Technology

The rules of the App are distorted to absurdity

Apps have become a huge economy, but the rules that govern them are almost incomprehensible.

Apple and Google have distorted decades-old rules for their app store like pretzel to the point where they may no longer make sense. This confuses the purchase of digital objects in apps as a heck.

One example: in theory, though not yet in reality, you can use your Amazon account to purchase an e-book from the Kindle iPhone app. You can not purchase e-books in the Android version of the app. Until recently, buying a Kindle was not effective under Apple’s rules but adjusted under Google. Now it’s the opposite.

Confused? Yes. Apple and Google have written long, confusing guidelines for apps and have updated those rules frequently to protect their own interests. (I noticed before that the Apple app rules are longer than the US Constitution.)

Want more zaniness? Today, it is easy to pay for podcasts on Patreon’s iPhone app. Apple stands aside and allows Patreon to retrieve your personal information and credit card details.

But buying other types of digital subscriptions can be completely different. If you buy a platinum membership with the Tinder dating service in the iPhone app, you are effectively signing up with Apple, and Tinder is on the sidelines.

Apple takes half of that subscription forever. If you want to get out, you have to tell Apple, not Tinder.

Purchasing a six-month membership through the Tinder app costs some $ 14.99 per month, but it is $ 13.50 if purchased from the site. (The price difference is Tinder’s way of paying back up to 30 percent of the fees it pays Apple for each app purchase.) Oh, and paying for a dating app soon may work more like paying for a product in Patreon – but only in the Netherlands.

For now, paying for Tinder through its Android app is like how Patreon works. But just because Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, sued Google to stop the company from changing its rules.

{Deep breathing.}

I can bore you with details of why Apple made the difference between buying a subscription from Patreon and buying one from Tinder. There is a reason behind why you can buy a copy of “1984” from Amazon’s Android app but not the e-book version, and why new Netflix subscribers can sign up from its Android app but not now. Or, kind of can not. It’s another pretzel twist.

It takes hours of phone calls and sleuthing to find all the details in a paragraph you just read. If so many rules, exceptions and explanations are needed to buy things from the app in 2022, perhaps the reason for the app economy is irrational.

For years, some app-making companies have been tense about how Google, and especially Apple, controls many aspects of this economy. They both determine which apps we can easily download through their app store and when they handle the purchases we make through the app directly.

If we use apps to buy things that exist in the real world, such as Uber rides or meal subscriptions, those purchases go through Apple and Google. The battle is beyond buying things we use digitally, such as baskets used in games, smartphones or dating apps.

The problem is that the differences that seem plausible when Apple created its app store page in 2008 are not necessarily compatible with the modern digital economy.

I’ve written before about YouTube video creators who can’t figure out why Apple or Google are entitled to a lump sum – maybe forever – that their fans pay through the app.

In the Zoom-everything era, does it mean that there are different rules, as Apple seeks to have, for, say, to buy a gym to take in people and who you take virtually at home? Why is an app like Facebook that does not make money from ads that send revenue to Apple and Google, but who sells digital subscriptions?

And app rules often change, creating more complexity.

This month, Google imposed stricter restrictions, so it has to deal with more digital purchases in the app and cut them out.

Again, there is some feeling behind all of these pretzel twists. Apple and Google want to avoid letting the video game, the biggest smartphone, the biggest money maker in the app world, break their rules and fees. And they say they try to respond to complaints that they have too much control or that they are a small business burden.

But the many concessions that Apple or Google make to mollify angry governments and some angry developers but not others, the reason for their very arbitrary app store can seem.


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