Apple now lets developers register to use external web pages for subscriptions

Only available for 'reader' apps like Netflix, the new system will let developers avoid using Apple's payment platform.

Apple now lets developers of ‘reader’ apps apply for the ability to direct users to the web to manage their accounts and complete subscription purchases.

The change comes as part of a settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) from September 2021. However, despite the agreement being with the JFTC, Apple will apply the change globally.

As per a developer support page posted by Apple on March 30th (via Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman), developers with eligible apps can now apply for an entitlement to use external websites to handle subscriptions rather than using Apple’s in-app payment system. That system requires developers to pay a 15 or 30 percent cut of transactions to Apple and has been the core of most of the regulatory action and developer complaints against the company in recent months.

Of course, Apple’s new system has some restrictions. First, it’s only available for ‘reader’ apps, which confusingly, include things like Netflix and Spotify. Apple describes reader apps as apps that provide “one or more of the following digital content types — magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video — as the primary functionality of the app.”

Developers of readers apps then need to fill out this form requesting an ‘External Link Account Entitlement’ to add external linking to an app. Moreover, Apple lists several requirements to be eligible for the entitlement, which you can view below:

  • As the primary functionality of your app, provide one or more of the following digital content types; magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video.
  • Allow people to sign in to an account.
  • Allow people to access content or services previously purchased outside of the app when signed in, such as on your website.
  • Not offer in-app purchases on iOS or iPadOS while using the External Link Account Entitlement
  • Not facilitate real-time, person-to-person services (e.g., providing tutoring services, medical consultations, real estate tours, or fitness training).

On top of that, developers will need to configure the entitlement in Xcode, edit their ‘Info.plist’ file, and add an ‘in-app modal sheet’ with a warning for users that the app is taking them to a website to manage their account. Developers can find the full details here.

Overall, it’s good to see Apple finally opening up this functionality in the App Store, even if the process of adding external links is convoluted. It’s also a win for companies like Netflix and Spotify, who can now start adding direct links to their websites for users to sign-up.

It’s also worth noting this change comes after Google announced plans to test a ‘User Choice Billing’ system that would allow developers to offer alternate payment options in the Play Store. Spotify is so far one of the only ones signed on to test the pilot program.

Source: Apple Via: Mark Gurman (Twitter)