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Apple’s $100 million settlement agreement “clarifies” App Store rules for developers, but doesn’t change much

Credit: Engadget

Apple has suggested a $100 million reimbursement to a class-action lawsuit representing US app developers as part of a proposed settlement. Apple is also “clarifying” its policies in the settlement agreement, stating that iOS developers can contact their consumers, with their permission, using information obtained inside their apps to notify them of payment choices outside the App Store.

The change is a departure from Apple’s anti-steering policy, which has been a source of contention between critics and Apple for years.

While the change may be significant for developers, it isn’t as significant as it appears. Apple changed its App Store Guidelines in June to allow developers to communicate with customers outside of their apps, but they weren’t allowed to contact users about alternate payment options using information obtained inside the app at the time — they’d have to figure out a different way to get their contact information.

If this proposed agreement is adopted, that restriction will be lifted, making it easier for developers to communicate with users.

Still, it’s not what many app developers have been asking for: a means to inform customers within their app that they don’t have to pay via Apple’s in-app payment mechanism, which carries a 30% 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.”

As part of the proposed settlement in Cameron et al v. Apple Inc, the company is making a number of other concessions, the most significant of which is a $100 million payout 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.” The “Small Developer Assistance Fund” has been chosen by Apple.

Although a website for eligible developers isn’t up and running yet (and may not be until the settlement is approved by a judge), court records illustrate how the money could be distributed.

The potential return is divided into tiers ranging from one penny to over $1 million, with developers receiving a minimum payment of between $250 and $30,000.

The amount will change depending on how many people file approved claims, with any monies remaining going to the nonprofit Girls Who Code.

Other considerations include:

  • A commitment to preserve the App Store Small Business Program, which lets developers earning less than $1 million per year to apply for a reduced 15% commission on their sales, in place for at least the next three years in its “current format.”
  • The App Store will be the subject of an annual transparency report from the firm. The report will contain “meaningful statistics about the app review process, such as the number of apps rejected for various 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,” according to Apple. The exact date of the first report’s release is unknown, but the corporation has committed to releasing it for at least three years.
  • Subscriptions, in-app purchases, and premium apps will all have over 500 price points available to developers. They’re now limited to less than 100, so the increase will allow developers to provide a more diverse range of costs.
  • Apple has stated that the present App Store Search system will be maintained for “at least the next three years.” Paul Haddad, a Tapbots developer, explains why this isn’t exactly what all developers want.

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