Apple's response to South Korea untenable

I’m as tired of debating the App Store as anyone. I’ve been making essentially the same arguments for 10 years, on this blog and on the podcast. But the news from South Korea adds a new wrinkle that is worth highlighting.

The spirit of any law forcing Apple to allow external payments for apps is clearly twofold: give developers more control over interacting with customers, and let developers avoid paying the 15% or 30% on transactions by handling payments outside the store. Apple and Google are trying to follow the letter of the law while missing the larger point completely:

Apple said it plans to provide an alternative payment system at a reduced service charge compared with the current 30 percent charge, as the tech giant turned in its compliance plans to the Korea Communications Commission (KCC).

Ignore for the moment whether this response is legal or fair. Let’s think through how this would work in practice. Apple is developing APIs so that when using an external payment, Apple is still notified about the external transaction so they can collect their “reduced” service charge.

But iOS developers are used to paying Apple $99/year, and then getting a check from Apple once a month with 70% of the sales through the App Store. The 30% (or 15%) is taken out automatically, just like 3% is taken out for Stripe transactions. Developers don’t have to think about it.

In this new world Apple imagines, developers will be collecting all of the sales into their own bank account, and then paying Apple the 11% or whatever Apple ends up demanding. There is a huge psychological difference between these approaches, just as there’s a difference between getting taxes taken out of your paycheck automatically and having to write a big check to the government.

If this goes through, it will only underscore how ridiculous the App Store tax is. Why do developers have to pay Apple a platform fee when we’ve never had to do that for macOS? What is the point of the $99/year program?

Apple wants iOS, the App Store, and their App Review team to be inseparable as a single platform. That’s not a technical reality. If they keep pushing this approach, they’ll only run up against more regulation and more distrust from the developer community.

Manton Reece @manton