Apple must let apps link to other payment options after petition fails

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Apple has mostly handled Epic Games during the two companies’ dispute over third-party payments in apps and games. But the courts have sided with Epic in one area, saying that Apple must halt its anti-steering practices. Apple’s payment options not only prevent apps from accepting third-party payments in-app but also stop apps from informing customers of better prices elsewhere. In September 2021, a Northern California court ruled that Apple must allow third-party payments and messaging. Apple has appealed the ruling for years, but now, it has been upheld for good.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s ruling in the case, in a decision called a denial of certiorari. This means that the lower court’s decision is upheld, and since the case has reached the highest U.S. court, there is nothing else for Apple to do. As such, the company will have to allow messaging that steers customers away from in-app purchases. For those unfamiliar, these moves matter because Apple takes a cut as high as 30% for purchases made through the App Store.

For example, buying V-Bucks — the in-game currency for Epic Games’ Fortnite — is cheaper directly through Epic. The publisher passes the savings it gets by not having to share revenue with Apple onto end users. But per current App Store rules, it can’t tell users about the game through the Fortnite app itself. It would have to do so via other means, like social media or word-of-mouth. (Fortnite isn’t on the App Store at all anymore, since Epic intentionally violated the guidelines to set up the legal review that concluded today.)

Now that the Northern California judge’s ruling appears to be set in stone, that will change. Soon, we can expect apps to provide pop-ups or other notices that in-app purchases are cheaper elsewhere.

What the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t change

Epic, among other app developers, also argued that the App Store itself violated antitrust laws. The logic here is that because there are no other app stores on iOS, customers have to use the official App Store. However, the courts did not side with Epic on this matter. The App Store is still allowed to be the only way to install apps on iOS devices, at least in the U.S. Today’s ruling comes as Apple gears up to allow sideloading in the E.U. based on new regulations.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision, which rules out both Epic’s and Apple’s appeals. “The court battle to open iOS to competing stores and payments is lost in the United States. A sad outcome for all developers,” Sweeney wrote in a post on X. “As of today, developers can begin exercising their court-established right to tell US customers about better prices on the web.”

Apple has not publicly commented on the decision.

As for what the decision means for end users, it depends. There are still some advantages to completing in-app purchases with Apple, like simpler processes, payment security, and better subscription management. However, you should expect to see more notices pointing you to other payment options in apps soon. If you want to pay the cheapest price, it might be worth looking into, since Apple’s payment options will be expanded.

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