ASO news for January 2024
Apple has officially allowed developers to use alternative app stores in the European Union, but the new rules have sparked developer outrage. Google will allow more real-money games on the Play Store. Read all the latest news from the App Store and Google Play in our digest.
1. Apple officially allowed developers to use alternative app stores in the European Union
2. Apple launched global enhancements for streaming game services and apps offering access to mini-apps and games
3. Apple announced new analytics reports to be released in March for developers worldwide
4. Apple allows links to third-party payments in the USA App Store
5. Apple announced changes in App Store Guidelines
6. Apple announced upcoming adjustments to app pricing and taxes, impacting apps, in-app purchases, and subscriptions
7. Google will allow more real-money games on the Play Store
8. Google updated recommendations for the screenshots on Google Play
9. Google allowed developers to prompt users to update to the latest app version
App Store news
Apple officially allowed developers to use alternative app stores in the European Union
In accordance with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Apple unveiled substantial alterations to iOS, Safari, and the App Store specifically for the European Union. From March 2024, users across the 27 EU countries will gain access to these fresh capabilities.
Here are the key changes that app developers can anticipate:
1. Developers can now distribute iOS apps on alternative app marketplaces.
2. Apple introduced a new framework and APIs for the creation of alternative app marketplaces. These empower marketplace developers to install apps and oversee updates on behalf of other developers through their dedicated marketplace app.
However, Apple still controls which developers will be able to create alternative app stores. Marketplace app developers will be required to obtain a €1,000,000 letter of credit from a financial institution with an A-rated status in order to access the entitlement. Only these developers will grant access to the essential new APIs required for the development of their marketplace apps.
3. Developers now have opportunities to employ payment service providers (PSPs) that allow users to complete transactions within their apps.
4. Users will gain the ability to make purchases on a developer’s external website, and developers can inform EU users about promotions, discounts, and other offers available outside their apps.
Apple also declared new protective measures which will take effect from iOS 17.4 or later, commencing in March. They encompass:
- Notarization for iOS apps — a basic review applicable to all apps, irrespective of their distribution source. Notarization combines automated assessments with human review.
- App installation sheets — these sheets use insights gathered during the Notarization process to provide users with concise descriptions of apps and their functionalities before downloading. This includes details about the developer, screenshots, and other vital information.
- Authorization for marketplace developers — this ensures that marketplace developers commit to ongoing requirements aimed at safeguarding both users and fellow developers.
- Additional malware safeguards — these measures prevent iOS apps from launching if they are found to contain malware after being installed on a user’s device.
Additionally, these updates will include enhanced measures in the App Store aimed at safeguarding and keeping EU users well-informed:
- App Store product page labels that will notify users when an app they are about to download employs alternative payment processing methods.
- In-app disclosure sheets — to inform users when their transaction shifts away from Apple and a developer redirects them to use an alternative payment processor.
- New App Review procedures — designed to validate that developers accurately convey information regarding transactions involving alternative payment processors.
- Expanded data portability on Apple’s Data & Privacy site — offers EU users an extended range of data regarding their App Store usage.
The commission structure for developers in the EU will be adjusted as follows:
- For iOS apps on the App Store, the commission rate will be either 10% (for participants in the App Store Small Business Program and subscriptions after the first year) or 17% for transactions related to digital goods and services.
- iOS apps can handle App Store payments with an additional 3% fee. To process payments without this fee, developers have the option to utilize a payment service provider within their app or direct users to their own website.
- A Core Technology Fee was introduced: iOS apps distributed via the App Store and/or an alternative store will incur a €0.50 fee for each first-year installation per year if the number of installations surpasses 1 million.
The Core Technology fee is exempted for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions. However, the Core Technology fee is applicable for free apps, open-source apps, or freemium apps.
Developers of iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS apps in the EU who process payments through a PSP or guide users to their website will enjoy a 3% discount on the commission payable to Apple.
These changes offer an alternative for developers in the EU, and they have the flexibility to either accept these terms or maintain the existing commission structure. The new terms will come into effect in March 2024 for developers who opt in. Developers who choose to adopt these changes after March will apply them to their iOS apps in the EU from the date of their agreement.
Nevertheless, individuals who opt for Apple’s updated EU business terms at any point will not have the option to revert to Apple’s previous business terms for their EU apps.
Apple has also introduced a commission calculator tool.
For a comprehensive understanding of all the latest changes, visit Apple’s developer support page.
These Apple rules for the European Union have already faced criticism from a large number of app developers and the media. Developers highlighted that the conditions set by Apple would create significant obstacles for leaving the App Store and introduce substantial risks when considering an alternative contract.
