Last week ComiXology, a digital comic books distribution platform, made some changes in the way they do business. They uploaded a new app to the Apple App Store to replace the app that they have had up for some time. The changes that were made were not minimal. They stripped out the in app purchase (IAP) system that they had been using and put in a cloud syncing option so that users could log in to the Comixology.com website to make purchases and then sync them to the app. Unsurprisingly, some people were upset.
“Irresponsible and unreliable” – Khaldun0001
“I almost choked on all the bull$&!@” – Ginger11Breadman
“Uggg what happened?” – zimcrusher
“A lowsy business decision ruins a great app” – Wardfx
These are all titles for recent reviews on ComiXology in the Apple iOS App Store. The reaction from users has been almost unanimous. If you look at the overall star ratings for version 3.6 of ComiXology, over 90% of reviewers gave the app 1 star.
When you have an app that people tend to think positively of and you take away features, those same people are going to be displeased. That is not the case for all users though, as Android users recently got an update to their ComiXology as well. The update to the Android app also removed the IAP system that it used but it replaced it with another IAP system, one built by ComiXology (or their new owner Amazon). While there is a brief inconvenience of having to enter one’s payment information into the new system, the store is still intact as it was beforehand and works pretty much the same. Android users are not faced with the inconvenience of going to the browser and syncing.
Why is the experience changing from one platform to another? It’s simple. Apple. That’s right. Everyone’s favorite tablet manufacturer is the source of the problem. Apple has policies in place that require app developers who want to use an IAP system to use Apple’s own system instead of an alternative. If an app uses Apple’s system, Apple gets a 30% cut of the payment. Amazon obviously does not want ComiXology to give up that extra money to Apple. Google opted to allow developers to have the option of using non-Google IAP systems. Thus, when ComiXology wanted to make the change they did not have to come up with a work around to get their app into Google Play. They just made the changes and moved on.
While the fallout of this decision is a story that I am intensely interested in, there are other facets I want to consider.
This all comes to a head because of the policies that Apple has in place. An iOS device can’t install apps that are not downloaded from the app store. Apps can only gain entry into the App Store when they are approved by Apple. Apps that want to sell certain products like digital goods to be used on the device are required to use Apple’s IAP system in order to be approved into the App Store. Apple charges 30% of purchase price for use of their purchasing program. Plain and simple. Apple is making rules so that they can best exploit their users for financial gain.
This is nothing new. We’ve known about this for some time but I think it’s worth revisiting for thought. Could one make the argument that Apple is doing it to look out for their users? I think not. Otherwise Apple would not allow sites to house payment options for items that are not covered by Apple’s current policy. Would we ever allow Apple to assert such domination over the usage on our laptops? Highly unlikely. Why do we stomach the things that Apple does? Does Apple deserve to charge a 30% tax? I would say yes in regards to items being sold through their purchasing system. Providing the framework for purchasing has been a revenue stream for decades and was established long before Apple got into this business. However, refusing to let providers use another method is silly and serves no purpose. Additionally, Apple has done nothing to deserve that right. We the consumers purchase their products. We fill their coffers. There is no precedent for doing this on computing devices. This boils down to money and greed and I fear that soon things will be getting worse.
Apple has been laying the groundwork and is planning on getting into payment systems very soon. The exact way they will handle it is not known but we know that this is too important of a revenue stream for Apple to turn a blind eye for much longer. There has been nothing to lead me down the path I’m about to go down and perhaps I am being alarmist to even suggest it, but where does Apple stop? When Apple rolls out their payment system, what is going to stop them from requiring all payments in apps from the App Store to use Apple’s payment system? We know that they will buck against trend for the sake of profits. We know that they will force companies into jumping through hoops to get around their rules. We know that Apple does not want to allow any options unless they deem it fitting. Let that sink in for a moment. Consider the possibility that everything you purchase gets a percentage given to Apple.
So as people rage against ComiXology for using the model that Amazon has used on Kindle and Audible, please consider the intricacies of what is going on here. This is more than just a business decision for one product. This is a battle ground for the future of computing. Not only can the outcome have an effect on Apple’s policies but Apple’s policies can have an effect on other company’s policies. Do we want to live in a future in which all of our purchases get a new tax placed on them simply for making the purchase on a device we own? I know I don’t.