.

There’s no legal way to define the boundary between what’s classified as a computer vs a console. Game consoles have apps that are traditional to a computer, such as streaming video and even video editing. Portability isn’t a reliable indicator as you have systems like the Switch.

Nor is it realistically possible to create legal guidelines based on profit margins. I don’t see how it makes sense to apply a different set of rules on devices that are sold as a loss and make up for it in software sales vs the inverse or even both being profitable.

And yet even then, console games such as MMOs are not required to actively mislead the consumer about their account management options.

Can't wait for Apple to cut the App Store back to a thousand apps so they qualify as a console.

I don't know how this myth keep perpetuating but ps4 pro was profitable from day one and ps4 6 months in. Hardware has gotten a lot cheaper.

> The European Commission has fined Qualcomm €242 million for abusing its market dominance in 3G baseband chipsets. Qualcomm sold below cost, with the aim of forcing its competitor Icera out of the market. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.


Would consumer really be objectively worse? The small margins are only early in a generation that last 7 years. The hard core gamers will need to pay more to get a console but the consoles would quickly drop in price. Also, the games would likely be much cheaper.

Would it be objectively worse for consumers? You buy an expensive machine once every ten years and then the games would be more reasonably priced for that whole time? How can you say with certainty that would be worse?

Because consumers don’t think long term. If your console costs $600 but games are $40 while your competitor’s costs $400 but games are $60, the vast majority of consumers will choose the $400/$60 one.

Unless they are Nintendo, where they make money on both console sales and licensing fees.

Microsoft also appears to have solved that issue with their game pass opening and many game studio acquisitions.

If you're an end user --- don't buy Apple.

If you're a developer --- don't build for Apple.

Problem solved.

In theory; yes. In practice; not quite enough.

Apple is doing everything it can to stop the customer from being informed. As a developer, you are not allowed to tell your customers how much of a cut Apple gets.

This has to change.

This is the solution. I'm sorry, but an iPhone is not a human right. If you don't like it or the company practice, don't support it Legislation is not the answer here.

> Just imagine if Microsoft had taken a 30% cut from every developer who ever compiled software for windows

Microsoft has the whole code-signing racket going on for Windows, but that's at least a flat fee in fairness.

Yeah. That’s another good example of abusing a market position to limit options to incumbents. I’d love to have LE style domain validate code signing certificates.

> Apple is nothing else but the digital equivalent of a landlord extracting economic rents from everyone in the ecosystem. It's time to put an end to it, and while we're at it the same goes for all the other platform owners.

And while we're at it, implement a Georgist tax scheme on landlords.

There is a benefit. The prevention of side loading limits malware. Windows is ridden with malware.


How is it BS for a private company to say they don't want to take money from a group like Stormfront?

Well, then don't ask for the EU to legislate that payment processors can't drop customers. You can't have it both ways...

I'm not comfortable having the US government tell Apple what entities they are obligated to do business with.

When you will build your own piece of land from scratch then you also get to decide what laws govern it.

The iPhone, iOS and the Apple Store exist because someone had the idea, will and spent tons of money building it. They aren't natural resources that Apple acquired and imposed on people so now everyone else has no choice but to pay the Apple tax.

So I don't see how that analogy applies here.

>When you will build your own piece of land from scratch then you also get to decide what laws govern it.

I don't know where you live but where I do the government determines laws, on my property or otherwise. i can't just do what i want on my property just because it's my property. Neither my actual land or the digital land of the app store are some sort of extraterritorial space, we're not living in the Shadowrun universe

What about the products of my labor that I create from scratch? Can I decide what laws govern that too? You know, like taxes?

That idea went out the window a long time ago. Now we are all beholden to each-other and society on some level, so best we deal with it and solve these anti-competative issues and predatory platforms, otherwise let's agree that it's completely immoral and stop cherry-picking "moral rules" based on what we find useful at the time.

> Just imagine if Microsoft had taken a 30% cut from every developer who ever compiled software for windows

How does this relate to this discussion?

