The Unyielding App Store Game

Apple

Apple has an established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers to offer a variety of customer benefits — including integration with the Apple TV app, AirPlay 2 support, tvOS apps, universal search, Siri support and, where applicable, single or zero sign-on. On qualifying premium video entertainment apps such as Prime Video, Altice One and Canal+, customers have the option to buy or rent movies and TV shows using the payment method tied to their existing video subscription.

At first glance, this looked like a loosening of App Store restrictions and a concession to the increasing focus on big tech firms and the monopolistic platforms that they control. The press statement is masterfully worded in the way that it diverts attention. If you skim it, it sounds like Apple is offering a financial incentive in exchange for supporting Apple’s latest system technologies like AirPlay 2 and TV app integration. I don’t read it that way at all.

If you read it carefully, the statement does not say what the requirements are to “qualify”. I think that’s because they aren’t any; Apple picks who can participate in accordance with what best suits Apple’s business. Those aforementioned features are the benefits of joining the program, not the entrance requirements. The important takeaway is that Apple decides who gets invited.

If you are blessed and get in, then you can take advantage of APIs that any normal developer cannot (such as integration with the TV app and universal search) and reap the financial benefits of not being forced to use In-App Purchase for existing customers.

So long as Apple gets to choose who joins the private club, they can never lose out as a result of this arrangement. As an upstart and fledgling newcomer, you must struggle to survive in the ecosystem like you always have, taking that 30% cut as a cost of business. If you do happen to break out from the crowd, and become so successful that your business can continue without offering a convenient way to buy stuff inside the application itself, Apple might consider proffering a deal. In that latter case, Apple is making zero incremental revenue from that app. If Apple can arrive at a partnership with the developer, then Apple starts monetising those customers once again. In every case, Apple makes more money than they did before.

These deals are a positive outcome from the perspective of an end-user. The inconveniences of being kicked out to Safari to rent something from Amazon Prime have now been removed. However, it does nothing to make the App Store a fairer marketplace. If anything, it has the opposite effect. The App Store becomes more tilted towards favouring the select few, with Apple at the head of the table. I fully expect that this will expand beyond so-called ‘video entertainment providers’. This is an opening of the floodgates to Apple cutting special deals across all categories of the App Store. As ever, Apple controls how the cards are dealt and the game is always stacked in Apple’s favour.