Apple has kept promises it made to developers at the 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) by opening an appeals process for alleged violations of App Store guidelines and offering a forum to challenge the rules entirely.
Although the company has never given a reason for its change in heart, the commitments were made following a high profile spat with app developer Basecamp and the launch of an antitrust investigation by the EU.
In a post on its developer website Apple said the changes to the app review process would for the continued creation of high quality, reliable applications. Crucially, applications that have been found to have violated the guidelines will no longer be blocked from submitting security updates.
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“For apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. You’ll instead be able to address guideline violations in your next submission,” it said.
“And now, in addition to appealing decisions about whether an app violates guidelines, you can suggest changes to the guidelines. We also encourage you to submit your App Store and Apple development platform suggestions so we can continue to improve experiences for the developer community.”
“To continue offering a safe place for users to download apps and helping you successfully develop apps that are secure, high-quality, reliable, and respectful of user privacy, we’ve updated the app review process as announced at WWDC20,” Apple said on its developer website.
Launched in 2008 as a marketplace for applications and games for the iPhone and iPad, the App store has developed into a vast e-commerce and software platform which generated $519 billion (£410 bn) in 2019. This figure includes not just the cost of apps and in-app purchases, but also advertising and the sale of physical and digital goods and services generated by software.
Traditionally, the App Store has generated more revenues than rival Google Play despite the significantly greater market share of Android. The less fragmented nature of the iOS ecosystem, the closed-shop nature of the App Store, and integrated billing and payment options have all contributed, as has the fact that iPhone users tend to spend more than their Android counterparts who also have a greater selection of marketplaces to choose from.
However developers have long objected to the 30 per cent commission Apple takes from every sale and the fact there is no alternative marketplace. This means developers must accept these terms and the restrictions of the App Store if they want to sell their wares to iPhone users.
Ahead of WWDC 2020, Apple approved Basecamp’s ‘Hey’ email application but blocked an update because users were required to sign up and pay for the service outside of the confines of the Apple ecosystem – thereby denying Apple commission.
As a multi-platform application, Basecamp believed it was entitled to the same exemptions that have been applied to the likes of Netflix, Google and Salesforce. Eventually, Apple performed a U-turn after Hey Email started to offer a free, randomised email address that worked for 14 days.
More recently, Apple has entered into a feud with Fortnite developer Epic Games. The game was removed from the App Store after Epic offered a discount on in-game currency to users who made purchases outside of the application, again denying Apple commission.
Epic has since had its account terminated and is now suing Apple in a legal case that could have huge ramifications for the app economy.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.