The dominos keep falling. Thanks to a Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) ruling, Apple will now allow so-called “reader apps” to have in-app links to the developer’s websites.
“The focus of the App Store is always to create a safe and secure experience for users, while helping them find and use great apps on the devices they love,” Apple Fellow Phil Schiller said of the ruling. “We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we’ve done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up and manage their apps and services, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust.”
Apple defines “reader apps” as those apps that do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase, like Netflix (videos) and Spotify (music). Curiously, Amazon’s Kindle app is included in this category as well, but that’s because Amazon specifically doesn’t offer its content—ebooks, digital publications, and other content—for sale inside the app on Apple’s platforms so it can avoid the 30 percent Apple tax.
For fans of Xbox, this should mean that Xbox Cloud Gaming can now appear on Apple’s platforms since that Microsoft service is just like Netflix or Spotify, but for games instead of videos or music. Apple infamously blocked Microsoft from offering Xbox Cloud Gaming in the App Store because it wanted a cut of each streamed game, which was and is nonsensical since Microsoft, like other so-called “reader apps,” does not charge for individual pieces of content.
As some Apple critics have correctly pointed out, this is in some ways a minor concession on Apple’s part because it is not giving up any revenues: These “reader apps” charge for subscriptions, not individual pieces of content, so there’s no real in-app purchase (IAP) happening that Apple can get its greedy hands around. But as with other recent changes, it’s still a positive step in the right direction.
And there will be more steps. In the wake of South Korea’s passing of a law requiring Apple and Google to let developers choose third-party payment systems, the European Union announced that it was happy about the change and would make a similar requirement soon. And it’s not alone.
“This South Korean bill goes in the right direction, and I am happy that it’s not only the European Union that is looking into this systematic problem and trying to resolve it systematically,” European Parliament vice president Marcel Kolaja said this week, noting that Apple’s 30 percent vig is “unacceptable.” As I’ve been saying as well, Kolaja said that it’s a good start but “only a piece of the puzzle.”
Also, India is now investigating Apple for the IAP issue, and it is likely to follow in the steps of other regulatory bodies and charge the firm for abusing its dominant market power.