Apple Makes It Easier for Developers to Challenge App Store Decisions

Too little too late?

It’s official. Apple has updated its app review process, so developers can appeal decisions made by Apple and the App Store. The new process was originally announced at Apple’s World Worldwide Developers Conference in June, but is now live, according to an August 31 blog post on Apple’s developer website.

“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. And now, in addition to appealing decisions about whether an app violates guidelines, you can suggest changes to the guidelines,” said Apple. “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.”

Public battles with developers

In the meantime, Apple is involved in several very public battles with companies like Spotify, Basecamp, Epic Games and Facebook. The biggest issue is the 30% revenue share Apple charges developers the first year their apps are available in the App Store. After the first year, the revenue share drops to 15%.

The Verge says that the new appeals process likely came out of a recent disagreement with Basecamp, who has developed a new email service, Hey. Basecamp challenged the 30% revenue share, and while Basecamp and Apple were arguing about it, Apple would not allow Basecamp to fix any bugs or make updates to the software. Eventually, the two compromised.

Epic Games is among the newest developers going after Apple. Two weeks ago, Epic Games sued Apple for antitrust behavior, including banning its popular game Fortnite from the App Store for violating Apple’s terms of service. According to Epic Games, Apple imposes “anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices” on developers, requiring that all subscriptions and in-app purchases be made through the App Store, so Apple can take their 30% share. Epic Games is not asking for any compensation in the lawsuit, but rather wants Apple to allow fair competition by lightening up on its tightly-held app distribution and payment processing markets.

Apple refutes Epic Games’s claim:

“The App Store is designed to be a safe and trusted place for users and a great business opportunity for all developers. Epic has been one of the most successful developers on the App Store, growing into a multibillion dollar business that reaches millions of iOS customers around the world. We very much want to keep the company as part of the Apple Developer Program and their apps on the Store. The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. We won’t make an exception for Epic because we don’t think it’s right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers,” Apple says.

In addition to this issue, Apple is not allowing developers access to Epic Games’s graphics software, Unreal Engine, while the companies are in litigation. In a quick ruling, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers decided that Apple is not required to allow Epic Games’s Fortnite back into the App Store, because Epic Games violated terms of service, reports The Verge. However, the court ruled that Apple must allow Unreal Engine to be accessible to game developers. Essentially, Apple can’t hold Unreal Engine hostage while they duke it out with Epic Games.

Facebook has run into similar issues. Earlier this year, Facebook hosted a paid online event to help small businesses and other creators through the pandemic. According to Seeking Alpha, Facebook asked Apple to waive its standard 30% fee, but Apple said, “no.” Facebook wanted to share that information with users, but was told by Apple that developers were banned from sharing what Apple deemed “irrelevant” information.

Insider Take

On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, but it is something that should have happened a long time ago. Apple has long charged developers a 30% “Apple tax” and has held their apps hostage when they violated terms of service. It is up to the courts to decide what is fair and appropriate. However, as regulators take a closer look at the technology giant, we wonder if Apple isn’t making concessions as a pre-emptive measure rather than as a proactive one.