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Apple’s latest defense of the App Store just shows how hard it is to compete with Apple

Apple’s latest defense of the App Store just shows how hard it is to compete with Apple


Apple launched a new website as a response to critics like Spotify

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As it faces both an antitrust lawsuit with huge implications and a formal EU investigation over its App Store tactics, Apple is today publicly defending itself against Spotify and other critics of the company’s massively successful software storefront.

“Today, the App Store is more vibrant and innovative than ever, offering equal opportunities to developers to deliver their apps and services across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch,” reads a new page at Apple’s website titled “App Store — Principles and Practices.” “We’re proud of the store we’ve built and the way we’ve built it.”

Apple says it has paid out $120 billion to App Store developers worldwide since the platform launched, and the company again touts the quick approval process and efficient work of its app review team, which now “represents 81 languages across three time zones.” Sixty percent of the approximately 100,000 apps and app updates reviewed each week are approved, with rejections mostly stemming from “minor bugs, followed by privacy concerns.” Apple notes that anyone who feels that they were unjustly rejected can have their situation looked at by the App Store Review Board.

But the most interesting parts of this new site relate to competition. In one section, Apple goes over the core, built-in apps on iOS and lists the many popular third-party options that are available from the App Store in each category as alternatives.

Image: Apple

The company fails to mention that none of these apps can be chosen as the default messaging app, maps service, email client, web browser, or music player. That limitation isn’t always a deal-breaker — just ask WhatsApp, which is more popular than iMessage in many countries — but it still gives Apple’s services an advantage. Apple also claims that “developers have lots of choices for distributing their apps — from other app stores to smart TVs to gaming consoles. Not to mention the open internet, which Apple supports with Safari, and our customers regularly use with web apps like Instagram and Netflix.”

The message here seems to be that if companies don’t like Apple’s policies, they’ve got other options. Go find your riches on Android or make a Roku app. But developers have a huge financial incentive to be in the App Store. It’s often been reported that iOS users spend more money on apps than people with Android phones, and Apple leans on that advantage. “Even though other stores have more users and more app downloads, the App Store earns more money for developers,” the company notes. So ignoring the App Store isn’t exactly practical for businesses that want to make a lot of money. As for the open web, how often are you using Instagram or Netflix in the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad instead of the app itself? On desktop, maybe, but Apple is about to let developers bring their iPad apps to the Mac, and how do you think you’ll be watching Netflix once that happens?

Apple also lists the various types of apps in the store, from completely free to paid to the many with in-app purchases or monthly subscriptions. You might not know that some of the essential apps you use every day are classified as “reader” apps because those companies have decided against giving Apple a cut of their in-app purchases and subscriptions. (Apple takes a 30 percent cut of subscriptions for the first year a customer is signed up and 15 percent for each year thereafter.)

This category includes Amazon Kindle, Netflix, and Spotify. Apple says customers of these services “enjoy access to that content inside the app on their Apple devices” and that “developers receive all of the revenue they generate from bringing the customer to the app.”

Image: Apple

But here, again, Apple ignores a major gripe that developers have been raising for years: if an app doesn’t use Apple’s in-app purchase system, its developers are forbidden from telling their customers where and how they can pay outside of the App Store or providing a convenient link. “Not only is Netflix not allowed to link to their website, they can’t even tell the user they need to go to to sign up,” John Gruber wrote back in January when Netflix stopped letting new customers subscribe through its iOS app. “Apple can make the rules — it’s their platform. But it’s just wrong that one of the rules is that apps aren’t allowed to explain the rules to users.”

Apple’s new site puts a big spotlight on the App Store’s unrivaled success and reach, but in some ways, it also brings more attention to how difficult it can be to compete against Apple.