Photo: Dan Frommer, Business Insider
Apple has always been the technology company that values simplicity and a good user experience above all else — “It just works.”But not all the time.
Apple is now forcing some of its iPhone and iPad app makers to give their customers a worse user experience, in order to comply with Apple’s new rules regarding in-app commerce.
It seems un-Apple-like, but it’s the new reality.
Here’s what’s going on. App makers like Hulu — and, likely soon, Netflix and Amazon — are being forced to remove links from their apps to their web sites, where people can sign up for subscriptions to their services, such as Hulu Plus.
At All Things D, Peter Kafka illustrates the difference between the new Hulu Plus app and the old one: The old one had a link to Hulu’s website where people could sign up for a Hulu Plus subscription, while the new one doesn’t. (See screenshot below.)
Before, if you downloaded the Hulu app and wanted to watch videos, you’d see a link telling you that you needed to go to Hulu’s website to sign up for a Hulu Plus subscription.
Today, you’re on your own figuring that out. Hulu can’t link you straight to their Hulu Plus signup page anymore. You have to go to the browser, type it in manually, Google it, whatever.
The reason this is happening is that Apple wants all in-app subscriptions (and in-app purchases in general) to go through its iTunes system, which gives Apple a 30% cut of all sales. Beyond the additional income, Apple may argue that iTunes is the simplest subscription purchasing method for consumers, so it’s acting in your best interest, too.
But many businesses with apps simply can’t or won’t give Apple a 30% cut of all their sales — period. Especially the bigger, more established ones.
So companies like Hulu are now being forced to reduce the quality of their app’s user experience to satisfy Apple’s requirements. (Yes, these new rules are actually more relaxed than what Apple initially proposed, but that doesn’t matter. It’s still worse than it was before.)
It’s easy to see what Apple is thinking: By exerting some pressure, app makers may eventually give in and start using Apple’s iTunes purchasing system for subscriptions — whether because of the easy, single sign-in experience for buying stuff, because it may drive incremental sales, whatever.
Apple clearly wants to make life easier for the companies who use its commerce platform by making life slightly more difficult for the ones who don’t. And it may work.
But the result for Apple customers in the meantime is a somewhat more confusing, worse user experience in some of the most popular apps.
Soon, for example, Kindle app users may have to figure out that they have to manually load up Amazon’s website in their iPhone or iPad browser to buy e-books, instead of following the “Kindle Store” link in the app. Not a huge deal, but more work for the user, and potentially fewer sales for Amazon. (Apple’s rival iBooks app, of course, uses iTunes for purchases. But that’s keeping the money in-house.)
Apple can probably get away with this.
There isn’t enough competition from the likes of Google, RIM, and Palm yet to matter. And even if there is, it’s unlikely that any of those rivals will be able to brag that their devices are easier to use than Apple’s. So this isn’t likely to hurt Apple at all — another reason they’re doing it.
But it feels weird. Even if it may potentially make things easier or better in the long run, it’s strange and a little disappointing that Apple is forcing its user experience to get a bit worse in the meantime.
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Photo: Screenshot via All Things D
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