Apple will finally let devs tell users about non-App Store purchase options

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Ars Technica 27 August, 2021 - 12:00am 30 views

Apple makes changes to the App Store in settlement with developers

Nikkei Asia 27 August, 2021 - 03:20am

Updated 12:25 AM ET, Fri August 27, 2021

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Apple loosens app store payment rules in lawsuit settlement

The Register 26 August, 2021 - 10:21pm

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Apple has agreed to let developers of iPhone apps email their users about cheaper ways to pay for digital subscriptions and media.

Apple made the announcement Thursday as part of a preliminary settlement of a nearly two-year-old lawsuit filed on behalf of iPhone app developers in the U.S.

The process circumvents a commission system that generates billions of dollars annually for the iPhone maker.

The concession covers emailed notifications, but does not allow in-app notifications.

It also addresses an issue raised by a federal court judge who is expected to soon rule on a separate case brought by Epic Games, maker of the popular video game Fortnite.

Under long-standing Apple rules, makers of iPhone apps were forbidden to email users with information on how to pay for services outside the app, which would circumvent Apple commissions of 15% to 30%.

The concession now opens one way for app developers to more aggressively encourage its users to pay in other ways, so long as the companies obtain consumer consent.

Apple will also set up a $100 million fund to pay thousands of app developers covered in the lawsuit sums ranging from $250 to $30,000. App developers will get more flexibility to set different prices within their apps, expanding the options from about 100 to 500 choices.

Being able to email users to explain why they should pay outside the app is a breakthrough for developers who have complained about Apple's commissions as a form of price gouging for years.

A judge will approve or reject the proposed settlement in a hearing set for Oct. 12.

In other Apple news, CEO Tim Cook is reportedly set to receive a huge payday this week in the final installment of the pay deal he signed a decade ago when he took over from Steve Jobs. 

Cook will be given 5 million Apple shares worth about $750 million, according to Bloomberg.

The CEO’s reported current net worth is $1.5 billion.

Apple stock's performance plays a big part in Cook's payment as shares have outperformed at least two-thirds of companies in the S&P 500 index over the past three years. 

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

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Apple Settlement Gives App Developers a Way to Avoid Its Commission

The New York Times 26 August, 2021 - 09:00pm

It also will create a $100 million fund to pay them. A judge’s decision in a higher-profile fight with Epic Games, a leading video game maker, is still pending.

Apple, in a legal settlement announced on Thursday with a group of app developers, said it would allow developers to urge customers to pay them outside their iPhone apps.

The move would allow app makers to avoid paying Apple a commission on their sales and could appease developers and regulators concerned with its control over mobile apps, including strict policies designed to force developers to pay it a cut of their sales.

The settlement appears to be a small price to pay for the world’s richest company to avoid another extended legal fight that could have posed major risks to its business by targeting the iPhone App Store. In practice, some major companies, such as Spotify, already push their customers to evade Apple’s commissions.

Apple is still awaiting a decision from a federal judge in a separate lawsuit that was filed by Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite, and that seeks to force Apple to allow app developers to avoid App Store commissions altogether. Consumers, too, have sued Apple over its app commissions, in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to go forward in federal court and that is seeking class-action status.

Under the new settlement, Apple also said it would create a $100 million fund for payouts to small app developers and agreed to not raise the commission rate for small developers, which it reduced last year to 15 percent from 30 percent, for at least three years.

In a briefing with reporters, an Apple executive said it was a major concession for Apple to allow developers to tell customers, via email and other channels, about alternative payment methods. Apple will still bar developers from telling customers inside their iPhone apps about other ways to pay.

The Apple executive added that Thursday’s settlement showed that small app developers were mostly fine with maintaining the current App Store policies, including the reduced commission. Larger developers, which pay the higher rate, continue to complain, however.

Apple restricted reporters from naming the Apple executive or quoting her directly.

Some companies already push customers toward other ways to pay. Spotify, for example, has long blocked customers from signing up for subscriptions to its music service in its app — and it has at times advertised this. Apple’s decision on Thursday appears to remove a rule that it was already selectively enforcing.

Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the suit, which sought class-action status, said, “We truly are proud that a case brought by two developers, standing in the shoes of tens of thousands of U.S. iOS developers, could help to bring about so much important change.”

The Coalition for App Fairness, a group of companies that are fighting to change Apple’s App Store policies, said in a statement that the agreement was a “sham settlement” designed to appease courts, regulators and lawmakers.

“This offer does nothing to address the structural, foundational problems facing all developers, large and small, undermining innovation and competition in the app ecosystem,” said the group, which includes Epic Games, Spotify and Match Group. “Allowing developers to communicate with their customers about lower prices outside of their apps is not a concession and further highlights Apple’s total control over the app marketplace.”

In the settlement, Apple also agreed to publish an annual report on the number of apps it rejects or removes from its App Store, as well as data on its search results. The New York Times reported in 2019 that Apple had been favoring its own apps over rivals in search results. Apple agreed in the settlement to ensure that its search results “will continue to be based on objective characteristics” for at least three more years.

The settlement is subject to approval by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the same judge who is presiding over the Epic Games and consumer suits against Apple.

Developers who made less than $1 million a year in the App Store from June 2015 through April 2021 are eligible for payouts between $250 to $30,000 each from Apple’s proposed $100 million fund, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Separately on Thursday, Apple said it would also allow news organizations to pay the reduced 15 percent commission on subscriptions sold through their iPhone apps, but only if they participated in Apple’s news service, Apple News. The Times and some other news organizations have pulled out of Apple News in recent years because, they said, it took control of their relationship with readers and potential subscribers.

South Korea may ban Apple, Google from forcing store payment systems on app devs

The Register 26 August, 2021 - 01:23pm

South Korea is potentially on its way to tweaking its Telecommunications Business Act to stop Apple and Google from taking a cut of in-app purchases after a bill was approved by a committee of its National Assembly.

The bill was put to a vote on Wednesday by the country's legislation and judiciary committee, but it still has to go through a final vote in parliament, pencilled in for Monday.

If it does pass, the tweak to the Act will mean that companies with dominant market positions – like Apple and Google – will not be allowed to require software developers on their platforms to choose their respective app store's payment systems for users to download paid-for apps or make in-app purchases.

The move comes after Google clarified to Korean devs in September last year that they would be required to "use the Google Play payment system when offering in-app purchases of digital goods and pay a certain percentage of the purchase amount as a fee." In a conciliatory tone, it added that the policy was "only relevant for less than 3 per cent of Google Play app developers who... charge users for paid downloads or sell digital goods within the app. Google Play believes that this policy is fair."

We've asked Apple and Google for comment.

Professor Bronwen Dalton at Sydney's University of Technology's business school said of the move: "South Korea Korea's app developer community have long complained about the 30 per cent tariff they have to pay Apple and Google.

"Another issue is that Korean companies are seeking to adopt the same strategy. Like Apple and Google, they also want to build insular ecosystems where their company plays the ... guiding role in hardware, operating systems, payment systems and services.

"If approved, the [amendments to the] Telecommunications Business Act would mean that Korea would be the first such curb [to] these two US players by a major economy and market. Of course Apple and Google are worried that this could pave the way for other countries to do the same. Even losing Korea would mean the loss of a major revenue stream."

Dalton also noted that the passing of the law could also have implications for the development of autonomous vehicles in Korea. Hyundai Motor, Kia, and Hyundai Mobis are in talks with various manufacturers to develop AVs – reportedly calling off talks with Apple in February.

She added: "While the internal combustion engine vehicle industry allowed for some ecosystem monopolies, development costs [for electric] are huge and Korea will have to form collaboration with companies that own other technologies.

"Cooperation with tech giants like Apple will increasingly crucial in the era of EVs and AVs. The [amendment to the] Telecommunications Business Act may mess with Korea's big companies' [ability] to form the strategic partnerships with US technology companies they need to to develop the AV automobile industry."