Just inserting "30%" into ANY financial transaction and drawing a comparison is a false equivalency.

If I could, I would downvote this.

This reminds me of a very different time...

In 1997, then CEO of Sybase Mitchell Kertzman said in an interview with the French trade magazine 01 Informatique:

"Q: When you launched Jaguar CTS, a middleware tool competing with a Microsoft product, you received a rather explicit phone call... A: It was the Mafia! When I hung up, I realized that I had just received a phone call from the godfather who forbade me to sell drugs on his territory. And you know, Microsoft people behave like the Mafia: they don't have to break your leg, they just have to threaten you."

Source (in French): http://bat8.inria.fr/~lang/hotlist/free/abuse/mafia/kertzman...

Back in the early '00s there was a popular legend in the startup circles that you don't want Microsoft to be interested in what you do.

The legend went that if Microsoft liked you and decided to acquire you, they would give you a binary choice between a low-ball offer and a lawsuit based on their patent portfolio.

It's no legend, and all that's changed is that they don't even threaten you anymore, but straight up outcompete you without you having any recourse.


Oh. Never got it as a child, but the Simpsons hat a bit about just that: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=H27rfr59RiE

Does he mean that Microsoft literally called him and told him not to use Jaguar CTS? Would that be telemetry phoning back when competing products were used? I'm a bit confused by the word choice there.

He meant when he started selling it he got a phone call telling him not to do so from Microsoft.

It seems like completing the Mafia trilogy games is a prerequisite for being a CxO...

I hope that the model Apple is using will be made illegal, most likely in the EU first. But I am concerned that if you have a one trillion dollars, they you pretty much can do anything you want, as with such money you can buy any decision. Apple should be forced to allow 3rd party app stores in their ecosystem. There are many other things Apple is doing wrong and all we can do now is to raise awareness about their shady practices. I am proud that I pretty much cured everyone in my circle from buying any Apple products.

> I am proud that I pretty much cured everyone in my circle from buying any Apple products.

And buying what instead?

Potentially unpopular opinion here on HN, but Android.

Not unpopular, but it just won't work; Google has already indicated that it also is going to want a 30% cut. And side-loading is not really an option for the average consumer.

The problem of rent-seeking by monopolists will just go away by itself.

You can just side load an other store, then install from there, which I think is acceptable UX since you really just have to install the store once.

Side-loaded stores can't auto-update apps. You have to confirm each app every time. It's unacceptable UX for a typical user.

We’re going down the rabbit hole but a user can install Aurora Services to get background installs in conjunction with Aurora Store. Currently I would assume the same users that are using alt stores probably have root access to install. Similarly one can flash F-Droid’s privileged extension.

https://gitlab.com/AuroraOSS/AuroraService https://gitlab.com/fdroid/privileged-extension

Oh yeah, but there are “no barriers” to using alternative app marketplaces and Google totally isn’t collecting a rent exactly like Apple. /s

No chance in hell the average consumer is doing this, so they are effectively locked in.

That's a small price to pay for not being beholden to the decisions of an almost trillion-dollar company from a foreign country.

both owning a phone and having worked on large scale apps, users couldn't get an eff about updating apps and are in fact annoyed by it.

They’re more annoyed by persisting bugs and apps that stop working altogether though.

Autoupdating is the way to go for most users IMO.

And that avoids the rent-seeking problem... how?

You can side load apps. You don't need to go through Google Play.

Well that's just the idea. In reality, most people only install apps from Google Play, and Google has decided that it also wants to enforce a 30% cut [1]. Sideloading provides an option, but for most developers, its not a realistic one (See: Epic putting Fortnite onto the Play Store after trying to get people to install by sideloading).

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/28/technology/google-play-st...

Sideloading amounts to downloading a .apk file and clicking yes on the prompt to install it. It's no more difficult than installing applications on Windows. I know firsthand that elementary school children are capable of sideloading apps.

