Apple pioneered the modern mobile application model, and it’s been reluctant to make changes that don’t directly boost its bottom line. This has led to a spate of litigation with developers, most of which is still winding its way through the courts. While the Epic case is still ongoing, Apple has worked out a settlement on a class action filed by developers, pledging to make some changes to the App Store model. They are very minor changes, though, which serves as a reminder of how little power developers have in the relationship.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in 219 by two developers who accused Apple of abusing its monopoly over iOS software. Rather than take the case before a judge while also fighting Epic on another front, Apple and the plaintiffs have reached a proposed settlement, which the court can choose to accept or reject.
According to the filing, Apple has pledged to set up a fund that will make payments to small and medium developers. The total payout will be $100 million, and roughly 67,000 devs will be eligible. Payments could go as high as $30,000 for devs that made over $1 million in calendar years 2015 through 2021. Almost all members of the class would get between $250 and $2,000, though.
More interestingly, Apple promises it will amend its rules to clarify that developers can offer subscriptions outside the App Store. There have been several instances where Apple suspended or rejected an app based on the developer pushing subscriptions outside of the App Store, which circumvents Apple’s 30 percent cut. This was never technically against the rules, but Apple will now codify this right in its developer agreement. Apple also says it will ensure that its App Store search will rely on objective signals like downloads, star ratings, text relevance, and user behavior. However, it won’t have to change anything about search for the next three years.
At the end of the day, these are pretty minor changes. The Coalition for App Fairness, a group backed by Epic, Basecamp, and others, calls the settlement a sham. “This offer does nothing to address the structural, foundational problems facing all developers, large and small, undermining innovation and competition in the app ecosystem,” the group said in a statement. Regardless of whether this move earns Apple some goodwill, legislators are increasingly looking at laws to rein in Apple that could force it to allow third-party app stores. Apple wants to avoid that at all costs.
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