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Apple updates App Store guidelines to allow external payments

Jan 17, 2024
Illustration of a hand taking half of a dollar bill app icon

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Apple has updated its App Store guidelines in the U.S., allowing developers to link to alternative payment methods — but it will still take a cut of up to 27%.

Why it matters: Despite finally permitting links beyond its own billing system, the requirements and commission structure could actually dissuade developers from adopting external payments.

Details: Apple will now allow developers in the U.S. to bypass its billing system and add links inside their apps that send users to external websites where the users can input credit card information.

Yes, but: Developers must offer Apple's payment option in order to link out to external methods, and they'll have to apply for an entitlement to offer those links.

  • Also, Apple will still collect a commission of 12% for developers who are a part of the App Store Small Business Program and 27% for other apps.

Between the lines: The commission applies to purchases "made within seven days after a user taps on an External Purchase Link," Apple says.

  • The iPhone maker will require developers to provide transaction reports "within 15 calendar days following the end of each calendar month."

Context: The new guidelines were released after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take on the high-profile antitrust case between Epic Games and Apple.

  • The decision means Epic's quest to let consumers bypass the App Store and avoid the iPhone maker's fees will be unsuccessful.
  • However, a lower court ruled that Apple must allow developers the ability to add buttons or links to buy digital goods outside the App Store.

Catch up fast: In 2020, Epic updated Fortnite on iOS, adding options for players to buy virtual items directly and bypass Apple's 30% cut of in-app purchases.

  • Apple kicked Epic off its store in response, claiming Epic had violated its policies.
  • Epic then sued Apple, saying its control of mobile app stores constituted an anti-competitive monopoly.

What they're saying: Tim Sweeney, Epic's founder and CEO, lambasted the new policies on X (formerly Twitter), where he called the 27% fee anti-competitive and criticized the so-called "scare screen" warning users they are going to an external website.

  • "Developers can't offer digital items more cheaply on the web after paying a third-party payment processor 3-6% and paying this new 27% Apple Tax," he said.
  • Sweeney also said Epic "will contest Apple's bad-faith compliance plan in District Court."
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