App Store Aluminium Anniversary Affiliate Apocalypse

There’s an excellent series tagged App Store at 10 over at MacStories — all worth reading for reminiscing over the laughter, tears and rage of this last decade, but particularly these pieces:

But there is no laughter, just tears and rage, at today’s controversy, which is certainly starting off the decade with a BANG!

Apple Kills the App Store Affiliate Program, and I Have No Idea What We Are Going to Do.

Moments ago, Apple announced that they’re killing the affiliate program, citing the improved discovery offered by the new App Store. (Music, books, movies, and TV remain.) It’s hard to read this in any other way than “We went from seeing a microscopic amount of value in third party editorial to, we now see no value.” I genuinely have no idea what TouchArcade is going to do. Through thick and thin, and every curveball the industry threw at us, we always had App Store affiliate revenue- Which makes a lot of sense as we drive a ton of purchases for Apple. I don’t know how the takeaway from this move can be seen as anything other than Apple extending a massive middle finger to sites like TouchArcade, AppShopper, and many others who have spent the last decade evangelizing the App Store and iOS gaming- Particularly on the same day they announced record breaking earnings of $53.3 billion and a net quarterly profit of $11.5 billion.

I’m just beside myself.

I don’t know what we’re going to do.

I really didn’t think it would be Apple that eventually kills TouchArcade.

I guess now is a great time to link the TouchArcade Patreon again.

I’m just going to turn my phone off and go sit outside.

Yowza. Mind you, it’s not like this couldn’t have been seen coming…

Apple slashes affiliate commission rate on apps from 7 to 2.5%

… but the finality of destroying the affiliate reference business model is a bit crushing. Well, that’s one less avenue of monetization for your curation sites. Not that we were making anything particularly significant off our occasional app reviews, but not particularly significant still is a greater contribution than nothing. Ah well.

If you want to read more, although “tears and rage” pretty much covers it really, as always @mjtsai has a great roundup: Apple Removes Apps From Their Affiliate Program.

However. that’s not the only controversy afflicting the App Store lately; you might recall the WWDC-time excitement around the review guidelines now allowing trials:

Non-subscription apps may offer a free time-based trial period before presenting a full unlock option by setting up a Non-Consumable IAP item at Price Tier 0 that follows the naming convention: “XX-day Trial.” Prior to the start of the trial, your app must clearly identify its duration, the content or services that will no longer be accessible when the trial ends, and any downstream charges the user would need to pay for full functionality. Learn more about managing content access and the duration of the trial period using Receipts and Device Check

Mac App Store Sandboxing, IAP Trials, Multiplatform Services

Awesomeness, right? That’ll satisfy The Developers Union and sympathizers, riiiiight? Errrr, not so much…

Ersatz Free Trials

Every aspect of the solution is bolted on to a system which was not designed for, yet is somewhat admirably being used to simulate real support for free trials. Let me elaborate by listing several shortcomings and how they affect both users and developers in significant ways. Just off the top of my head …

  • Paid apps are listed as free, even though payment is required to unlock core functionality…
  • Bulk purchase programs are unavailable…
  • Family sharing is unavailable…
  • Not applicable to all app types…
  • Apps are ranked and featured in the wrong charts…
  • Transaction mechanics are pushed onto developers…
  • Free trials cannot be easily reset…
  • Apps cannot be made to “just work” out of the box…

There was also some grumbling at the time about the affiliate commission being lost on IAP purchases — well, that particular objection has been dealt with avec finalité, yes. Be careful what you complain about, indeed!

While the vast majority of commentators are satisfied to assume incompetence and/or malice for the lack of conventional free trials, there is a counterpoint worth considering:

Free Trials from Apple’s Perspective

I think Apple have probably thought long and hard about it, and concluded that the options they have introduced are actually better than the free trials developer’s are requesting…

… For me personally — and not a reflection of the opinions of others in my company — Apple are doing this right. There are perhaps a few rough edges — for example, they could word the free In-App Purchase option better — but their philosophy of making it completely clear to customers what they are getting, and when they pay, is on the money. It is not a case of Apple being vindictive. I guarantee they have thought about this problem deeply.

Well, we’re not sure that’s a compelling argument, but we can see that Apple would consider the current state good enough compared to resolving all these issues, definitely. So the chances that anything’s going to change more soon are probably slim indeed. So, to make the best of things as they are, here’s a library for you from BlackPixel:

Announcing IAPKit

Last week at WWDC 2018 Apple announced they are officially supporting free trials for apps via a Non-Consumable IAP item. Inspired by The Omni Group, this is exactly the approach Black Pixel took last year when releasing Kaleidoscope 2 and Pixelboard.

Last Summer when working on these two apps, we decided to create a shared framework to use internally that would wrap the iOS SDK APIs necessary to provide a smooth consistent experience with starting a free trial and upgrading to full app versions. Today we are open sourcing the fruit of this labor as IAPKit.

IAPKit provides an easy way for developers to connect to their own apps’ IAP products and display them in a simple UI that works with Auto Layout, Safe Area Insets, and iPad split-screen modes. We hope the Apple development community finds it as useful as we have…

Or, you could always just not bother with that, and go ahead and trial without it:

Trialware Makes Its Triumphant Return

To reliably answer the question of whether Apple is now allowing all-or-none trialware apps, I wanted to be very up-front about the changes with the App Store reviewer. To that end I wrote this directly into the reviewer’s notes:

We are moving to a “trialware” biz model. The user has 14 days to evaluate the app. After that, they’ll be asked to pay the IAP price to continue using it.
Surprisingly after about a day, the app was approved! Wow!

… To sum up:

  • Apple is now apparently allowing “all-or-none” trialware apps
  • You don’t have to use wonky $0 IAPs and DeviceCheck to make it work

So there you go — we’ll probably try that our next attempt at monetization and see if it continues to work!

Trialling aside, it’s pretty clear that Apple wants everybody to move to a subscription model. That has its upsides and downsides; again, @mjtsai keeps a great roundup updated at Productivity Apps and Subscription Pricing.

And one more tidbit to finish off with on a more amusing note: You know how Apple’s gift cards get auto-scanned? Ever wanted to do that with your own App Store promo codes? Well, here’s how!

Cracking the code behind Apple’s App Store promo card design

Apple’s App Store gift cards have a special trick: you can simply hold one up to your iPhone or Mac’s camera and it’ll automatically scan in the code and redeem the card for you. As developers, we thought it’d be cool to print some of our own promo code cards to give away at events, so we tried to create our own scannable cards. Turns out, there’s more to it than meets the eye…

Alex | August 2, 2018

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