Apple lives up to its promise to let some developers link to their own sites from their apps, according to an announcement from the company on Wednesday. The new rules, coming into effect today, will let developers of “reader apps” (apps primarily intended to provide access to digital content, such as Netflix, Kindle or Spotify) link to their sites for things like account management. or making .
This should help improve the historically poor user experience for these types of apps caused by Apple’s previous rules. If you previously downloaded the Netflix app but didn’t have an account, Netflix wasn’t allowed to give you a link to sign up or tell you where to go to create an account. That made apps frustrating for users who didn’t have accounts and forced developers who didn’t want to use Apple’s in-app payment system (and lost 30 percent of their revenue) to create a worse experience for potential customers. Now developers should at least be able to create a button that takes you to their website.
However, developers can’t immediately add a signup link to their app’s home screen and be done with it. According to Apple Developer Support Page, you must request a “right” before you can add an external link. Apple has also imposed a specific procedure: if a developer links a user to their site, they must put up a screen explaining that purchases will not be made through Apple. And they will also have to link to an Apple page explaining the risks associated with giving your information to a third-party developer.
Apple also has a list of requirements that apply to the link itself. For instance:
- The link must be opened in a browser, not an in-app web view.
- No additional data or parameters can be passed on to the website.
- Your app should not contain text explaining how much things will cost on your website (for example, Netflix can’t say “tap this button to sign up for Netflix, starting at $9.99 per month”).
Of course, Apple will review changes to apps before they go live. If history is any indication, there will probably be some growing pains where developers think their app is in line with Apple’s guidelines, but App Review disagrees.
When Apple announced that this change would come in September 2021, Apple said it would help close an anti-monopoly investigation from Japanese regulators. At the time, the implementation details were unclear — there were questions about what Apple meant when it said developers could share “a single link.” Given the guidelines Apple released today, it seems like you can only have a single URL that you can direct users to (which can’t go through redirects or to a landing page). However, you can use that link “once per app page”, provided it shows “at least the same message”.
As we’ve mentioned in previous stories, this change is relatively limited in scope. Apple has quite a long list of requirements that apps must meet if they want to qualify for the right. So while this change won’t be a very strong argument for Apple against, say, the EU, it should at least help make the sign-up experience for some apps a little less ridiculous.