In-App Opt Out

John Gruber, on Spotify’s recent “Time to Play Fair” campaign against Apple:

What Apple should do is allow apps that opt out of IAP to explain that users need to subscribe or make purchases using a web browser, and allow them to link to their website from within the app (even if they’d be required to open that link in Safari, as opposed to an in-app web view).

Everything else in Spotify’s list of complaints seems like noise to me, and distracts from the central issues — which happen to be the issues where Spotify should be on the strongest legal footing.

I agree that most of Spotify’s complaints feel petty and childish — many of their complaints are about limitations with third-party APIs for newly released devices. But I disagree that Apple should allow developers to opt out of the in-app purchase system.

While I do think Apple should reconsider the 30% cut and reduce it to something a bit more reasonable, I think it would be bad for customers overall if developers could point users to external places for digital purchases. One of the great benefits of the in-app purchase system is that it’s secure and trustworthy.

Over the past few years, I’ve had to have my debit card replaced three or four times, likely because of some security vulnerability in a payment system. I don’t have to worry about that with Apple, though. I trust that they’re doing everything they can to keep my payment information safe and secure. It’s hard to say that about others.

Perhaps I’m a bit too paranoid about the security of my payment information, but if a service allows me to pay through an in-app purchase, that’s what I use. This is how I pay for Hulu, the WWE Network, and even YouTube Premium — despite the fact that YouTube’s pricing is higher through the in-app purchase than it is if purchased elsewhere.

Here’s the thing about allowing developers to opt out: it’s a slippery slope. If Apple allowed developers to push users to a website for purchasing digital goods, they would. There are plenty of payment systems out there and building a website that integrates with them is easier than ever. But I don’t want to give my credit card credentials to every single developer that builds an app I’m interested in. Doing so will only increase the chances of my debit or credit card becoming compromised and then I have to go through the hassle of getting it replaced, which is a major pain.

To be fair, if developers used Apple Pay on their websites, these security concerns would be mitigated. But it’s not just the security aspect that has me on board with in-app purchases, simplicity is another major factor. The ability to quickly purchase a subscription through the app using my fingerprint, restore a subscriptions on another device, and manage all of my subscriptions in one a single location are niceties that would go out the window if Apple allowed developers to opt out.

That last point is a pretty crucial one for me. If I want to cut a subscription or two in a world where developers could opt out, I’d have to login to each service’s website and hunt around for the option to cancel my subscription. This seems like an awful experience compared to tapping on my profile picture in the App Store and selecting “Manage Subscriptions”.

Maybe I’m in the minority because I don’t use Netflix — I’m sure many iOS users already have plenty of subscriptions that they manage outside of the in-app purchase system and they get by just fine. But we need to consider whether allowing developers to opt out of in-app purchases is in any way an improvement for users. I don’t think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I truly want developers to have a sustainable career so they can continue building great apps. But isn’t providing the best experience for your users the best way to do that?

In-app purchases are always going to be superior to the alternatives and there are plenty of ways to fix the problems surrounding it without having to throw it out entirely by allowing developers to opt out.

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