For absolutely no reason, no reason at all, Microsoft dropped a blog today outlining 10 app store principles that “[build] on the ideas and work of the Coalition for App Fairness,” a group of developers and companies that banded together against Apple’s draconian App Store policies.
Just kidding. This blog post is Microsoft making a very strategically timed public statement of support for the growing movement for fairer app store policies. For context, earlier this week the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee dropped a whopping 450-page report, a significant portion of which skewered Apple (and Google) for “exert[ing] monopoly power in the mobile app store market.”
“For software developers, app stores have become a critical gateway to some of the world’s most popular digital platforms,” Rima Alaily, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel, writes in the blog. “We and others have raised questions and, at times expressed concerns about app stores on other digital platforms. However, we recognize that we should practice what we preach.”
The 10 principles Microsoft outlines are pretty much a 1:1 rewording of the 10 principles put forth by CAF, which includes companies like Tile, Epic Games, and Spotify. In summary, Microsoft is basically promising not to block access to its app store for arbitrary reasons, like business models or in-app payments, or give preferential treatment to its own apps. It’s also promising to communicate transparently with developers about rules, policies, marketing, and any potential disputes.
“We know that regulators and policymakers are reviewing these issues and considering legal reforms to promote competition and innovation in digital markets,” Alaily writes. “We think the CAF principles, and our implementation of them, can serve as productive examples.”
This is yet another example of the showmanship that has major tech companies lashing out against Apple’s legitimately toxic App Store policies, especially the 30% commission Apple demands from all in-app transactions. The fallout between Apple and Epic Games has been well publicized, as has Apple’s beefs with Spotify, Tile, Basecamp, and even news publishers. As Alaily points out in the blog, Microsoft is also an app developer that has “been frustrated at times by other app stores that require [it] to sell services in [its] apps” even if users don’t want them or if Microsoft can’t turn a profit. Specifically speaking, Microsoft pulled its Project xCloud off iOS, likely because of Apple’s stringent App Store guidelines.
Microsoft has a point, and some cred to back it up. According to the Washington Post, last year Microsoft lowered its app store commissions to as low as 5%—which is much more generous than the 30% Apple and Google take. However, there are some things to parse beyond the puffery of “Look at us, at least we’re not jerks like Apple and Google.” For starters, Microsoft’s app store isn’t quite as big as Apple’s or Google’s. Microsoft also doesn’t really have to do anything to implement these principles; Windows 10 is already open source, and its app store isn’t the primary way most Windows users download new programs. You can also already download alternative app stores like Steam and Epic.
Microsoft also isn’t applying these principles to its Xbox consoles. In the blog, Alaily reasons that game consoles have a different business model, and that console makers sink a lot of money into making hardware that is then sold below or at cost to “create a market that game developers and publishers can benefit from.” It’s not to say Microsoft has completely eschewed fairer principles for game consoles, just that it has “more work to do to establish the right set of principles.”
The lines are being drawn in the app store debate. Apple, obviously, will continue to say it’s done nothing wrong and does not engage in anticompetitive practices. Meanwhile, Google recently announced it was going to take a more Apple-like approach to the Play Store. Ya boy Microsoft, however, has very clearly thrown its lot with the companies attempting to knock Apple and Google down a peg. You truly do love to see it.