Developers Team Up Against App Store Monopoly

image credit: Coalition for App Fairness

published by Chand Bellur – September 25, 2020 at 3:09 p.m.

  • A consortium of app developers, including Epic Games, Spotify, and Tile, recently formed the Coalition for App Fairness to address Apple’s anti-competitive and exploitative practices.
  • Consumers may benefit from less expensive apps and services if developers can opt out of the App Store.

The App Store: Walled Garden or City Under Seige?

Imagine purchasing a new car, only to find out that you must buy gasoline solely from Chevron. A supposed security feature, designed to protect you, will only unlock the gas cap if you’re in front of a Chevron pump.

While this scenario may seem absurd, many of us put up with these restrictions for the sake of convenience. If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you can only download apps from the App Store.

Unlike any other consumer computing device, software for select Apple devices must originate from the App Store. You’re forbidden from downloading and installing apps over the Web, unlike any other modern computing device.

Apple’s own Macintosh line of computers can still run software downloaded from the Web. It remains to be seen if Apple will restrict macOS users to the App Store with future operating system updates.

Apple’s Walled Garden is now akin to a city under siege. If you don’t get out much, you won’t think anything’s wrong until the situation reaches a breaking point. The fact that Fortnite, one of the most popular games on the planet, cannot be installed on an iOS or iPadOS device, demonstrates that Apple’s monopoly drastically limits consumer choice. The battle between Apple and developers is reaching its brink.

Developers Form Coalition for App Fairness to Combat App Store Monopoly

Allegations of exploitation and anti-competitive behavior mount against Apple, as their business practices become more predatory. New iOS 14 features make it harder for third-party developers to keep customers, as Apple’s copycat apps woo them away while its operating system impedes competitors. With full control over App Store content, developers must either fork over 15% to 30% of their revenues or face removal.

CEO Tim Cook claims that all developers must comply with App Store policies. However, it’s well known that Netflix and Facebook have special deals with the Cupertino tech giant. Some third parties can sell subscriptions outside of the App Store, while others are face removal for doing the same. It’s an inconsistent policy.

The battle against Apple’s monopoly power has raged for months, resulting in the recent formation of the Coalition for App Fairness. Their mission is to reform Apple and no other corporation. As Apple’s respect for developers and customers erodes in favor of shareholders, resistance and reform seem inevitable.

The Coalition for App Fairness’ Demands

The coalition’s mission statement makes it clear that the group seeks to level the playing field. Apple is abusing monopoly power to the detriment of consumers and third-party developers alike.

The group outlines a clear set of guidelines, regulations, and values known as “App Store Principles”:

  1. No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively, or to use ancillary services of the app store owner, including payment systems, or to accept other supplementary obligations in order to have access to the app store.
  2. No developer should be blocked from the platform or discriminated against based on a developer’s business model, how it delivers content and services, or whether it competes in any way with the app store owner.
  3. Every developer should have timely access to the same interoperability interfaces and technical information as the app store owner makes available to its own developers.
  4. Every developer should always have access to app stores as long as its app meets fair, objective and nondiscriminatory standards for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety.
  5. A developer’s data should not be used to compete with the developer.
  6. Every developer should always have the right to communicate directly with its users through its app for legitimate business purposes.
  7. No app store owner or its platform should engage in self-preferencing its own apps or services, or interfere with users’ choice of preferences or defaults.
  8. No developer should be required to pay unfair, unreasonable or discriminatory fees or revenue shares, nor be required to sell within its app anything it doesn’t wish to sell, as a condition to gain access to the app store.
  9. No app store owner should prohibit third parties from offering competing app stores on the app store owner’s platform, or discourage developers or consumers from using them.
  10. All app stores will be transparent about their rules and policies and opportunities for promotion and marketing, apply these consistently and objectively, provide notice of changes, and make available a quick, simple and fair process to resolve disputes.

While the above principles all seem fair, reasonable, and rational, they’re all counter to Apple’s way of conducting business.

How Apple Can Get Away With Monopoly Abuse

Back in the 90s, Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with Windows. For this and various other reasons, the company faced harsh anti-trust penalties. Apple is abusing its power far more than Microsoft ever did; however, they’ve successfully eluded reform.

It’s unclear why Apple’s blatant anti-competitive tactics haven’t been reigned in yet. For the most part, there’s a lack of political will amongst politicians and the public alike.

In general, politics has moved to the right over the past few decades. Corporations like AT&T faced disintegration in the 1980s. Microsoft had their wings clipped in the 90s. Today, however, there’s little political will to address monopolies and anti-competitive behavior. 

Many believe Apple should be able to run their business as they see fit. Many consumers and politicians alike are under the spell of objectivism, a particular view of capitalism where industrialists can do no wrong.

Unfortunately, although a corporation can rise to power by creating excellent products in a free market, it can also abuse this power and limit market choice. It almost always happens. By stealing from others and shutting them out, Apple engages in predatory behavior. The company abuses its App Store monopoly to extract excessive profit “sharing” from third-party developers.

It’s only a matter of time until Apple’s App Store monopoly comes to an end. While it’s unlikely the company will abide by the coalition’s app fairness principles, they may settle and allow sideloading apps from the Web.

Although loading apps through the Web isn’t as convenient as using an app store, it’s not difficult either. I was easily able to download Fortnite on my new Android smartphone. For those who find this challenging, the App Store may have you covered in the future. For now, however, you cannot install Fortnite on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

If iOS and iPadOS devices open up to Web-installed apps, developers will most likely continue distributing software in the App Store, along with discounted offerings on the Web. Consumers and developers will be better off, but Apple may have to innovate rather than resort to robber baron tactics to grow revenues. That would be better for consumers and Apple alike.

Maybe instead of monopolizing technology and dragging it down, Apple could create a new, breakthrough, must-have device that would inspire a whole generation of third-party developers. It’s not as easy as playing monopoly, but it would make the world a better place.

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