Archive for March, 2024

Apple’s new Core Technology Fee is a Core Technology Fleece

At the recent EU-organised workshop, Apple explained its proposals for its compliance with the Digital Markets Act, and took questions from developers. One developer, Riley Testut of AltStore (which has announced it will be a third-party app store in the EU) asked an interesting question about Apple’s new Core Technology Fee. He noted that the free open-source app he made and released while at High School would have put him in 5 million Euros of debt to Apple under their new fee structure, even though it was not distributed through its AppStore.

Apple’s lawyer made soothing noises about Apple wanting to support “the dreamers” and to “stay tuned”, presumably for any exceptions Apple may graciously bestow on such developers.

But it made me wonder: what is the Core Technology Fee actually for, if a developer makes an app and distributes it outside the AppStore? So, I asked:

A developer who wants to make an iOS app must do it on a Mac; these are not cheap, and only available from Apple. You’ll need an iPhone to test it (the xcode simulator won’t allow you to check accessibility with Voiceover). You’ll probably want an iPad, too – bafflingly, apps can work on iPads too, even though iOS and iPadOS are completely different operating systems (according to Apple).

A developer license costs $99 per year (although it’s unclear to me if you actually need one if you’re not uploading your app to the AppStore). And if a consumer wants to download your app, they will need a shiny iThing, which they’ve bought from Apple at a premium price, precisely to reimburse Apple for the core technology it contains. Would anyone buy an iPhone if there were no apps available?

So I don’t buy Apple’s argument that developers must pay them for the core technology that the iPhone user has already paid them for. And I wonder if the EU believe it, either; EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said after the workshop

There are things that we take a keen interest in, for instance, if the new Apple fee structure will de facto not make it in any way attractive to use the benefits of the DMA. That kind of thing is what we will be investigating.

To quote Apple’s legal team: stay tuned.

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Happy DMA day to all! Where we are, and what comes next

Yesterday was a momentous day for tech in the European Union; the Digital Markets Act came into enforcement on 7 March. It’s been the law for 6 months already, but affected companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Meta, the usual colossi) were given a grace period to prepare themselves.

Apple spent their time playing silly buggers. They hilariously tried to claim that Safari is a different product on each OS, successfully (but ridiculously) claimed that iOS on tablets is different from iOS on phones.

Then they tried to sneak in a change in Safari that crippled Progressive Web Apps (aka Home Screen Apps) on iOS, presumably concluding that if they hobbled their own browser before the enforcement began, they wouldn’t be on the hook for denying those capabilities to other browser engines they’re required to allow.

Yup, that’s right; they were prepared to throw their own WebKit and Safari teams under the bus and remove Web Push, the Badging API, and all the other work those teams had done. They were happy to destroy many EU businesses that relied on PWAs, and harm those users. They were fine with sneaking in anti-competitive behaviour while blaming the very legislation that is designed to open competition.

As the Financial Times reported, ‘”Contrary to Apple’s public representation, the removal of Home Screen Web Apps on iOS in the EU was neither required, nor justified, under the Digital Markets Act,” a commission spokesperson added.’

Luckily, we managed to organise an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, which was signed by 483 organisations and 4640 individuals (including two Members of the European Parliament), the EU swiftly started investigating, and Apple backed off. To all those who signed: know that your voices were heard, loudly, in Brussels and Cupertino and you made a difference. Thank you.

So where are we now? Apple has revised its statement on killing Web Apps, saying instead

We have received requests to continue to offer support for Home Screen web apps in iOS, therefore we will continue to offer the existing Home Screen web apps capability in the EU. This support means Home Screen web apps continue to be built directly on WebKit and its security architecture, and align with the security and privacy model for native apps on iOS.

This is not a victory; Apple says iOS will still only be able to run Web Apps on the WebKit that it provides, with all its bugs and restrictions.

But a stated compliance plan from an organisation that only four days ago was fined over €1.8 billion for restricting competition in Music apps is not necessarily what everyone else agrees to be compliance. And the EU has already experienced Apple’s complex relationship with ‘facts’ and ‘truth’:

In setting the level of the fine, the Commission took into account the duration and gravity of the infringement as well as Apple’s total turnover and market capitalization. It also factored in that Apple submitted incorrect information in the framework of the administrative procedure.

So I’d be willing to bet that the EU is not okay with Apple’s PWA WebKit restriction. Apple imposes WebKit as the engine for PWAs, yet Recital 43 of the DMA is clear:

When gatekeepers operate and impose web browser engines, they are in a position to determine the functionality and standards that will apply not only to their own web browsers, but also to competing web browsers and, in turn, to web software applications.

An apple with a halloween face, and the acronym 'iANAL'

I am not a lawyer, merely a Lawson. But I’d also be willing to bet that Apple’s proposed deeply onerous terms for third party browsers are anti-competitive too.

On Monday 18 March, the EU is holding an Apple DMA compliance workshop

to provide interested parties with the possibility to ask for clarifications and to give feedback on the proposed compliance solutions.

It will be interesting to see whether EU developers and businesses believe Apple is fully complying with the Digital Markets Act’s intention and requirements. As Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union, Thierry Breton, tweeted

🚨Under the #DMA, there is no room for threats by gatekeepers to silence developers… To all developers in 🇪🇺 & 🌍: now is the time to have your say on gatekeepers’ compliance solutions!

Mr Breton told Reuters:

The DMA will open the gates of the internet to competition so that digital markets are fair and open. Change is already happening. As from March 7 we will assess companies’ proposals, with the feedback of third parties. If the proposed solutions are not good enough, we will not hesitate to take strong action.

Under the DMA, the Commission can impose fines up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide turnover, which can go up to 20% in case of repeated infringement.

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