Apps have become a huge economy, but the rules that govern them are almost impossible to understand.
Apple and Google have twisted their decade-long rules for their app stores like a pretzel to the point where they may no longer make sense. This has made in-app purchases of digital items confusing as hell.
One example: in theory, although not in practice, you can use your Amazon account to buy an e-book from the Kindle iPhone app. You cannot buy an e-book in the Android version of the app. Until recently, Kindle purchases were effectively banned under Apple’s rules, but perfectly acceptable under Google’s rules. Now it’s the other way around.
Confusing? Yeah. Apple and Google have written lengthy and complex application guidelines and have revised these policies frequently to protect their interests. (I noted earlier that Apple’s app policies much longer than the United States Constitution.)
Want more jokes? Today, it’s easy to pay for a podcast subscription on the Patreon iPhone app. Apple stands aside and allows Patreon to take your personal information and credit card information.
But buying other types of digital subscriptions can be quite different. If you buy a platinum Tinder dating service membership on the iPhone app, you are effectively signing up for Apple and Tinder is left out.
Apple takes a portion of this membership fee forever. If you want to leave, you tell Apple, not Tinder.
Purchasing a six-month membership through the Tinder app costs some people $14.99 per month, but when purchased from the website, it’s $13.50. (The price difference is Tinder’s way of partially offsetting the up to 30 percent commission it pays Apple for every app purchase.) Yes, and paying to use dating apps may soon work out more than paying for things on Patreon, but only in the Netherlands.
For now, paying Tinder through the Android app is more like how Patreon works. But that’s only because Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, sued google to prevent the company from changing its rules.
I could bore you with the details of why Apple makes a distinction between buying a Patreon subscription and buying a Tinder subscription. There’s logic to why you can buy a paperback copy of 1984 on the Amazon Android app but not the digital version, and why new Netflix subscribers used to be able to sign up on the Android app but now can’t. Or type can not. This is another pretzel twist.
It took me hours of phone calls and getting all the details in the paragraphs you just read. If there are so many rules, exceptions, and explanations for in-app purchases in 2022, perhaps the logic of the app economy is not logical.
For years, some application companies have pinched about how Google and especially Apple control many aspects of this economy. They both determine which apps we can easily download through their app stores and when they directly process the purchases we make through the apps.
If we use the app to buy things that exist in the real world, like an Uber ride or a meal plan subscription, those purchases bypass Apple and Google. The fight is over buying things we use digitally, like a trinket used in a smartphone app game, or a dating app subscription.
The problem is that the distinctions that seemed reasonable when Apple created its app store in 2008 don’t necessarily fit with today’s digital economy.
I have already written about YouTube video makers who can not understand why Apple or Google are entitled to some of the money – potentially forever – that their fans pay them through the app.
In the era of Zoom-everything, does it make sense to have other rules, how Apple sought to have, for example, to buy physical education classes that you attend in person and those that you attend virtually at home? Why not apps like Facebook, which make money from ads, pass on some of the revenue to Apple and Google, but those that sell digital subscriptions?
And application rules often change, which complicates the work.
This month, Google implemented tightening restrictions so it has to process in-app purchases of more digital things and get a share.
Again, there is some sense in all these pretzel twists. Apple and Google want to avoid allowing major smartphone video games, the biggest revenue generators in the app world, to circumvent their rules and fees. And they say they are trying to respond to complaints that they have too much control or that they are burdening small businesses.
But the more concessions Apple or Google make to appease angry governments and some angry developers but not others, the more arbitrary their app store logic can seem.
Before we go…
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