While criticism has been mounting against the payment methods used by both Google and Apple in lawsuits across the world filed variously by other developers, consumers and governmental enforcers, the companies themselves have defended the revenue generated by their stores, saying they are used to maintain robust software security and pay carriers and other expenses on the platforms. Both Google and Apple have also made moves to lower the payment percentage they take from app users to 15 per cent for smaller developers (defined as those making under $1m annually).

One dev that definitely does not fit into this category, Fortnite maker and Unreal Engine maintainer Epic Games, objected to paying 30 per cent of in-app payments to Google and Apple to the point that in August last year, it violated the big firms' respective Play and App store rules by creating a loophole for players to buy in-game currency without using Cupertino and Mountain View's payment systems, thereby locking them out from taking a share of revenue.

The move resulted in the developer being booted out of both stores, following which it filed two lawsuits against Apple and Google [PDF]. It has alleged in the two suits that both Google and Apple are abusing their dominant positions and claimed anti-competitive practices by both tech giants. The Apple v Epic trial delivered its closing arguments in late May this year (here's The Reg's take) and awaits judgement in Oakland's Federal Court by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The Google vs Epic case is ongoing.

Google also has proposed class actions from consumers and developers to contend with, as well as enforcement actions from multiple states' attorneys-general, all accusing the company of monopolising the market for distributing apps on Android devices through its Play Store.

A senior director of public policy at Google yesterday told Reuters that "the rushed process hasn't allowed for enough analysis of the negative impact of this legislation on Korean consumers and app developers."

Other critics have claimed the move by legislators in Korea – as with the other antitrust moves around the globe – may have impact on bilateral agreements it has with the States. At any rate, devs in Korea and elsewhere will be listening closely on Monday for the rattle of the key to consumers' online wallets. ®

The PC market is on the rise in India, prompting Lenovo to expand its local manufacturing capabilities, the company announced this week.

"Lenovo is expanding in India across all business lines, including PC and smart devices, smartphones, infrastructure solutions, and especially in the newly established services & solutions group," said Lenovo in a canned statement.

The expansion includes a third manufacturing line in Puducherry, which will double the facility's capacity to two million PCs a year. It also includes a partnership with Wingtech Technology to manufacture tablets in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, and a partnership with Dixon Technologies to manufacture nearly all of Motorola's India-bound smartphones in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.

On Call Welcome to another in The Register's series of confessions from readers who were either possessed by the pager or all too happy to fire off a demand for On Call support.

Our story, from a reader Regomised as "Will", takes us back a quarter of century to the back office of a well-known UK bank. You know the one – it had a strapline that Will noted was "an absolute nightmare of a slogan if we ever refused anyone a loan."

It had a substantial amount of Unisys B-Series gear, in this case one server per 20 connected clients. "We had nine of these server/client configurations," Will recalled. And he was responsible for supporting them.

The Central Japan Railway Company will replace smoking rooms on some of its Shinkansen bullet trains with Zooming cars.

The company already offers on-train WiFi, but recognizes that a certain viral pandemic has made video conferencing rather more popular. It feels its trains should not be Zoom-free zones that inconvenience business travellers.

Scientists in Japan have 3D printed an approximation of one of the nation's delicacies, Wagyu beef, in an experiment involving bovine stem cells.

A team at Osaka University extracted bovine satellite cells and adipose-derived stem cells from formerly live cows to grow muscle, fat, and blood vessels in a laboratory.

After analyzing a slice of the genuine article for its design, the boffins spent two days 3D printing layer upon layer of their lab-formed tissue, each just hundreds of microns thick, to create a facsimile of Wagyu beef. The overall goal being to investigate "a promising technology for the fabrication of the desired types of steak-like cultured meats."

Society should treat disinformation as the product of an industry worthy of regulation, not a crime committed by individuals, according to Dr Ross Tapsell, a senior lecturer and researcher at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

"Trust in media is on the decline," said Tapsell, who further iterated that this trend was worldwide, but heightened in Southeast Asia and Malaysia. The researcher added that those who do not trust the media will turn to unofficial channels to seek out information and news.

Tapsell serves as the director of ANU's Malaysia Institute – one of the world's leading academic institutions for the study of Malaysia, established both to further an understanding of Malaysian studies and to foster relationships between Australia and Malaysia.

