App rules are absurdly twisted


Apps have grown into a massive economy, but the rules that govern them are almost impossible to understand.

Apple and Google have twisted their decades-old rules for their app stores like a pretzel to the point where they may no longer make sense. This has made buying digital content in apps the heck.

For example, theoretically, but not yet in reality, you can use your Amazon account to buy an e-book through Kindle’s iPhone app. You cannot buy an e-book in the Android version of the app. Until recently, Kindle purchases were effectively a no-go under Apple’s rules, but fine under Google’s rules. Now it’s the other way around.

Confusing? Yes. Apple and Google have written long, complicated guidelines for apps, often revising those rules to protect their own interests. (I already noted that Apple’s App Rules much longer than the United States Constitution.)

Want more craziness? Today, it’s easy to pay for a podcast on Patreon’s iPhone app to subscribe to a podcast. Apple steps aside and allows Patreon to collect your personal and credit card information.

However, purchasing other types of digital subscriptions can be completely different. When you purchase a platinum membership to dating service Tinder in the iPhone app, you’re effectively signing up with Apple and Tinder is on the sidelines.

Apple takes a portion of that membership fee forever. If you want to cancel, tell Apple, not Tinder.

Buying a six-month membership through the Tinder app costs some people $14.99 a month, but it’s $13.50 when bought through the site. (The difference in price is Tinder’s way of partly recouping the up to 30% fee Apple pays for every app purchase.) Oh, and paying to use dating apps could soon work more like paying for Stuff in Patreon – but only in the Netherlands.

For now, Tinder’s way of paying through its Android app is more akin to how Patreon works. But that’s only because Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, did it Google sued to prevent the company from changing its rules.


I could bore you with details on why Apple makes a distinction between buying a subscription on Patreon and buying a subscription on Tinder. There’s logic behind why you can buy a paperback edition of “1984” from Amazon’s Android app but not the e-book edition, and why new Netflix subscribers used to be able to sign up through the Android app but not now can do more. Or somehow can not. It’s another pretzel twist.

I spent hours on the phone and researching to find out all the details in the paragraphs you just read. If so many rules, exceptions and explanations are needed to buy things from an app in 2022, the logic of the app economy is perhaps illogical.

For years, some companies that make apps grabbed about how Google and Apple in particular control many aspects of this economy. Both determine which apps we can easily download through their app stores and when they directly handle purchases we make through apps.

If we use an app to buy things that exist in the real world e.g. B. an Uber ride or a meal package subscription, these purchases bypass Apple and Google. The fight is about buying things we use digitally, like B. a piece of jewelry used in a smartphone app game or dating app subscription.

The problem is that distinctions that made sense when Apple created its app storefront in 2008 don’t necessarily fit the modern digital economy.

I’ve already written about YouTube video creators who can not understand why Apple or Google are entitled to a share – possibly forever – of the money their fans pay them through an app.

In the zoom-everything age, does it make sense to have different rules, like Apple wanted, for example to buy sports courses that you can attend in person and those that you attend virtually at home? Why don’t apps like Facebook that monetize advertising bring a large chunk of revenue to Apple and Google, but those that sell digital subscriptions do?

And the app rules change often, adding complexity.

This month, Google introduced stricter restrictions So it needs to handle buying more digital stuff in apps and make a cut.

Again, there’s a sense behind all those pretzel twists. Apple and Google want to avoid letting big smartphone video games, the biggest moneymakers in the app world, bypass their regulations and fees. And they say they try to respond to complaints that they have too much control or are a burden on small businesses.

But the more concessions Apple or Google make to appease angry governments and some angry developers, others not, the more arbitrary their app store logic can seem.

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