The Rallying Cry Against Apple's App Store Policies is Getting Louder

The Apple logo is seen on the window of the newly opened company store in Bangkok on Sept. 23.
The Apple logo is seen on the window of the newly opened company store in Bangkok on Sept. 23.
Photo: Mladen Antoniv/AFP (Getty Images)

Several developers and organizations have banded together to lead a campaign against Apple’s App Store policies. Announced today, the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) is a new nonprofit dedicated to fighting for fair, competitive practices across the app ecosystem. The CAF’s founding members include Epic Games, Basecamp, European Publishers Council, Tile, Spotify, and several others who have publicly and vocally denounced Apple’s practices in recent months.

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“As enforcers, regulators, and legislators around the world investigate Apple for its anti-competitive behavior, The Coalition for App Fairness will be the voice of app and game developers in the effort to protect consumer choice and create a level playing field for all,” Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s head of global affairs and chief legal officer, said in the press release announcing the launch.

On its website, the CAF highlights its three key issues with Apple’s App Store policies: anti-competitive policies, the 30% “Apple Tax”—the revenue cut Apple takes from sales of apps and in-app purchases—and a lack of consumer freedom. The organization says Apple uses its control of the iOS operating system to “favor itself by controlling the products and features that are available to consumers.” The CAF cites a CNBC article that reports Apple made $15 billion in revenue in 2019 just from its 30% commission, arguing that it takes too much money from app developers. The CAF also claims that Apple users have less choice than consumers outside of Apple’s ecosystem because iPhone apps are only available via the App Store. This differs from Apple’s policies in regards to Macs, because you can install apps outside of the Mac App Store.

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Additionally, the CAF created 10 App Store Principles, outlining what its founding members believe will create a fair app ecosystem for developers and consumers alike. Some of those points include: “No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively,” and, “No app store owner or its platform should engage in self-preferencing its own apps or services.”

The CAF says it welcomes “companies of any size, in any industry who are committed to protecting consumer choice, fostering competition, and creating a level playing field for all app and game developers globally.”

Several of the founding members are companies that have recently battled Apple over its App Store policies. For instance, Apple had blocked Basecamp from releasing an update to its subscription-based email app, Hey, and threatened to remove the app from its store entirely if it continued to offer users a way to pay for subscriptions outside of the app. According to Apple’s App Store guidelines, this is a big no-no because it completely bypasses Apple’s in-app payment system, which means Apple doesn’t get a 30% cut of the transactions.

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Spotify has also been a long-time critic of Apple’s policies, especially the 30% tax, since that portion of all its monthly subscriptions goes to Apple. When the company filed an antitrust suit against Apple with the European Commission in 2019, CEO Daniel Ek claimed the 30% commission forced Spotify to raise prices for iOS subscribers above $10 per month, which gave Apple an unfair advantage since it was launching a competing service at the lower price point. (Apple, of course, does not charge itself a 30% fee.)

Tile is embattled in an antitrust suit against Apple in both the U.S. and Europe, claiming that Apple’s anti-competitive practices give different levels of iOS access to Tile and Apple’s own rumored-but-unreleased competing tracker product, AirTags, which is expected to be part of Apple’s Find My app. According to Tile’s congressional testimony, its app can be deleted from iOS, while Apple’s own app can’t. Tile’s settings are buried in the Settings app while Find My gets set up when a user activates their device for the first time.

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“If Apple chooses to compete with developers on its platform, it should do so according to the same rules,” said Tile VP and General Counsel Kirsten Daru said in CAF’s press release.

And Epic Games....well, who can forget the juicy courtroom drama taking place between Epic and Apple right now? The Fortnite maker purposefully violated Apple’s App Store policies in protest against its 30% commission, and even made a callback to a 1984 Apple commercial in protest.

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It’s worth noting that in May 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that iPhone owners can sue Apple for monopolistic practices. The original case, Pepper v. Apple Inc., started in 2011, when it was more common to pay outright for individual apps. The plaintiff in that case argued that multiple app marketplaces or other ways to install apps would make iPhone apps cheaper, therefore more consumer-friendly.

Apple and Epic Games are due back in court on Sept. 28. There’s currently a temporary restraining order preventing Apple from booting Epic’s Unreal Engine from the App Store, which Apple is still seeking the right to do. If a judge rules that Apple is allowed to give Unreal Engine the boot like it did Fortnite, there could be consequences for game developers and filmmakers who rely on Unreal Engine and Apple’s products to create their projects—including developers that have games on Apple Arcade.

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Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

It’s interesting that it doesn’t seem to mention Google at all. Apple’s 30% isn’t fair but Google’s is? I’d guess Google is tickled about this. But I’d also guess that the coalition of “companies that don’t want to build their own ecosystem” would only be successful if they named Google as well.

They need to be thinking about taking down the duopoly, not Apple.  

Side weirdness: If you text search the site (i.e. “google site:appfairness.org”), you’ll find references to Android. Which seems right. But it you just load the site and ctrl-f, I couldn’t find any mentions of Google.  Not sure why.