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Apple allows external payment links in the US with some really big caveats

There are big warning screens, developers could get audited, and Apple still keeps 27% commission.
By
January 17, 2024
TL;DR
  • To comply with the Epic vs Apple ruling, Apple has revised its App Store rules in the US to allow alternative payment systems.
  • However, the company is placing plenty of additional burdens on developers opting for it, like continuing to charge a 27% commission, keeping a right to audit the developers’ accounting, and even using a large “scare screen.”

Apple has been involved in a lengthy legal battle with Fortnite‘s creator Epic Games, and the case finally concluded when the Court prohibited Apple from further forbidding developers to offer third-party payment options within their apps. Apple has now changed its anti-steering rules in the US to allow developers to link to alternative payment systems within apps. But these changes come with their share of malicious compliance.

Apple has updated its App Store guidelines in the US to fall in line with the court ruling. App developers distributing through the Apple App Store in the US can now link to alternative payment methods, but they also need to offer purchases through Apple’s in-app purchase system alongside. This way, developers cannot wholly bypass Apple as they must incorporate Apple’s system anyway.

They also need to apply for an entitlement that lets them provide an external link. The entitlement can be used only in the iOS and iPadOS App Store in the US, while other regions cannot include buttons, external links, or other calls to action.

As 9to5Mac notes, Apple will continue to charge a commission, even on purchases made through alternative payment platforms. This commission will be 27% for all purchases made through external links and 12% if the developer is part of the App Store Small Business Program. The commission will apply to “purchases made within seven days after a user taps on an External Purchase Link and continues from the system disclosure sheet to an external website.” Apple ordinarily takes a 30% and 15% commission if the developer sticks to Apple’s in-app purchase system.

To make matters worse, Apple will require developers to provide accounting of qualifying out-of-app purchases and remit the appropriate commission to Apple. Apple says it has a “right to audit developer’s accounting to ensure compliance with their commission obligations and to charge interest and offset payments.”

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney also highlighted the big “scare screen” that pops up when a user chooses an alternative payment option.

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Tim Sweeney on X

Because of this and other issues with Apple’s compliance, Epic will contest this move in court.

It’s pretty apparent that Apple is resorting to malicious compliance. The third-party payment system in this form offers no real advantage to a developer, and it does not appear to be a valid choice because of the additional burdens it will place on them for benefits that may or may not accrue. How the court adjudicates upon Apple’s compliance remains to be seen.