Pick Your Poisonous App Store

The stuff going on with Apple’s iOS App Store and the European Union is going to be in the news for a good, long while, and I don’t think there’s any need to rush to have some hardline opinion about whether any of this is good, bad, goes too far, doesn’t go far enough, etc. What I do want to examine in this post are certain concerns that I have, not about safety, but about customer experience.

Apple will continue to employ a full throated campaign about how this is less safe, and introduces more risk. Scare sheets will continue to strike fear into the hearts of mortals. This app may kill you. All of which range from necessary, to numbing, to nuisance when they’re thrown in front of customers. Ironically, not so different from the Mac.

We have a wide variety of options when it comes to how we choose to pay for and download applications on the Mac. In fact, I would wager that we wouldn’t be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Mac if people weren’t able to install apps, and run their own software, on top of an ever-changing set of system software that prioritized being able to transition old software to new Mac operating systems.

We’ve never had that in iOS, as customers, but the iPhone’s still been around for ~17 years, and ~16 years for the App Store. We’re all more than used to our walled garden, even though every customer has some opinions on what could be done to jazz up the ol’ garden.

The App Store is not a wholly negative construct. It does offer some degree of protection, and trust. I’m more likely to buy a small utility app when I know the transaction is safeguarded by Apple, for example. It even makes downloading, installing, and updating, pretty easy. Recurring subscriptions can be easily managed, which is useful when toggling on and off various streaming services without having to call a person that tries to talk you out of cancelling, or god forbid mail a letter to cancel.

The policies surrounding how Apple would like to have a cut of everything have made the experience of using the App Store worse for customers, just because companies don’t want to pay Apple a large percentage of their revenue, which means the way users interact with those apps sucks, and it’s degraded over time.

I’m a little uncertain how Apple’s changes to the EU iOS App Store will ultimately improve the customer experience, and maybe some of that was a conscious choice by Apple.

For example, there are going to be custom app stores, with proven lines of credit, which means only big players can enter the market. That’s good for customers because they’re less likely to be hit by fly-by-night operations.

However, That means the likes of Meta, Amazon, and Google, at the very least. Customers trade interacting with one tech giant for another. Cuts on certain app stores will be reduced, and certain things will be cheaper either across the board or in certain stores, but the tech giants will use their own apps, and web sites, to steer customers. They already do it in iOS.

Ever click on a link in the YouTube app and you get a modal pop-up asking if you want to open the link in Chrome for iOS? Or visit the Google home page and have it throw up a modal overlay asking you to try the Google iOS app? How about links in Meta products like Instagram, or Threads, that want to keep you in the Meta products to track those taps? Ever play that fun game where you try to buy a Kindle eBook and you’re bounced from the Amazon website to the app and then back to the website because they can’t sell you the eBook in the app? What if that just told you to use the Amazon App Store, oh and here’s a discount on your first X number of purchases?

A screenshot of Safari on iOS showing the Google homepage with a modal overlay asking the user to try the iOS Google app.
Just imagine this, but for app stores.

There’s going to be a huge land grab by every one of these already monstrous companies. Sure, there’s no other way to have competition without it, but it doesn’t foster competition where the concentration of power and wealth is distributed to a wider array of smaller developers. We’ll just get to pick our poison — or, more accurately, people in the EU will get to pick their poison. We get to envy their poison-picking from Freedom Fry Land.

It seems pretty obvious that Apple’s attempts to contain the concessions they’re making in various markets to just those markets is not in any way a permanent solution. I do hope they have a better plan this in mind for the rest of the globe, or at least are planning to learn some lessons from this rollout in the EU, because I don’t want everything I do on iOS to be all the big tech companies shouting MAKE US YOUR DEFAULT APP STORE in my face in the all the apps and websites that are, for a variety of reasons, indispensable.

2024-01-26 12:00:00

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