Blue Skies and Sour Apples

The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets has an effort to enforce the recent ruling that App Store dating apps must be allowed to use third-party payment methods. I've been following it, and Michael Tsai's roundup contained a biting Twitter quote from Francisco Tolmasky:

It must be really frustrating to roll out an entire plan only to be completely at the whim of a reviewer — err, regulator — to find out whether it sufficiently meets a set of vague criteria.

You could argue that Apple should not be subject to drive-by, after-the-fact regulation, clumsily anticipated "claw game" engineering by finite enumeration of ostensibly reasoned points, each tile creating more cracks and crevices through which people and features will fall. You could argue that the people making these decisions are ill-equipped to do so, and that their incentives are not aligned neither with the developers, nor with the person who's going to be using the thing.

What you can't do is argue these things and then turn around and say that it's all fine when Apple is doing it to developers. Time after time, Apple has either completely missed or blatantly ignored what makes a sensible application for developers and users, focusing on what draws in more money or tightens the regulatory noose.

A recent installment of the ongoing Floatplane App Review saga is instructive. Floatplane COO Luke Lafreniere has ongoing issues with getting a media network app already on the App Store through review, and time after time struggles despite carbon copying solutions adopted by big and successful apps on the App Store, to the point of copying UI wording verbatim.

I won't spoil the ending of the particular story, but even though the developer reach-out representative he is in contact with is cordial, empathetic and understanding, the situation is plainly, on its face, objectively ridiculous. No one is served by the status quo, and there's significant reason to believe that well-meaning, non-evil people on App Review would love to be able to wave a wand and just have things make sense. But that's not the system that's in place.

With the result being busted, unpredictable update schedules and feature Yahtzee slowing down development, not even Apple comes out ahead in practice, at least if the argument that what happens in all apps on their devices reflects on them and their platform is to be applied more than selectively. And after more than a dozen years of this, we have all heard our fill of these stories. If your baby's still teething well into its teens, maybe it's time to reevaluate. (I'm not a doctor, but I suspect spiritual malnourishment.)

The only surprise is that it has taken so long for any authorities to notice the situation and take any sort of action at all. Development turning into what looks and feels like a cruel, counter-productive, systemically capricious parlor game? Welcome, Apple, to the App Store experience; at least you get a €50,000,000 cap for your arbitrary rent.

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