On Spotify’s Complaints About the App Store

From Spotify’s 5-point “Time to Play Fair” complaint against Apple:

Apple requires that certain apps pay a 30% fee for use of their in-app purchase system (IAP) — as is their prerogative. However, the reality is that the rules are not applied evenly across the board. Does Uber pay it? No. Deliveroo? No. Does Apple Music pay it? No. So Apple gives the advantage to its own services.

I think Spotify (along with any other company selling digital content or subscriptions) has a case. But they’re being disingenuous comparing themselves to Uber and Deliveroo. If it’s a physical product or service, there’s never been a requirement to use Apple’s IAP. Amazon’s app sells physical goods without paying a penny to Apple, but they don’t sell e-books or music or movies because those purchases would be subject to Apple’s “use our IAP and pay us 30 percent” rule.

Apple hasn’t singled out Spotify. They’ve singled out the categories of digital content and subscriptions. They’re in the same boat as Netflix.

If users want to upgrade from our Free service to Premium, great, we’d love to have them! But Apple bars us from offering that option in our app, instead, forcing users to take multiple steps of going to a browser or desktop. Some of our users don’t even have a desktop. And to top it off, we can’t even tell them that or point them in the right direction. You have to figure it out all on your own.

The “we can’t even tell them that or point them in the right direction” is a sticking point for me — as I wrote when Netflix removed in-app subscriptions a few months ago. And this is something that was allowed in the early days of the App Store — the Kindle app used to kick you over to Safari to buy books, for example.

What Apple should do is allow apps that opt out of IAP to explain that users need to subscribe or make purchases using a web browser, and allow them to link to their website from within the app (even if they’d be required to open that link in Safari, as opposed to an in-app web view).

Everything else in Spotify’s list of complaints seems like noise to me, and distracts from the central issues — which happen to be the issues where Spotify should be on the strongest legal footing.

Apple published a detailed response to Spotify’s complaints today. It’s a cogent read and their points are all well-made — but Apple conspicuously avoids addressing the fact that apps like Spotify aren’t even allowed to tell users how to subscribe using a web browser. Apple executives should take a hard look at why they chose not to defend that policy.