Home / Technology / WWDC 2021: Apple’s big developer conference tries to bypass setbacks

WWDC 2021: Apple’s big developer conference tries to bypass setbacks

For more than a decade, apple (AAPL) app developers have exposed themselves to strict payment restrictions, strict app approval processes and powerful 30% commissions on in-app transactions, all with the promise of reaching a large and growing audience of iPhone and iPad owners.
But Apple’s latest worldwide developer conference, which focuses primarily on software updates, began Monday after months of tensions – and a high-profile trial – over the limitations the App Store is forcing developers to follow. Antitrust regulators and lawmakers in several countries, including the United States, are now investigating how the company operates the App Store. And app manufacturers are talking too.
Monday, minutes before WWDC starts, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has often spread with Apple, announced that the social network would not take a cut from content creators on the platform for at least the next 18 months. In the process, he took a swipe at Apple.
“To help more creators earn a living on our platforms, we will keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, brands and our upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2023,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “And when we introduce a revenue share, it will be less than 30% that Apple and others take.”

Zuckerberg also said that Facebook will launch a “payout interface” to help creators see how much money they are losing on fees from companies like Apple and Google.

Days earlier, Marco Arment, a leading Apple developer behind the podcast app Overcast and founder of the online bookmarking service Instapaper, beat the company’s management in a blog post to try to extract money from developers, even though Apple makes huge profits from hardware sales.

“But to bully and gaslight developers into thinking we need to kiss Apple’s feet to allow us to add billions of dollars of value to their platform is not only greedy, stingy and morally reprehensible, but deeply insulting,” he said.

The criticism hit the underlying power dynamic between Apple and the developer community: developers rely on Apple to reach users, but Apple depends on developers to build apps that help attract users.

As Arment put it: “Without our apps, the iPhone has little value for most of its customers today.”

Rising tension

The commission Apple accuses developers of in-app purchases has long been controversial and under control, but tensions peaked recently when Epic Games, the maker of the popular video game Fortnite, sued Apple in federal court.
Epic accuses Apple of exercising monopolistic control over its “fenced-in garden” iOS operating system, claiming that app makers will be forced to impose strict restrictions if they want access to hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users. Apple claims that there are several other places users can buy apps, and that the commission is helping the company make the devices better and more secure. A verdict in the trial, which ended on May 24, is expected in the coming months.

Epic’s lawsuit brought forward many of the developers’ problems with Apple, and tensions are still simmering against the background of this week’s WWDC.

David Baszucki, CEO of Roblox, another gaming platform mentioned several times during the Apple Epic trial, expressed support for lowering the app commissions in an interview with Axios published on the eve of WWDC.

“It’s fair to say we want to give so much money back to developers,” said Baszucki, noting that the company has “good relations” with Apple and other app store operators. “If these store fees were to change, we would give it back to the creative community.”

A mockup of Facebook's new payout interface, where it estimates how much Apple's and Google's fees cost developers.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company spied on its support for developers several times during the Epic trial – including the $ 50 million it said they spend using WWDC.

“We’re turning the site upside down for developers,” said CEO Tim Cook at the booth. But he also acknowledged that Apple makes decisions “for the benefit of the user” and “sometimes there is a conflict between what the developer might want and what the user might want.”

When it unveiled new software features for users and developers on Monday, Apple reminded them of the benefits of the ecosystem. The App Store now has 600 million weekly visitors from 175 countries and regions, the company said, adding that it has paid more than $ 230 billion to developers since the App Store launched in 2008.

In what is perceived as a possible reaction to accusations that the iOS ecosystem is closed and restrictive, Apple announced that they will make one of their popular products, the video calling service FaceTime, available to users of competing platforms Android and Windows.

“Apple at WWDC is in a thread about convincing software developers to double down on the platform while charging a 30% fee,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told CNN Business.

A settlement over privacy?

While Apple is targeting developers at this week’s event, it also doubles privacy protection with the potential to aggravate some developers and companies.

Apple and Epic Games save in closing arguments over Fortnite

During the main third day on Monday, Apple announced several new controls for users. These include “email privacy”, which allows users to hide the IP addresses and location of companies, and “hide my email”, which generates a random email address to sign up for new sites, such as that companies do not have users’ real email addresses. Another feature, called “app privacy report”, shows users every time an app accesses the phone’s location, contacts, camera or microphone, as well as any third-party websites with which the app shares its data.

Apple previously launched an App Tracking Transparency feature that requires iPhone apps to ask users for permission to track their behavior and sell their personal data. Facebook, which earns almost all the revenue from advertising, warned investors in August that Apple’s software changes could hurt the business and has been particularly vocal against it.
The latest changes in privacy are likely to “cause further concern among companies that rely on user data for tracking, advertising and revenue generation,” CCS Insight chief analyst Ben Wood said in an email following Monday’s keynote address.

But Apple sticks to guns and insists that superior privacy and security features make the devices worth paying for, developing and paying commissions on.

“We do not think you need to strike a balance between good features and privacy,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, during the keynote address. “We think you deserve both.”

Clare Duffy contributed to this report.

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