I have worked hard to avoid wasting my time and yours on the brain-sucking minutiae of the years-long antitrust challenge brought by Epic Games against Apple. To make a long story short, Epic wanted to break Apple’s hold on the App Store, bypassing it entirely or at least reducing the 30% commission. At trial in 2021, however, the judge decided in favor of Apple on nine of ten counts. On the remaining count, she ruled that Apple violated the anti-steering provisions of the California Unfair Competition Law by refusing to allow developers to mention external payment options. Both Apple and Epic appealed, and the US Supreme Court just declined to hear either appeal, putting the lower court judge’s ruling into effect.
The practical upshot is that Apple now allows developers to add external payment links, so you may start seeing the option for out-of-app payments in apps. Developers will have to jump through numerous hoops, abide by draconian Apple restrictions about the text and graphic treatment of external payment links, and put up with a scary-sounding warning about how Apple isn’t responsible for anything that happens with purchases made on the Web. Developers must also report all transactions to Apple within 15 days after the end of each month.
That’s because these external payments aren’t commission-free. Apple has long said that the 30% is a commission fee, not a transaction fee (online transaction fees are usually about 3%), and it will continue to charge commissions for external payments. In the end, external payments enjoy only a slight savings—3%, in fact. Apple charges 30% for App Store purchases or 15% for small developers and for the second and subsequent years of auto-renewing subscriptions. The commission structure for external purchases made within 7 days of the link being followed is 27% or 12% for small developers or subscription renewals.
In other words, because developers will have to pay 3% transaction fees to process credit cards, there’s no financial win in adopting external payments—they’ll be paying 30% or 15% regardless. Despite the commission fee wash, some developers, particularly larger ones, may see the extra work involved in external payments as worthwhile in exchange for being able to interact more directly with customers.