Debating Apple’s New Rules

In Episode 25 of the excellent Build and Analyze Podcast, Marco Arment discussed what he called “the new rules” of Apple’s App Stores. In essence, he argues that the rules and restrictions that Apple imposes on developers are the price we pay in exchange for getting access to great platforms like the Mac and iOS. Moreover, he notes that Apple may not always enforce the rules consistently or in a way that is to developers’ liking. Regarding developers, he says “any of our existing products or business models are not guaranteed to be permitted in the future. That’s it. At any given time, [Apple] could pull them away.” And he’s right. Short of violating the law or its contracts, Apple may do whatever it likes.

However, simple noting that Apple is free to do as it pleases misses an opportunity to have a productive discussion about what’s best for users, the platform, and Apple itself. Observing that Apple has many choices about how to behave should be the starting point of the conversation, not the end. Acknowledging the present situation isn’t enough — we need to make suggestions for the future.

In the past, I’ve argued that Apple’s rules regarding in-app purchase for items like magazine subscriptions and e-books were unwise. Of course Apple has the right to set those rules, but my point was that some of their choices were misguided. We’ve now seen Apple revise those rules to be somewhat less draconian. It’s a welcome change, and one that is likely to benefit Apple’s users in the long run. Of course, some people might disagree with me there, and that is the really interesting conversation I want to have: Not about whether Apple could, but whether it should.