Apple rolled out several updated App Store guidelines that address restrictions around streaming games, online classes and other issues related to in-app purchases.
Before you get too excited, no, the changes don’t really pave the way for services like Microsoft’s xCloud to exist on Apple devices. In the updated guidelines, Apple explains that each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual application with an App Store product page and integration with other iOS features and experiences.
App Store review guideline changes this morning: loosening restrictions on streaming games, no longer requiring online classes apps (if between two people) to use Apple in app purchase, and loosening rules on free email apps having to use IAP (Hey, WordPress etc.).
— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) September 11, 2020
In other words, services like xCloud, which offers subscribers access to content from outside the App Store, still aren’t allowed. That said, Apple did clarify that companies can offer a catalogue application that links to the App Store versions of the developer’s streamable games.
Moreover, Apple states that streaming game services must offer users the option to pay for a subscription with an in-app purchase.
Ultimately, Apple has essentially required streaming games to offer a “wrapper” that streams the game through the App Store. With that model, users could head to the App Store, select a game they want to play, download it and open the app, which then streams the content over the internet.
Considering Microsoft decided to pull xCloud from iOS over Apple’s restrictive rules, I don’t see these new guidelines changing things much. At the time, Apple said it didn’t allow game streaming apps since the company couldn’t review each individual game. Although Apple’s new guidelines arguably resolve that issue, the argument itself seems silly. Apple doesn’t review every TV show and movie available through Netflix — why should it do so for game streaming services?
Apple clarifies in-app purchase rules for online classes
Along with the new and clarified guidelines around streaming games, Apple also explained the goals behind the new ‘3.1.2’ and ‘3.1.3’ guidelines. These guidelines are meant to add transparency around the types of applications required to use Apple’s in-app purchase system.
One specific clarification allows apps to use other payment systems to handle purchases of real-time, person-to-person experiences like fitness training, medical consultations or real estate tours. This comes as Apple falls under increased scrutiny for in-app purchase rules as more businesses move to online experiences. However, Apple said this only applies to one-on-one experiences — group experiences still have to use Apple’s in-app payment system.
In other words, the change doesn’t really address concerns that Apple could leverage its in-app purchase rules to take a 30 percent cut of things like online classes. Except for one-on-one lessons, the company can do exactly that.
Another change Apple made will impact reader apps. The company will now allow reader apps to offer account creation for free tiers, plus reader apps can include account management functionality for existing customers. Additionally, free apps that act as stand-alone companions to a paid web-based tool do not need to use in-app purchases as long as they don’t offer purchases inside the app.
That should help prevent further issues around apps like WordPress, which recently had a spat with Apple after the company blocked updates until developers added in-app payment methods.
Apple’s new guidelines include restrictions for personal loan apps, noting they must clearly disclose all loan terms. That includes the maximum Annual Percentage Rate (APR) and payment due date. Apple also forbids these apps from charging a maximum APR higher than 36 percent. Further, apps can’t require repayment in full in 60 days or less. The company says these changes are in accordance with the U.S. Military Lending Act.
Finally, the company added new guidelines for an upcoming iOS 14 feature, App Clips. Apple says App Clips must be related to the content and functionality of a developer’s app, all App Clip features must be included in the main app binary and App Clips cannot contain advertising.
Those interested can read through all the changes to Apple’s guidelines here.