Sarah Bond, Xbox president, posted on X that “Apple’s new policy is a step in the wrong direction. We hope they listen to feedback on their proposed plan and work towards a more inclusive future for all”.
9to5mac said that “Apple’s third-party app store announcements guarantee the company will end up in court”.
Coalition for App Fairness highlighted that “Apple’s ‘plan’ is a shameless insult to the European Commission and the millions of European consumers they represent – it must not stand and should be rejected by the Commission.”
EU industry chief Thierry Breton exclusively 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 7 March 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.”
Apple launched global enhancements for streaming game services and apps offering access to mini-apps and games
According to Apple’s announcement released on January 25, developers worldwide now have the opportunity to submit a singular app equipped with the option to stream all the games featured in their catalog.
This means that services like Xbox Cloud Streaming and GeForce Now, which were previously available on iOS only via a web browser, will now be able to offer their games on one app.
Apps will have the capability to offer improved discovery avenues for streaming games, mini-apps, mini-games, chatbots, and plug-ins nestled within their apps.
Additionally, mini-apps, mini-games, chatbots, and plug-ins can now seamlessly integrate Apple’s In-App Purchase system, allowing them to offer paid digital content or services to users, such as a subscription for an individual chatbot.
Every experience offered within an app downloaded from the App Store must adhere to all App Store Review Guidelines. Furthermore, the host app is required to maintain an age rating that corresponds with the highest age-rated content featured within the app.
Apple announced new analytics reports to be released in March for developers worldwide
From March, The App Store Connect API will offer access to over 50 new reports, providing developers with the means to analyze their app’s performance and identify areas for improvement. These reports will encompass additional metrics in various domains, such as:
- Engagement — with extra insights, providing details about the volume of App Store users who interact with a developer’s app or share it with others.
- Commerce — with access to additional information on downloads, sales, proceeds, pre-orders, and transactions executed through the secure In-App Purchase system within the App Store.
- App Usage — with further insights into app performance by exploring reports on crashes, active devices, installs, app deletions, and more.
- Frameworks usage — with information detailing an app’s interaction with OS functionalities like PhotoPicker, Widgets, and CarPlay.
Additional particulars regarding report specifics and access will be made available to developers in March. Furthermore, developers will have the convenience of granting third-party access to these reports through the API.
Apple allows links to third-party payments in the USA App Store
Since January 16, following a recent ruling by a United States Court, Apple updated App Store Review Guideline 3.1.1.
Apps offering in-app purchases on the iOS or iPadOS App Store within the United States storefront can now incorporate a link to the developer’s website. This link serves to inform users about alternative methods for acquiring digital goods or services.
To gain this entitlement, developers must initiate a request, activate the entitlement within Xcode, and implement the necessary StoreKit APIs. Apple will conduct an app review to verify its alignment with the terms and conditions associated with the entitlement, in addition to assessing its adherence to the App Store Review Guidelines and the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.
Apple has provided templates that developers can use to inform customers about alternative payment systems within their apps.
Apple has also confirmed that it will charge a commission for purchases made through alternative payment platforms. If a developer enrolled in the Small Business Program or if the transaction involves an auto-renewing subscription in its second year or beyond, the commission rate will be 12%. For other cases, the commission rate will be 27%.
For more comprehensive information on commissions, the process of requesting the entitlement, usage guidelines, and implementation specifics, visit Apple’s support page.
Apple announced changes in App Store Guidelines
The App Store Review Guidelines have undergone revisions to align with updated policies, upcoming features, and to offer greater clarity. Apple now specifies which guidelines exclusively pertain to Notarization for iOS apps in the European Union.
Specifically with regard to Notarization of iOS apps in the EU, the following guidelines have been organized into subsections:
Furthermore, the following guidelines have been removed:
Additionally, changes and updates include:
2.5.6: Now includes a link to an entitlement allowing the use of an alternative web browser engine in your app within the EU.
3.1.6: Was relocated to 4.9.
3.2.2(ii): Was relocated to 4.10.
4.7: Was revised to outline new requirements for mini apps, mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins.
4.8: Modified to require an extra login service incorporating specific privacy features when using a third-party or social login service for establishing or verifying a user’s main account.
4.9, originally concerning Streaming games, was replaced with the Apple Pay guideline.
5.1.2(i) now stipulates that apps may not compel users to enable system functionalities (e.g., push notifications, location services, tracking) in order to access functionality, content, or use the app, or to receive monetary or other compensation, including gift cards and codes. A variation of this rule was initially published as 3.2.2(vi).
