Updated: Microsoft issued a statement confirming that these rules changes are not sufficient for the company to bring xCloud to iOS.
As we enter the fall, Apple is approaching the release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur. With these new operating systems come new features such as widgets and app clips – before developers can submit their apps that use these features, they need to know what the rules are.
Apple has updated its App Store Review Policy with clarifications on how the new features can and cannot be used, as well as a few adjustments to existing rules. You can read all the changes in the guidelines here. Most are developer languages and do not make much sense to the daily user.
Apple has been under fire lately for its policy of in-app purchases, game streaming and other cumbersome control over the app experience. The new guidelines clarify these rules a bit, but almost certainly do not go far enough to satisfy frustrated developers.
No ads in modules or app clips
First, if you’re worried that the new Home screen Widgets and App Clips features in iOS 14 will be ripe for abuse by bad actors, Apple has its back. Apple specifies that widgets and app clips may not contain advertising and must have features and functionality that are only related to the main app. It should go a long way to prevent developers from creating apps that only exist to blow you up with home screen ads or real-world thing ads via app clips.
Developers can now create free standalone apps as companions to paid web services, such as the Hey email app or WordPress web hosting and CMS, both of which caused a recent uproar. However, the apps are prohibited from offering any form of purchase of the service beyond Apple’s in-app purchases or even pointing out to users that the service can be purchased outside the app.
Apps that offer one-on-one personal interaction (such as cardio or tutoring) can use their own payment systems instead of Apple’s in-app purchases. But Apple still specifies that one-to-few and one-to-many interactions must use Apple’s IAPs. So if you want to charge someone to guide them in math, you can collect payment as you wish. If you want to guide three people at once, you need to use Apple’s IAPs and give up 30 percent to Apple.
Facebook planned a feature to allow users to sell personal services like these, and got into trouble with Apple when they pointed out that Apple would take a cut of 30 percent of what you pay the seller. This new rule does not really alleviate the problem, as so many personal services still have to use Apple’s in-app purchases (with a corresponding 30 percent cut), and apps will still be banned from even telling users about it.
Game streaming, but not really
The new rules would seems to allow game streaming services such as Google Stadia or Microsoft xCloud, but the restrictions are such that none of the services can possibly exist on iPhone or iPad. While cloud game streaming is now allowed, each individual game must have its own app store listing with its own download and home screen icon, and follow all the app store rules about parental control (screen time), permissions for things like microphone access, ratings and so on. They must also use Apple’s in-app purchases for everything in game content, and cannot point users to online interfaces or other means outside the app to make purchases.
Streaming services may have a single “directory” app used to find games, but they must point to the individual games’ App Store lists where they will be downloaded individually.
Neither Google’s Stadia nor Microsoft’s xCloud can possibly work under these restrictions. While Google declined to comment, Microsoft sent CNet the following statement:
This is still a bad experience for customers. Players will jump directly into a game from their curated catalog in an app, just as they do with movies or songs, and will not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. We are committed to putting players at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is the core of this mission.
The big picture
While it’s good to see Apple clarify some finer points about how developers are allowed to create their apps – including making sure new features like widgets and app clips aren’t abused – the overall relationship between Apple and developers is unlikely to change. iota of these rules updates.
Apple often says that it provides a simple set of rules that apply to all developers, and while this is technically True, these rules themselves divide and subordinate apps into different categories with different rules for each. These latest rule updates do not change that at all; “Reader” apps can do things other apps can’t, some purchases have to be made through Apple, while others can be done with other payment systems, and game streaming services have to jump through the kinds of hoops that video streaming services don’t, for example. There is absolutely nothing here that will address the core complaints that are part of the Epic Games against the Apple lawsuit.