Apple needs developers for the Vision Pro
Last week saw Apple's biggest new product launch in years, but it wasn't all good news.
Last week, the Supreme Court refused to consider Apple and Epic's appeals in their fight over the iPhone maker's control over the App Store. That means that, for now, Apple does not have to allow third-party app stores or alternative payment systems within its App Store, but will have to allow developers to let customers know that there are other ways to sign up for their service or buy their digital goods.
On Tuesday, Apple responded by updating its Developer Agreement, making it clear that even if developers decide to bypass Apple's in-app payment system, the world's wealthiest company still plans to collect its commission--27 percent (or 12 percent for developers in its small business program), to be exact. Not only that, it also intends to collect that fee if a user makes a purchase within seven days of clicking on a link to a developer's website.
From the updated agreement:
Apple is charging a commission on digital purchases initiated within seven days from link out, as described below. This will not capture all transactions that Apple has facilitated through the App Store, but is a reasonable means to account for the substantial value Apple provides developers, including in facilitating linked transactions.
Apple's commission will be 27% on proceeds you earn from sales ("transactions") to the user for digital goods or services on your website after a link out (i.e., they tap "Continue" on the system disclosure sheet), provided that the sale was initiated within seven days and the digital goods or services can be used in an app. This includes (a) any applicable taxes and (b) any adjustments for refunds, reversals and chargebacks. For auto-renewing subscriptions, (i) a sale initiated, including with a free trial or offer, within seven days after a link out is a transaction; and (ii) each subsequent auto-renewal after the subscription is initiated is also a transaction.
This is definitely one of those things that, when you read about it, makes you think, "They're really doing what?" Then, you remember that this is Apple, a company that will defend--at almost any cost--its ability to collect 30 percent of everything that happens on the iPhone. It really isn't that surprising at all.
It's also worth mentioning that Apple is absolutely within its rights to do this. It's also within the law. The judge in the Epic versus Apple case made it clear the company was entitled to charge for the use of its intellectual property. Since it didn't say what amount was reasonable, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Apple isn't going to try to collect as much as it could from developers who chose to use their own payment methods.
Oh, and just because you decide you want to add a link to your own payment option, you still have to offer Apple's in-app payment system as an option.
"Your app must offer in-app purchases in accordance with the Developer Program License Agreement and App Store Review Guidelines, and may not discourage end-users from making in-app purchases," the agreement says. There is also a screen that pops up to let users know they are leaving the safety of Apple's system and are at the mercy of the developer when they make a transaction.
Finally, developers must submit a monthly report with their transactions. "If you adopt this entitlement, you will be required to provide transaction reports within 15 calendar days following the end of each calendar month," the agreement says. You'll also have to allow Apple to audit those reports to verify the "accuracy of your record of digital transactions, ensuring the appropriate commission has been paid to Apple."
The thing is, it shouldn't do this. It's one of the most basic rules of business and, well, common decency: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. In this case, it seems pretty clear that Apple is missing some pretty important points.
Look, I understand that being the most valuable company on earth means that you see things differently from the rest of us. I also understand that Apple has very strong beliefs about the App Store. But there are two specific reasons Apple shouldn't do this.
The first is that developers are not its enemy. They just aren't. Yes, Apple created a platform that has generated billions of dollars of value for developers, but those developers create incredible value for Apple. Of the 25 apps on my iPhone that I use most often, 21 of them are made by third-party developers, including my calendar and email app of choice (Fantastical and Spark).
Sure, I would still use an iPhone if those apps didn't exist, but using an iPhone is so much better because they do. It's not always clear that Apple thinks that way. Sometimes, it seems as though Apple thinks of itself as a landlord leasing out space to tenants, as opposed to seeing developers as partners.
The other reason is that Apple is just daring Congress to rein in its control over iOS and the App Store. The Open Markets Act isn't law yet, but the more Apple exerts its leverage over developers in this way, the more likely it is that lawmakers and regulators will force it to make some pretty uncomfortable changes.
"It is precisely this type of abusive, monopolistic behavior that makes it imperative for Congress to pass the Open App Markets Act," said Rick VanMeter, executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness.
There's a pretty good chance that in the next 18 months, Apple will be forced to allow things it abhors--like third-party app stores. Congress and the Department of Justice already have their sights on the company, and if it continues to push, there's a good chance it could lose a lot more than the revenue generated when a customer decides to click on those external links to sign up for a calendar app or to-do app.
When you think about what it costs the company in terms of goodwill and user experience, and what it could cost the company in control--the thing it values most--it's hard to see how any of it is worth it.
