The rules of the app are twisted to the point of absurdity
Apps have become a huge economy, but the rules governing them are almost impossible to understand.
Apple and Google have twisted their decade-old rules for their app stores like a pretzel to the point that they may no longer make sense. This has made buying digital products in apps convoluted.
An example: in theory, but not yet in reality, you can use your Amazon account to buy an e-book from the Kindle iPhone application. You cannot purchase an e-book in the Android version of the app. Until recently, Kindle purchases were effectively prohibited under Apple’s rules, but okay under Google’s rules. Now it’s the opposite.
Confusing? Yeah. Apple and Google wrote long and complicated guidelines for apps and frequently revised those rules to protect their own interests. (I’ve already noted that Apple’s enforcement rules are much longer than the US Constitution.)
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But buying other types of digital subscriptions can be completely different. If you buy a platinum subscription to the Tinder dating service in the iPhone app, you’re effectively signing up with Apple, and Tinder is on the sidelines.
Apple takes a portion of that membership fee forever. If you want to quit, tell Apple, not Tinder.
Buying a six-month subscription through the Tinder app costs some people $14.99 per month, but it’s $13.50 if purchased on the website. (The price difference is how Tinder partially recoups the up to 30% fee it pays Apple for every app purchase.) Oh, and paying to use dating apps may soon look more like pay for things in Patreon – but only in the Netherlands.
For now, paying for Tinder through its Android app is more like how Patreon works. But that’s only because Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, sued Google to stop the company from changing its rules.
I could bore you with details about why Apple makes a distinction between buying a Patreon membership and buying a Tinder membership. There’s a logic behind why you can buy a paperback copy of “1984” from Amazon’s Android app, but not the e-book edition, and why new Netflix subscribers could sign up from of its Android application, but can no longer do so. Or, somehow, I can’t. This is another pretzel twist.
It took me hours of phone calls and research to figure out all the details of the paragraphs you just read. If so many rules, exceptions, and explanations are needed to buy things from an app in 2022, maybe the logic of the app economy is illogical.
For years, some companies that build apps have insisted on how Google and especially Apple control many aspects of this economy. They both dictate which apps we can easily download through their app stores and when they directly manage the purchases we make through the apps.
If we use an app to buy things that exist in the real world, like an Uber ride or a meal kit subscription, those purchases bypass Apple and Google. The fight is about buying things we use digitally, like a piece of jewelry used in a smartphone app game or a subscription to a dating app.
The problem is that the distinctions that seemed reasonable when Apple created its app store in 2008 don’t necessarily fit the modern digital economy.
I’ve written before about YouTube video creators who don’t understand why Apple or Google are entitled to some of the money – potentially forever – that their fans give them through an app.
In the era of Zoom-everything, does it make sense to have different rules, as Apple has sought to have, for example, buy gym classes to take in person and those you take virtually at home? Why don’t apps like Facebook that make money from ads bring a portion of the revenue to Apple and Google, but those that sell digital subscriptions do?
And the rules of the app change often, creating more complexity.
This month, Google implemented tighter restrictions, so it needs to manage in-app purchases of more digital content and take a cut.
Again, there’s some meaning behind all of these pretzel twists. Apple and Google want to avoid letting major smartphone video games, the biggest money-makers in the app world, circumvent their regulations and fees. And they say they’re trying to address complaints that they have too much control or are a burden on small businesses.
But the more concessions Apple or Google make to appease angry governments and some angry developers but not others, the more arbitrary their app store logic can seem.
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