Apple is, was, and will always be a giant, although recent investigations have shone a light on Apple’s conduct regarding the App Store, which has captured the attention of all industry players.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has been questioned on a number of areas regarding the commission, rank and anti-competitive market that is being perpetuated by Apple. So, just how much control does Apple have over the App Store and is this an environment that is an equal playing field for independent iPhone app developers? Let’s find out.
Equality for all app developers?
Apple has publicly stated that all app developers have equal representation in the App Store, despite the growing sentiment that would suggest the opposite. In fact, their chief marketing executive went as far as to say that there was ‘one rule set for everyone, no special deals, no special terms, no special code’, according to an interview with Reuters.
In April of 2020, Apple and Amazon came to a very quiet and unpublicised agreement that would render the previous statement of equality to be false. The terms of the deal ensured that Amazon users could buy or rent media directly through Amazon Prime. This not only sidesteps the long touted rule that all app purchase must be made through Apple’s payment methods, but it also means that Apple isn’t claiming a 30% slice of that purchase.
It’s left a bad taste in the mouths of independent app developers as well as small to medium enterprises who aren’t being shown the same courtesy as Amazon, one of the biggest and most profitable enterprises in the world. Will the recent investigation cause Apple to flex their terms and allow other apps to facilitate in-app rentals and purchases? Time will tell.
Barriers to entry and unassured exposure
When apps first hit the app store, Apple’s 30% commission was an attractive figure for developers who were paying a higher premium for physical shelf space that their software was occupying in an exhaustive list of retailers. The App Store allowed developers to reach more people at a reduced rate, not to mention the contactless experience that was afforded with this new era.
Now, decades on, Apple and Google are still charging this commission despite the changes in overheads and output that the stores are bringing to the table. Although who and how can this be stopped if they are the only players in the game?
Streaming service Spotify calls these high fees by another name – misuse of power. They have alleged that Apple’s App Store is the gatekeeper which ultimately decides a fee and has disadvantaged its competitors consistently.
This is a particularly interesting allegation as Apple has a competing streaming function which raises the question of bias. Since Spotify made a formal complaint, other app services which compete with Apple’s services (news, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.) have supported their claims. Now we are seeing a debate play out before our eyes where Apple is attributing Spotify’s success to their service, and Spotify is saying that they are a monopolist.
You might be wondering ‘so what, I’ll just have to spot listening to podcasts on Spotify and move to Apple Podcasts’. There is more than just apps here at play, and if we do not keep these entities accountable, they can essentially act unlawfully and dictate price and provider, with all of us having to comply.
Anti-competitive environments are no good for anyone, and it won’t be long until the user is disadvantaged, just like the app developers have been alleging.
It is not up to Apple to decide what the user downloads. They should be letting competitors build and present apps in the App Store, without impeding their success.
If app developers shy away from building apps that Apple has available on iPhones and other Apple devices, we will have a monopoly on our hands. This not only stifles creativity, but it sends the message that big business decides what we use and who can enter the market.