Apple Vision Pro Launch
On this week’s episode of Primary Technology, the show I co-host with Stephen Robles, we talked about the Apple Vision Pro pre-order process.
You can catch the show on YouTube, or in your favorite podcast player:
Last week, Samsung had its Galaxy Unpacked event in San Jose, California, where it rolled out the latest versions of its Galaxy smartphones. I think the phones are interesting for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are the best Android devices you can buy--at least here in the United States. More importantly, however, Samsung is doing things that Apple hasn't yet included in the iPhone, but it should.
In fact, I think there are five things Samsung added to the S24 Ultra that Apple absolutely must include in the iPhone 16:
1. WiFi 7
This one is easy. Now that it's officially here, more devices will start supporting WiFi 7, which means more people will start experiencing the benefits of the faster standard. Samsung added WiFi 7 to all of the new S24 devices, and hopefully, Apple will follow suit.
To be clear, most people won't notice much of a benefit immediately. There are only a handful of routers that support WiFi 7 at this point, and unless you have gigabit or faster internet speeds at home, it won't matter anyway. But, considering most people buy and keep their phones for three to five years, a little bit of future-proofing goes a long way.
Notably, Apple did not include WiFi 7 when it introduced the iPhone 15 series. It was understandable at the time since the standard hadn't been officially certified, and Apple plans and designs its products far in advance. Also, Apple has never been a company to adopt things like this. However, now that it's here, let's hope Apple follows Samsung's lead with the iPhone 16.
2. 50MP Telephoto
A far more immediately impressive feature of the S24 Ultra is the 50MP, 5x telephoto camera. You'll remember that the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a 5x "tetraprism" lens on its telephoto camera, but that only has a 12 MP sensor. As a result, you aren't able to crop in much before you start having a significant loss of quality.
By giving its 5x telephoto camera a 50MP sensor, Samsung is stepping up the quality in a big way. In fact, the company told The Verge that its 5X telephoto will produce better quality images when cropped in, than its previous 10x telephoto did.
I love the 5x camera on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and I use it all the time. It would be great, however, if Apple would be a little more generous with the resolution of its sensors, especially on what I think is its best new camera feature in a long time.
3. Brighter screen
Samsung increased the brightness of the S24 Ultra to 2,600 nits. For comparison, the S23 Ultra was 1750 nits, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max is 2,000 nits. While the iPhone screen is plenty bright enough for most uses, the extra range is especially useful when using your iPhone outdoors in bright sunlight.
By the way, the fact that Samsung also added a better cooling system on the S24 means that your phone won't have to dim the screen as often in bright sunlight just because it overheated. Apple's displays are some of the very best in the business, but as our devices become capable of doing more things, it only means that we'll want them to perform in any situation, including when the sun is out.
4. On-Device LLM
Samsung worked with Google to include its Gemini Large Language Model (LLM), which runs on-device. That allows it to do all sorts of powerful things without having to send your information to a server in the cloud and wait for a response. For example, Samsung showed off its Live Translation feature that will automatically detect the language between participants in a phone call and translate their conversation in real time.
Apple has a neural engine built into its A-series processors but hasn't introduced an on-device LLM. There are reports that Apple is working on its own LLM, and building it in a way that it is able to run on-device would go a long way towards solving several of Apple's problems, including making Siri smarter, more responsible, and more reliable.
5. AI-powered photo editing.
One of the most obvious benefits of having AI on-device is being able to do things like use it to edit photos. Samsung is leaning into the capabilities Google has been working on for a while. The Pixel series has had several AI-editing tools for a few years, but this is the first time we've seen them at this scale on an Android device not made by Google.
The S24 series can remove distracting elements, use generative fill to add in corners when you adjust the horizon of an image, and even suggest edits. It also uses AI to improve things like night photography, and--in one of its more controversial features--convert a standard video into a 120fps slow-motion video.
Sure, there are plenty of questions about what even is a photo anymore, but the reality is--for most people--they just want to be able to capture photos that look good. Apple has used what it refers to as machine learning to improve photos, but not nearly to the extent that Google and Samsung have. If it's true that people really just want their photos to look better, it's time for Apple to make it a lot easier to do just that.
Other stories you might like
Apple’s developer-relations problems are affecting Vision Pro (Bloomberg)
You can unlink your Instagram and Facebook accounts, if you live in the EU (The Verge)
The Mac turns 40 this week. (Wired)
Microsoft Execs got hacked by Russians (CNBC)