After You Submit — Appeals: updated to include an enhanced link to providing suggestions for changes to the Guidelines.
Lastly, the term “auto-renewing subscriptions” has been consistently replaced with “auto-renewable subscriptions” throughout the guidelines.
Apple announced upcoming adjustments to app pricing and taxes, impacting apps, in-app purchases, and subscriptions
From February 13, prices for app and in-app purchases will be updated in Benin, Colombia, Tajikistan, and Türkiye. These changes will also accommodate shifts in taxation:
- Benin: introduction of a value-added tax (VAT) at a rate of 18%.
- Tajikistan: a reduction in VAT from 15% to 14%.
These prices will be updated in the Benin, Colombia, Tajikistan, and Türkiye storefronts, if you haven’t designated one of these storefronts as the base for your app or in-app purchase.
However, if you have selected Benin, Colombia, Tajikistan, or Türkiye as your base for an app or in-app purchase, the prices will remain unaffected in these storefronts. Prices in other storefronts will be adjusted to maintain parity with your chosen base price.
Prices for auto-renewable subscriptions will stay consistent across all regions, and adjustments will not be made in storefronts where manual price management is employed instead of using automated standardized pricing.
Apple also announced that from January 30, developers’ earnings were changed from the sale of qualifying apps and in-app purchases in several countries. These changes were introduced to align with the VAT rate changes in these regions.
- Benin: VAT introduction of 18%.
- Czechia: VAT rate decreased from 10% to 0% for certain eBooks and audiobooks.
- Czechia: VAT rate increased from 10% to 12% for certain eNewspapers and Magazines.
- Estonia: VAT rate increased from 20% to 22%.
- Ireland: VAT rate decreased from 9% to 0% for certain eBooks, and audiobooks.
- Luxembourg: VAT rate increased from 16% to 17%.
- Singapore: GST rate increased from 8% to 9%.
- Switzerland: VAT rate increased from 2.5% to 2.6% for certain eNewspapers, magazines, books, and audiobooks.
- Switzerland: VAT rate increased from 7.7% to 8.1% for all other apps, and in-app purchases.
- Tajikistan: VAT rate decreased from 15% to 14%.
Google Play news
Google will allow more real-money games on the Play Store
Google Play is set to expand its support for a broader range of real-money gaming (RMG) apps in the coming year. This expansion will include game types and operators that were previously outside the scope of existing licensing frameworks.
Starting in June, Google will introduce an expanded RMG support program in India, Mexico, and Brazil, with plans to expand the program to other countries in the future.
A pilot project initiated in India back in 2022 allowed for DFS and Rummy games on the local Play Store. These pilot apps will remain accessible on Google Play in India until 2024. Thereafter, developers will have the opportunity to distribute RMG to users in India, expanding beyond the DFS and Rummy categories, all in compliance with local laws and updated Google Play policies.
In a parallel development, a similar project for DFS games was rolled out in Mexico last November, and it will also continue until June 30, 2024. Beyond then, developers can distribute real-money games beyond the DFS category.
While Google is considering a new payment model for RMG services, specific details regarding the percentage it will collect from developers have not been disclosed. In the upcoming months, the company will unveil its plans regarding RMG.
Google updated recommendations for the screenshots on Google Play
Previously, Play Console Help stated that having 3 landscape screenshots in a 16:9 format was necessary to appear in recommended lists on Google Play.
However, now you have the option to use portrait screenshots as well:
- For apps, you must provide at least four screenshots with at least a 1080px resolution. These should be 16:9 for landscape (minimum 1920x1080px) screenshots and 9:16 for portrait screenshots (minimum 1080x1920px).
- For games you must provide at least three 16:9 landscape screenshots (minimum 1920x1080px) or three 9:16 portrait screenshots (minimum 1080x1920px).
Google allowed developers to prompt users to update to the latest app version
The Play recovery tool provides developers with the capability to prompt users running specific versions of their apps to update whenever they relaunch the app.
To utilize this new feature, log in to the Google Play Console and navigate to either your Releases or the App Bundle Explorer page. From there, you can select the app versions for which you wish to deliver these update prompts. Alternatively, you can access this feature through the Play Developer API, and soon, you will be able to target multiple app versions simultaneously. Keep in mind that the version you intend to prompt must be built as an app bundle.
You can further refine your targeting criteria by specifying countries or Android versions as necessary, without the need for any prior integration.
Google said that more than 50% of users are responding positively to these prompts.
For more details on this feature, refer to this link.
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