Apple has announced the settlement of an anti-trust case brought by a group of developers, and while Cupertino has made concessions the result will not be huge changes in the way the App Store operates or the company's practices.

The case that Apple proposes to settle is Cameron et al v. Apple Inc. [PDF], which was filed in 2019 and sought to challenge Apple's App Store monopoly. The plaintiffs were Donald R. Cameron, who developed an app called "Lil' Baby Names", and Pure Sweat Basketball, Inc, which created the "Pure Sweat Basketball Workout" app.

Both claimed that Apple's App Store was a monopoly, that Apple's 30 per cent sales commission was only possible because of the monopoly, and that Apple's insistence on a floor price of $0.99 disadvantaged developers who wanted to compete with free apps more effectively.

Western Digital says it will alert customers when it reformulates its products by modifying their firmware and electronics, as opposed to burying salient changes on a spec sheet without any public announcement.

This issue came up lately when the computer storage giant low-key altered the components in its WD Blue SN550 NVMe SSD. The product data sheet was quietly updated to reflect the change. Nonetheless, Chinese tech site Experview spotted the refresh when it compared an SN550 SSD made on July 28, 2021 with an earlier model and found the flash memory identifier and firmware number differed.

What made that a matter of concern was that the SN550 with the new components has a write speed of 390MB/s that's only about half the old configuration once the cache was used up. In effect, Western Digital silently downgraded the SN550, seemingly using slower NAND flash, presumably as a cost-saving measure.

Infosec outfit Wiz has revealed that Microsoft’s flagship Azure database Cosmos DB could have been exploited to grant any Azure user full admin access – including the ability to read, write, and delete data – to any Cosmos DB instance on Azure. Without authorization. For months.

Wiz has named the flaw ChaosDB.

“By exploiting a chain of vulnerabilities in the Jupyter Notebook feature of Cosmos DB, a malicious actor can query information about the target Cosmos DB Jupyter Notebook,” reads Wiz’s explanation. “By doing so, the attacker will obtain a set of credentials related to the target Cosmos DB account, the Jupyter Notebook compute, and the Jupyter Notebook Storage account, including the Primary Key.”

The US Department of Justice and the SEC on Wednesday charged the former CEO and co-founder of mobile development testing biz HeadSpin with defrauding investors.

The government's complaint [PDF], filed in a federal district court in San Jose, California, contends that Manish Lachwani, who helped found HeadSpin in nearby Palo Alto in 2015 and served as its CEO until May 2020, raised money by overstating the company's financial performance.

"We allege that Lachwani misled investors into believing that HeadSpin had achieved a 'unicorn' valuation by winning hundreds of lucrative deals, including many with Silicon Valley's biggest and most high profile companies," said Monique Winkler, Associate Regional Director of the SEC's San Francisco Regional Office, in a statement. "Companies and their executives must tell the truth when speaking about financial metrics that are material to the value of the business."

TSMC is reportedly increasing its chip manufacturing prices by as much as 20 per cent in the near future.

For things like microcontrollers and other components on larger process nodes – think 120nm down to about, we guess, 16nm – TSMC will raise its prices by 20 per cent, and for higher-end processors and system-on-chips on its more-advanced nodes – everything else down to 7 and 5nm – prices will go up 10 per cent, according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Typically, the larger-process-node chips tend to be workhorses in vehicles, appliances, and most electronics, and state-of-the-art application processors and accelerators found in phones, PCs, and servers are fabricated using the smaller process nodes. The price rises, if true, may lead to more expensive gear for buyers.

Apple, having recently invoked the "think of the children" defense against rivals seeking to open competing iOS App Stores, has been accused of not thinking of the children.

In a report released on Wednesday, the Tech Transparency Project contends that Apple "is failing to take even the most basic steps to protect children" in the App Store. Failures in age verification exposed children to pornography, gambling, and a host of other supposedly age-limited apps.

"Using an Apple ID for a simulated 14-year-old, TTP examined nearly 80 apps in the App Store that are limited to people 17 and older – and found that the underage user could easily evade age restrictions in the vast majority of cases," the TTP report said.

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