IIRC Google offered Epic more favorable rates after it released Fortnite through side loading. Presumably this indicates that sideloading was a success and Google didn't want Epic to set a precedence that bypassing the Play store is feasible.

> It's no more difficult than installing applications on Windows.

What's important is relative difficulty. If 99% of all apps the consumer can get are on the app store, but they have to go through a new and somewhat foreign side-loading process to get this one app, then they probably will just go for that app's competitor on the App store.

I'd be curious what percentage of Android users, outside of China, sideload apps. My guess is that it would be sub 3%.

I am not sure for normal app. But, for gaming, it is common to download the app from third party app store.

But, correct me if I'm wrong, vendors aren't allowed to bundle other app stores into the home screen if they want to use the Play store.

That seems like classic rent-seeking.

But the point is, you can just download a .apk file and install like like you would on a desktop. You can even download a .apk file that installs an alternative app store. You do have to click through a couple screens with scary warning messages, but it's a much, much softer lock-in than Apple & the App Store.

There are luckily some options for high-end now like ASUS ProArt and similar.

I think this is what happens when we have a "feudal system". People have given over control to a few feudal lords. We increasingly don't control our infrastructure or data. We are seeing the consolidation of power into the hands of a few powerful organizations. Once you get locked into your walled in garden, it's difficult to leave, be this for developers or end users, and these organizations know it.

The last element is cashless society. They'll be able to delete your means to survive if you don't obey the t&c.

Let's just use PWA! Oh wait, no push notifications, proprietary asset properties, and other crippled feature sets on iOS? Guess that option is out too.

You want an email app to be able to have notifications?!

-- Apple, surprised pikachu face, probably

It has been over 5 years since Chrome for Android added support for push notifications.

Apple needs to stop dragging their heels here, since they are clearly using every excuse in the book not to let users receive notification from apps outside the app store purely because it benefits them financially to do this, in a manner that is very anti-consumer and anti-developer.

Users don't have to be assaulted with drive-by notification requests. Safari can require that PWAs only be given the chance to receive push notification permission after being added to the home screen. It's not rocket science. SpaceX landed a rocket booster almost 5 years ago, and they've gone through the certification process to send astronauts to the space station, and they're well on their way to making their next-gen Starship platform orbital. But Apple can't figure out a way to support APNS for PWAs. It's just too hard! Apparently.

If PWAs supported APNS, Apple would have a significantly more defensible anti-trust position, but Apple has shown that they just have no interest in making things easier for themselves -- let alone their users or developers.

Apple also supports PWAs so poorly that the new App Library feature doesn't even properly support them. PWAs have no option to be removed from the home screen and left in the App Library, unlike all other apps, and iOS 14 is the first time that there has been any distinction between PWAs and regular apps as far as the home screen is concerned. This is without even discussing the lack of widget support for PWAs, which would legitimately be challenging for Apple to support well, unlike APNS.

I say all of this as someone who really likes iPhone, and is frustrated that Apple seems to be doing everything possible this year to push me back to Android.

Just add APNS support to PWAs that have been added to the home screen, Apple! And please don't wait another 5 years to do it.

> If PWAs supported APNS, Apple would have a significantly more defensible anti-trust position, but Apple has shown that they just have no interest in making things easier for themselves

I've been wondering about this for the past couple of weeks.

Is Apple really so blind that they don't see they are digging themselves into a hole?

If iOS had first-class support for PWAs they could probably keep running the AppStore in any way they wish.

"Its for your own safety kiddo. Those stuff are dangerous and will harm your device"

When companies use the same logic of spreading fear to manipulate and ultimately control as the war on terror/war on drugs from Bush/Nixon, you know something is really wrong.

To be fair, push notifications from websites can be harmful if the user doesn't understand them.

I know of a person who just clicked the "allow notifications" in order to not get bothered by the popup, and then they started getting notifications with sex offers and stuff like that. The website which triggered them was https://open4u.co.uk, which was prominently recommended by Google due to its positioning in the search results.

