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Hey & Highway Robbery

Watching the scuffle with Apple and HEY playout is interesting. Am wondering if we have reached that watershed moment when Apple will have to acknowledge their incredible market power (not a monopoly but at least a duopoly) and how punitive pricing punishes rather than enhances the developers we all depend on to create the next big thing.

Does the world’s largest company really get to decide how millions of other businesses can interact with their own customers? In fact, Apple’s policy distances you from your customer.

I get Apple’s argument – it is our platform, play by the rules, we know what is best for customers. Without denying Apple’s right to make money – and they are pretty savvy at that – perhaps its time for them to acknowledge they can’t hide behind that mask and its time for fair and equitable pricing? They’ve got a distribution chokehold on the community.

So what do we want? I’m not saying IAP shouldn’t exist, or shouldn’t be an option. For some businesses, it might make sense. If Apple is sending you all your customers, it probably does make sense. The 30% rate is still highway robbery, as Congressman Cicilline recently said in an interview, but the fundamental problem for us is the lack of choice.

Apple, please just give your developers the choice! Let us bill our own customers through our own systems, so we can help them with extensions, refunds, discounts, or whatever else our own way. It’s our business, not your business. And Phil Schiller’s suggestion that we should raise prices on iOS customers to make up for Apple’s added margin is antitrust gold.

It’s one thing to argue what is right for customers but as the subscription economy continues to boom, its another to exercise total control over it in a dominant ecosystem. And if they are they need to give us as consumers much better control and transparency. Dealing with, for instance, family purchases and subscriptions is a nightmare for most parents.

The simple answer is a small commission for marketing and enabling the sale of the app, then the consumer chooses how they want to subscribe. When you publish an Android app you can freely choose between using Google’s subscription mechanism and paying them a cut, or implementing your own solution and not paying Google anything.

The argument that developers could just stop making apps for IOS is weak. Apple simply has too much market power and reach to ignore. What developers could do is stage a mass walkout, perhaps, but at what cost? Ultimately Apple needs to take a fresh look at what is right for consumers and developers.

One thing is clear beneath all this. The rules don’t apply equitably and are at best nebulous. in some cases popular apps don’t function as they should – The Audible app has no in-app subscription mechanism, Kindle doesn’t let you buy books through the iOS app. Subscription-based email apps like Microsoft Outlook are permitted on the app store without Apple getting a cent.

So, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Microsoft are all companies with enough size and power that Apple could be in serious danger if any of them decided to pull their apps from iOS, and even more potential trouble if they decided to challenge Apple’s practices from a legal standpoint. If you are too big to fight, you get a free ride. If you are smaller, obey or get out of the store.

This issue goes beyond just the HEY skirmish. It’s time they reviewed their approach to subscriptions, not just products, and do better for developers and consumers.

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