Is Apple’s Hold on Third-Party Apps Loosening, or Does it Just Look That Way?

Apple is recognised for a number of defining traits: sleek, enviable hardware, and a helicopter-parent approach to anyone who has access to their vast userbase, by means of their App Store.

That final quality has never shone through more clearly than it has in 2020, when the ongoing battle between the tech giant and the video game developer Epic Games came to a head, and led to its total removal from the iOS platform.

What followed was a like-for-like that applied to every major company looking to get in on the new world of SaaS (streaming as a service) for games. Apple insisted that its security regulations simply could not allow these large, omnipresent conglomerates to access their userbase.

For many months, the App Store’s grip on third-party entities seemed to tighten by the hour. But, is it beginning to release, or are we being too hopeful?

A Complex Landscape of Restrictions

The most popular category on the App Store – and by a long shot – is gaming. In fact, games currently comprise more than 20% of downloads, with mobile-based gameplay in general turning over billions of dollars each and every year, and leading the way for the entire industry.

It’s no secret that Apple’s shifting policies for large and independent app developers is a deterrent for many. Creators have to weigh up the benefits of existing within the iOS App Store – arguably the most lucrative platform in the globe – and being caught within the company’s complex web of curbs and restrictions.

This is why so many of the world’s top casinos choose to circumvent app development, and reach their audiences by other means. While it represents an incredibly high-traffic platform for apps, many app developers gave up trying to get into the App Store. Instead opting for online versions which could not be taken down.

For many years – even before the highly publicised legal dispute with Epic Games – Apple’s strangle-hold on developers has created an incredibly trying environment. But, with hundreds of millions of users accessing the App Store ever year, developers’ choices are limited; either grapple with high fees for revenue (until recently, 30% for any developer), or lose ease-of-access to Apple’s users.

The Change

Apple recently released a statement confirming that ‘small’ developers – those who turn over less than $1 million each year – will see an additional 15% in revenue, as Apple reduces its usual cut by half.

In reality, this decision will impact Apple very little; small developers represent just 5% of the company’s App Store revenue.

Furthermore, just this month, Apple came under fire from Facebook, who claimed that a new policy designed to curb the use of personalised and targeted ads within apps – and, by extension, developers’ abilities to track users and utilise that data for further profit – will be devastating for small developers, for whom ad revenue represents one of their most significant forms of income.

Apple has built an entire business on being very public about the protective arm it throws over its users, but more than ever before the motives behind this performance are showing through. The dispute between them and Epic Games led to a fair amount of speculation over their true intentions behind banning the developer, despite the fact that, from beginning to end, Apple maintained their position as one of concern for the security of players. Now, their omission from the App Store Best of 2020 list is glaringly obvious.

Profit remains key, however – and while we cannot fault a company for looking to generate the most revenue from its users, creating a landscape in which smaller businesses cannot move for doing wrong is very worrying. It seems 2020 has been the year of Apple giving to small developers with one hand, and taking away with another. This is, of course, nothing new, but our ability to see it happening is growing sharper.