The user agent gets to choose how the permission requests are shown - that's not part of the spec. For example, they can choose to ignore permission requests until the user has interacted with the site for a significant amount of time. They can make the permission prompt more explicit and "scary". They can choose to only allow notifications after the site has been added to the home screen.

This is not a question of safety at all - Apple has control over how many people get tricked via their control over the permission prompt.

Google/Apple should drop the percentage. 30% is too high. Store is a kind of ecosystem which based on the mutual benefits of both Apple and Devs. Devs helped to accelerate their products. Having billions in reserve, they should not hurt this relationship.

I don’t think they have shortage of developers wishing to sell through their stores. So, there’s really no incentives to cut the commission.

> 30% is too high

What determines what is too high here? If it's about the cost of it (it costs Google/Apple much less money to build and maintain an ecosystem so they can "afford" to do it) wouldn't that imply that there is a huge market opportunity for someone else to build their own ecosystem and charge less? But maybe because that doesn't happen is proof that it may not be "too high".

> imply there is a huge market opportunity for someone else to build their own ecosystem and charge less?

Hmmm. Let's see what one would need to do at a bare minimum:

- start manufacturing phones

- build own OS (or fork Android)

- develop own SDK

- develop own online store infrastructure

- manufacture other devices (e.g. Apple) and/or develop other services (e.g. Google) to complete "ecosystem"

The barrier to entry in developing a mobile (and beyond) ecosystem is astronomical when competing with either Apple or Google. It's practically impossible to break into a multi-trillion dollar market when it's siloed to two multi-trillion dollar corporations.

And it barely makes a difference. You’d still need to deal with Apple and Google. There’s no way to get enough competition into the mobile OS market to make it healthy. They need to be regulated with a big stick.

Some of the business models they use should be outright illegal. I think that money made on harvesting and processing personal information should be confiscated and distributed among victims.

Or just use an alt store installed rooted Android phone. If I know correctly, companies exists which sell phones for this kind of reselling in rebranded way with customisations.

That actually pretty good explanation why mobile stores' commissions won’t be reduced any time soon.

I'm willing to negotiate. Starting offer: fuck your payment processor entirely.

From the article : Apple responded, saying that free companion apps to paid online services are no longer required to have in-app purchases as of September 11, 2020. As long as paid upgrades are not offered through the app and it has no notifications to customers about an external subscription service, everything is fine.


Right, but notice the poison pill: "... no notifications to customers about an external subscription service".

Protonmail has a free tier, subject to resource limits:


What should the app do when those limits are hit that Apple could not choose to call a "notification"?

Considering it's protonmail, email them the notification.

That's exactly the problem. Apple doesn't want any notification of this to be visible to the user in the app. The fact that the app handles the user's email isn't guaranteed to be a relevant distinction to the random reviewer who is tasked with reviewing the app.

Apple has not spelled out clearly that this is okay for them to do, which means that it is a risk.

The user would be receiving a literal iOS notification from this app that talks about upgrades available outside the app.

I don’t believe Apple can dictate what ProtonMail is sending to its user via email.

Requiring no app generated notification has a clear line.

Requiring no email, which is a general mean of communication, has too big an implication. What about sending a text? Or a mail? Or to a secondary email?

I’m not a lawyer, but such a clause in contract would be deemed rather unjust, wouldn’t it?

It feels like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

> It feels like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Lawsuits against Apple's App Store policy enforcement are already in progress, but Apple has the best lawyers money can buy, and rulings are years away.

If a substantial part of your business risked being terminated at the click of a button by some unelected person that you have never met, with no proper way to appeal such an unjust decision, you'd probably think twice about doing something that could be misconstrued as intentionally violating App Store Guidelines too.

I blame Apple for the lack of clarity both in their rules and their enforcement. I don't blame ProtonMail for trying to adhere to Apple's arbitrary rules that often make little sense.

