As part of a proposed agreement to resolve a class action lawsuit from US app developers which includes a $100 million payout from Apple, the company also says iOS developers will finally be able to contact their customers, with permission, using information collected inside their apps. The change is a shift to the anti-steering policy that has been a big point of contention between Apple and its critics for years.
The change, while potentially important for developers, isn’t quite as significant as it may seem. In an update to the App Store Guidelines in June, Apple already changed its rules to allow developers to communicate with customers outside of their apps, but at that time, they weren’t allowed to contact users using information obtained inside the app — they would have had to figure out how to obtain their contact info another way. If this proposed agreement is approved, that restriction would no longer be in place, which should make it easier for developers to reach out to users. Still, it’s not what many developers had been asking for: a way to let users know, inside their app, that they don’t have to pay using Apple’s in-app payment system and incur its up-to-30-percent toll.
Apple’s press release spins the entire settlement as a generous offer to developers, including the anti-steering change: “To give developers even more flexibility to reach their customers, Apple is also clarifying that developers can use communications, such as email, to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app,” the company writes. “As always, developers will not pay Apple a commission on any purchases taking place outside of their app or the App Store. Users must consent to the communication and have the right to opt out.”
The company is also making a number of other concessions as part of the proposed agreement for Cameron et al v. Apple Inc, the big one being a payout of $100 million to small developers who earned $1 million or less “for all of their apps in every calendar year in which the developers had an account between June 4, 2015, and April 26, 2021.” Apple has decided to name this the “Small Developer Assistance Fund.”
Other points include:
- A promise to keep the App Store Small Business Program, which allows developers who earn less than $1 million in a year to apply for a reduced 15 percent commission from their sales, in place in its “current structure” for at least the next three years.
- The company will publish an annual transparency report about the App Store. Apple says the report will include “meaningful statistics about the app review process, including the number of apps rejected for different reasons, the number of customer and developer accounts deactivated, objective data regarding search queries and results, and the number of apps removed from the App Store.” It’s unclear when the first report will be released, but the company is committing to releasing the report for at least three years.
- Developers will be able to set more than 500 price points for subscriptions, in-app purchases, and paid apps. Right now, they’re limited to fewer than 100, so the jump will allow developers to offer a wider range of prices.
- Apple is committing to keep the current App Store Search system in place “for at least the next three years.” Tapbots developer Paul Haddad points out why that’s not necessarily what all developers want.
- The company will add an unspecified amount and type of additional information about the app appeals process to the App Review website to “help developers understand how the appeals process works.”
The proposed changes come on the heels of another big App Store change announced Thursday: Apple announced that it will take a 15 percent cut of publishers’ in-app purchases and subscriptions if they join Apple News instead of 30 percent.
Update August 26th, 9:46 PM ET: Clarified how, specifically, the anti-steering rule has changed from previously, and other tweaks.