No longer afraid of retaliation, app developers join forces to criticize Apple – The Washington Post

“The outpouring of interest we’ve received has exceeded our expectations,” Sarah Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said in an emailed statement. “As we bring on new members and hear their stories, it’s evident that too many developers have been unable to make their voices heard.”

The soaring membership of the coalition represents a remarkable shift in thinking, as companies and individual developers take the risky step of speaking out in an effort to change the way Apple operates. Many developers and smaller companies are dependent on Apple for their livelihood and don’t have the resources to cope if Apple removes their app or prohibits them from updating it. Some of Apple’s peers have also stepped up to advocate for changes to the App Store. Earlier this month, Microsoft expressed support for the coalition when it announced guidelines for its Microsoft Store, based on the coalition’s recommendations. And Facebook publicly criticized Apple for changes that will make it more difficult for companies to advertise in iPhone and iPad apps. It comes as the big technology companies have come under increasing scrutiny.

Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee released a scathing, 450-page report that criticized Apple and other big technology companies for allegedly using their power to quash competition and stifle innovation for their own financial gain. A section of the report focused on the practices Apple employs on its App Store, where it strictly controls what software can be used on Apple devices and how it can be installed, while collecting 30 percent fees from many developers who make software for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Apple has denied that it is a monopoly or that it uses anticompetitive business practices.

Companies that rely on mobile apps, games and other software tools for Apple devices once feared ending up on Apple’s bad side, and it was rare to hear a critical word about the company spoken in public. The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant has the final say on which mobile apps are approved for iOS devices and what software features those apps are allowed to utilize.

Developers say they worried that complaining about Apple would hurt their ability to get apps and updates approved. The company’s App Store Review Guidelines once contained a warning for developers who might consider protesting Apple’s policies: “If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps,” the guidelines once stated, according to a securities filing.

The coalition of companies, many of which are small software developers, aims to get Apple to loosen software rules on iOS. For instance, the App Store is the only method by which customers are allowed to install software on iPads, iPhones and Apple Watches. And software developers can accept payments for digital goods on iOS only one way: Apple’s payment service, which levies a commission on all transactions. The coalition’s members want other options. The Coalition for App Fairness aims to sway lawmakers to take action against Apple, either through new legislation or legal action.

More freedom on iOS would lead to more innovation, app developers say.

Tony Haile, the former CEO of media analytics firm Chartbeat, wanted to do something to help the news industry, so he founded Scroll in 2016. Scroll, which has been available to consumers since January, allows people to opt out of ads and tracking software when they surf news sites for $5 a month. Scroll gives 70 percent of that revenue to news sites that participate in the program, and it’s divided up based on which sites are visited the most.

But Scroll has one big problem: If users subscribe through iOS, Scroll’s business model no longer makes sense because of the 30 percent cut Apple takes. Scroll is paying 70 percent to news publishers, so Apple is “effectively asking to take 100 percent” of Scroll’s revenue, Haile said in an interview.

So last week, Scroll joined the Coalition for App Fairness. Haile said he’s not concerned about irking Apple. “You do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t think being muzzled is good for anyone.”

Ben Simon, co-founder of Yoga app Down Dog, said his company joined the coalition last month. He said the company was fed up after years of grating interactions with Apple’s App Store. He described contradictory messages from Apple’s App Review team. That slowed down bug fixes. And he called Apple’s cut of subscriptions unjustified, considering the level of service.

He said his most upset customers are the ones who contact Apple about their subscription. Customers end up blaming Down Dog for decisions made by Apple’s customer service team, he said. For instance, Apple would not let Down Dog give customers a free trial subscription unless the subscription auto-renewed. Down Dog didn’t want people to be charged accidentally and get angry.

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Down Dog made its app free for a period of time as a promotion. But Apple blocked the update because Down Dog used the term “covid-19” to explain why it was making the app free. So Down Dog changed “covid-19” to “lockdowns.” Apple rejected it again. “There’s a fear that you should stay quiet,” Simon said. “We just lost faith a long time ago that Apple was going to treat us well.”

Starting last year, more and more companies and software developers have been willing to speak out or sue Apple over grievances. Spotify filed a formal complaint with European regulators in March 2019, accusing Apple of using anticompetitive measures to harm Spotify and give an advantage to Apple Music. In August, makers of apps for kids spoke out about changes to Apple’s guidelines that would hurt the industry. In October of last year, email provider Blix took the unusual step of suing Apple, claiming the company infringed on its patents and took anticompetitive steps to harm them. Tile, which makes Bluetooth trackers to find lost keys, filed its own complaint in Europe earlier this year, alleging anticompetitive behavior by Apple. In all cases, Apple denied the allegations.