At least part of the job of those lawyers is to tell Apple to not fight unlikely battles; or at least I hope.

Apple wasn't crazy enough to go after Amazon Kindle app for asking the user to buy ebooks on Amazon.com, which bypassed Apple's system.

Probably---hopefully---they aren't crazy enough to fight a email client for sending emails regarding upgrade plans.

Absolute 0% of those lawyers jobs is to tell Apple to not pursue litigation. Do you understand what the point of litigation is for a company this size? They have over $100 billion in cash, even the most expensive lawyers salaries is a drop in the bucket. They can afford to drag a company like Protonmail through the mud for decades if they want to.

> I don’t believe Apple can dictate what ProtonMail is sending to its user via email.

They already supposedly went after apps that linked to a privacy policy on their main website because the main website itself had premium options for sale. If you can't link to legal policy etc. because it might be a level or two of indirection from offering a premium service for sale through the site you have to do something like a special site just for Apple users. I can totally see them going after email and arguing Proton mail could hide those notification emails from iOS users if they contain links to premium.

When I was using a trial of Hey email, I received an email about trial expiration and a link to upgrade to paid plan if I want to continue using it. When clicking the link, it opened in the in-app browser and you could enter your credit card details right inside. Idk if that's permitted by Apple or not, but if not, then Hey was lucky Apple didn't notice it.

However, I don't see how that can be solved. An email provider has every right to send an email to a customer informing them about anything, including a trial expiration and if that email contains a link, it is handled like a link from any other email in the app. It would be really silly for Apple to ask the provider to censor their user's inbox and hide a particular email they received.

> It would be really silly for Apple to ask the provider to censor their user's inbox and hide a particular email they received.

I agree completely. If Apple agrees, they should spell this out clearly in their terms.

As it is, Apple gets to selectively enforce this whenever they want, which is unfair to both app developers and users.

One likely danger of spelling this out from Apple's point of view is that someone might say the same thing about other messaging services besides email. Take Facebook Messenger, for example. Imagine that Facebook started offering a paid upgrade to Messenger. Why should Facebook Messenger care on which platform you're receiving an internally-generated call to action to upgrade to some hypothetical paid plan? It's not like they were intentionally targeting Apple users in this hypothetical scenario, and it should be their right to not have to censor messages they decide to send to their users just based on the platform being used. It's (hypothetically) just a regular Facebook Messenger message, after all, generated by some marketing system completely disconnected from both the app and the messaging platform!

One thing that confounds the issue for ProtonMail specifically is that the app only works with ProtonMail, and ProtonMail is operating both the frontend and the backend. It's not like the Gmail app that also lets you use other email accounts with it as a general purpose email client. This is why I chose Facebook Messenger as an example -- it is a messaging platform, but both the frontend and backend are operated by Facebook.

Sounds like a notification.

Isn't it normal for an email client to show a new-mail notification with the subject in it? Would it then depend on the wording of the subject?

I believe it isn't OS-level notifications they are talking about, it's any notification in the app.

From the article, emphasis mine:

> Out of the blue, one day they said you have to add in-app purchase to stay in the App Store. They stumbled upon something in the app that mentioned there were paid plans, they went to the website and saw there was a subscription you could purchase, and then turned around and demanded we add IAP.

It's apparently not just "no notifications". Below is the actual Apple guidelines. Notice that it is not "notifications", but "call to action". In practice, it may be "slightest hint".

> Free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web based tool (eg. VOIP, Cloud Storage, Email Services, Web Hosting) do not need to use in-app purchase, provided there is no purchasing inside the app, or calls to action for purchase outside of the app

If I were Protonmail, I would just start emailing customers about the subscription service instead of baking into the app. Maybe delay the campaign until after the app is accepted. This policy from Apple is ridiculous.

They can also change it back any time they wish and on an app by app basis.

So... Apple has a say in how or when a company communicates with its own customers inside of an app the company developed and customer chose to use simply because that app is running on an iPhone. This is asinine.

