Oct 8, 2020 - Technology

Microsoft app store playbook swipes at Apple, Google

Illustration of an App Store App icon about to be deleted
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In a not-so-subtle dig at Apple and Google, Microsoft today announced a series of "principles" for its Windows 10 App Store — including letting users choose their own payment system for in-app purchases — that it says should serve as a model for other app stores.

Why it matters: The move comes as antitrust regulators in the U.S. and around the world are spotlighting how both Apple and Google manage their mobile platforms and as some developers charge them with running their app stores unfairly.

Details: In addition to offering developers the option to use an alternative payment mechanism for in-app purchases, Microsoft pledged that it will, among other things:

  • allow competing app stores;
  • hold its own apps to the same standards as those of other companies;
  • allow app makers to decide what they do and don't want to sell within their app;
  • and allow any developer in its store "as long as it meets objective standards and requirements, including those for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety."

The big picture: There's renewed debate over how much control platform makers should have over the distribution of apps that run on them.

  • Earlier this week, House Judiciary Committee Democrats issued a report suggesting Apple is a monopolist that abuses its power given both the fees it collects and its ability to limit competing apps, allegations that Apple rejects.
  • Epic Games is suing Apple and Google for making it process all in-app payments through their systems, taking a 30% cut in the process.
  • Spotify, Match Group and others have also pressed Apple to change its App Store policies.

Between the lines: Microsoft, the last Big Tech company to face antritrust prosecution and the threat of breakup 20 years ago, has largely avoided scrutiny this time around, due to both its changed behavior and differing market position.

Our thought bubble: It's a savvy move for Microsoft, which already has most of these policies in place and stands to gain more from Apple and Google opening up.

  • For example, Microsoft has been seeking looser rules to allow its Xcloud gaming service to run on the iPhone.

Yes, but: In addition to the Windows 10 store, Microsoft also runs the Xbox Store.

  • That store is more tightly controlled and the only way to get games onto the console, much like the app stores run by Apple and Google, as well as game rivals like Sony.
  • Microsoft acknowledges this in a blog post, but says those devices are more specialized and require expensive hardware that is subsidized through game sales.

What they're saying:

  • John Bergmayer, legal director, Public Knowledge: "Microsoft is in the unique position of running a dominant platform — Windows — and distributing software on mobile platforms that it does not control. I think this gives it a unique perspective on this issue."
  • Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney: "[I]t's wonderful to see Microsoft formally codify its long-held principles in Windows as an open platform and fair market for all developers and consumers."
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