The change comes after Apple previously announced that it had agreed to a settlement with developers in a class-action lawsuit. In reality, that settlement did little other than provide $100 million to a fund that is supposed to go to developers. In reality, almost a third will go straight to the plaintiff’s lawyers.
Apple said one of the terms of the settlement was that it was clarifying that developers could communicate with their customers via email, to inform them of alternative payment options. That’s barely a concession for reasons I wrote about at the time
This, however, is an actual change that users will notice when it goes into effect in 2022. Even if it doesn’t affect the vast majority of apps, for the ones it does, it will improve the user experience significantly. Here’s how Apple described it in the release:
The update will allow developers of “reader” apps to include an in-app link to their website for users to set up or manage an account. While the agreement was made with the JFTC, Apple will apply this change globally to all reader apps on the store. Reader apps provide previously purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.
This means that Netflix and Spotify can now include a link to their website within their apps. It isn’t clear how much developers can say about why you might want to click that link. That seems like it could be important, and I think it’s curious that Apple was very careful to say that it is only allowing developers to “share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account.” For example, can a developer tell a user “click here to sign up?”
To be clear, this is about the least Apple could do to fix the most egregious of its guidelines. A better option would have been for developers to include a web view within their app for users to sign up or manage their accounts.
Apple is clearly not ready to go that far, and since Netflix and Spotify (and other reader apps) already don’t allow in-app subscriptions, this move doesn’t even cost Apple any potential revenue. Still, this is the first time Apple has done something to fix one of the very worst things about the user experience on the iPhone.
For years, if you downloaded Netflix, the only thing you see when you launch the app is a button that says “Sign In” below text that says: “Trying to join Netflix? You can’t sign up for Netflix in the app. We know it’s a hassle. After you’re a member, you can start watching in the app.”