What's the "So.... [sic]" supposed to convey?

Not a protonmail user, but fastmail, which is in a similar boat i guess.

I really hope this means fastmail won't be forced to start billing through IAP. Apple gets enough of my money already, and I don't want it eating up fastmails profit margins, as I think they offer a stellar product.

I read the article, but I'm still stuck on why Apple is asking for IAP to be included. Is the argument: "Hey, your app works with subscription services. You need to give Apple users the option to purchase via the App Store."

If so, why doesn't Fastmail (from what I can tell) offer IAP? Isn't this the same idea?

Don’t they? They said in June that they’d planned to and were also asked to. https://mobile.twitter.com/Fastmail/status/12738002229893242...

The rules are simple: if you mention in your app about the premium service tier, then you have to offer it inside the app with built in purchases.

Don’t want to have IAPs? Don’t mention the premium service you have for sale elsewhere. That’s the option picked by many companies.

So, in reality Apple doesn’t force developers to adopt in-app purchases. They make them follow the rule I outlined here.

Not necessarily related, but I’m subscriptioned and incremental-purchased out. Any time I see “In-App purchase”, I immediately skip the app.

I do sympathise, but IAP can be implemented in useful ways. For example games with DLC such as extra campaigns or game modes. I'm a big fan of a war game on iOS that offers additional maps as IAPs. Unfortunately most IAPs are in the form of pay to win crap like gems and coins, but it doesn't have to be that way.

The App Store also shows the list of IAPs for an app so you can distinguish between the add-on and garbage style before installing.


When I see "This app has IAP" or whatever the copy is I just scroll down and see if the IAP looks like:

* 1 month subscription

* 1 year subscription

* Lifetime subscription


* Full Unlock


* Level pack 1

* Level pack 2

* Level pack 3


* 10 gems

* 20 gems

* 30 gems


If it's one of the first 3 then I'm more than happy to get the app. I don't mind paying through IAP to unlock the full app, pay for a subscription (within reason), or get more content. I am completely uninterested in using a fake digital currency inside your app. Doing that tells me everything I need to know about the app and the developer(s) behind it.

In my book every "free-to-play" game that monetizes like this (even if they try to say they aren't "pay-to-win"/"pay-to-play") is trash. I don't want to hear "It's a fun game and you don't have to pay to enjoy it/play it", that's bullshit. I've yet to play an example of such a game that didn't (eventually) make the game unplayable/unbeatable without paying.

The walled garden could have worked if Apple had acted as a benevolent dictator. Instead, it degraded into a despot and it will face the consequences of this.

The payments landscape is under great flux for those of us that live it and know extremely well first hand. As a serial entrepayneur having been in this "game" for many decades more and more business' are coming to realize they need to own and control the process from customer to bank in order to offer better support in this now nearly complete digital online world. The middlemen are jockeying for position through value added service functions and customer lock in through such technologies as tokenization while the card brands and competing FinTechs continue to buy up all up and coming payments companies globally. If you want control you need to own it yet very few seem to understand this thinking as most believe payments is more than just ones and zeros which it is not.

I have no problem with Apple's basic approach with the App Store, they provide a service and are entitled to charge for it.

I do think they have gone too far with some of their practices though. This sort of shake down of free apps is over-reach and I'm glad they have revised the App Store guidelines. I hope this sort of arm-twisting doesn't happen in future.

It is a tricky issue. As I said it's their product their rules, but those rules do need to be clear, be fair and be impartially applied. I really don't want to see heavy handed regulation in this area, which could be incredibly damaging.

Not only that, but they are charging entrepreneurial rates for something that is now, a very mature business.

Apple's woes on this matter are largely Apple's creation. However, if developers want to accept payment outside of Apple's App store, then they should be prepared to pay elsewhere. The argument that the hardware purchase pays for the app store is bunk in my opinion, the hardware purchase pays for the hardware and the OS.

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