Apple will reverse a long-standing ban on app developers attempting to bypass the iPhone maker’s hefty commission charges, loosening its control of the $72bn (£53bn) App Store following rising pressure from watchdogs and rivals.
The technology giant announced a settlement with a group of developers that eases some of the strict rules app makers must follow to publish to the App Store after a legal battle.
Apple is facing mounting scrutiny over the App Store, which is the only way for iPhone users to download apps.
Apple charges a commission of up to 30pc on its own payment system, which consumers must use when buying apps or making purchases within them such as subscriptions.
It has traditionally banned developers if they attempt to use details obtained through the app such as an email address to direct users to alternative and potentially cheaper purchase options.
In the proposed settlement, which must still be confirmed by a US court, Apple said it would lift this restriction, allowing app developers to urge users to buy items such as subscriptions and game power-ups outside the apps on their own websites.
App developers will remain unable to inform users about alternative payment options within an app itself, and guidelines that restrict which apps can use outside payment methods will remain in place, meaning some apps will not benefit from the changes.
The company will also allow developers to sell apps and add-ons at more price points, having previously been restricted to about 100 tiers between 99p and £999.99.
Apple’s app fees: at a glance
The moves are a concession to critics who have accused Apple of exploiting a monopoly over how iPhone apps are downloaded to charge developers excessive fees.
The company faces investigations from multiple regulators, including in the UK, and was last year sued by Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, after the video game was removed for breaking Apple’s payment rules.
A decision in the Epic case, in which the company is seeking to force Apple to allow alternative app stores and payment methods, is expected in the coming weeks.
The Coalition for App Fairness, a group of developers that campaigns against Apple’s control of app distribution and includes Epic, Spotify and Tinder parent company Match, said the announcement was a “sham settlement”.
“Apple’s sham settlement offer is nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid the judgment of courts, regulators, and legislators worldwide,” it said. “This offer does nothing to address the structural, foundational problems facing all developers, large and small, undermining innovation and competition in the app ecosystem.”
The company added that it would set up a $100m fund for developers in the US, and maintain a programme that allows smaller app makers to pay a reduced fee of 15pc.
Worldwide spending on the App Store reached $72bn last year, according to estimates from data company Sensor Tower.
Apple said the changes “will help make the App Store an even better business opportunity for developers, while maintaining the safe and trusted marketplace users love”.