Apple said on Wednesday that so-called “reader apps,” which allow users to access libraries of content on their phones, will be allowed to use external links inside their apps to enable users to sign up or manage their accounts.
The move, which was announced last year as part of a settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission, applies to apps that provide magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music or video content, Apple said. Reader apps include some of the most popular apps on Apple’s App Store, including Spotify and Netflix.
Apple previously forbade app makers from directing users to sign up through a website. It instead forced them to use Apple’s App Store payment system, which takes between 15% and 30% of sales. The new policy will allow these apps to bypass Apple’s fees by signing up new customers in the app directly.
The change, now reflected in Apple’s App Store guidelines, will enable reader apps to handle their own customer management for users acquired through the app, a sticking point that app makers have complained about to regulators and in courts around the world. The new policy is available globally, Apple said.
The rule doesn’t apply to all apps. Games that offer in-app purchases, which comprise the majority of Apple’s App Store revenue, will still need to use Apple’s payment system.
Apple said in a post on its developer website that interested developers can submit a request form to Apple and that Apple’s App Review process would still approve updates to the app. The link has to be formatted like a standard link, not a button, and contain the domain name of the website to which it’s linking.
Apple also has some restrictions — for example, any app that qualifies can not also offer in-app purchases, and the app can’t offer real-time services with a person like tutoring or fitness training, which are still required to use App Store payments.
Apple said that apps that include digital content as a feature but focus on other uses, such as social networking, would not be eligible for the program, either.
Apple requires a popup that warns that “Apple is not responsible for the privacy or security of transactions made with this developer” before the user leaves the app.
The policy change comes as Apple’s App Store rules have been under intense scrutiny from courts and lawmakers around the world.
In response, Apple has made several changes to its policies and created carve-outs and discounts for certain kinds of apps and app makers, but has not given ground on its core interest that it has the right to determine which software can operate on iPhones, and it continues to argue that App Store fees aren’t simply for processing payments, but also pay for App Store distribution and support.
In a separate blog post on Wednesday, Apple said it also changed its policy in the Netherlands, where it has been fined nearly 50 million euros for not complying with an order from the antitrust watchdog Authority for Consumers and Markets in that country forcing it to allow external links for dating apps.
Apple’s new policy does not require app makers in the Netherlands to submit an entirely different version, or “binary,” which was previously required.
“As we have previously said, we disagree with the ACM’s original order and are appealing it,” Apple said in its blog post.