Gadgets & apps

This article was published on March 31, 2022

Apple allows ‘reader’ apps to include links for signs ups, but of course, there are conditions

You can't tell customers about prices, though


Apple allows ‘reader’ apps to include links for signs ups, but of course, there are conditions
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

Last night, Apple took a massive tiny step toward allowing developers to include links to their sites in the apps — but this is just for ‘reader’ apps.

This isn’t a surprise, though. The firm announced this change last year to close the Japan Fair Trade Commission’s (JFTC) investigation that looked into the antimonopoly practices of Apple.

The Cupertino-based company considers any app that provides digital content a reader app. Think of magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video. So Netflixs and Spotifys of the world will finally be able to link to their website for account creation and management.

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However, there are many layers and conditions to this. One of the most important ones is that apps still can’t tell customers about their payment plans and offers. So your link can’t say “Sign up for our service for just $5.99.”

The new change is kinda significant for some apps — especially Netflix. Prior to this, the streaming company couldn’t redirect you to its site to create an account if you didn’t already have one. But you can’t pay for the plans on the app.

In contrast, Spotify already makes it possible to create an account from the app, offering an ad-supported tier to its services.

There are also other conditions that you need to comply with, like opening the link in an external browser and not passing additional parameters that compromise user privacy. You can read all about it here.

As a developer, first, fill out a form to get approved for the External Link Account Entitlement.

Once you’ll get the approval, you need to follow Apple’s design guidelines as shown in the picture below on how to include links to your site. Of course, the final approval still rests with the company when you submit the app.

Apple has strict design guidelines on how to add external links to the site.
Apple has strict design guidelines on how to add external links to the site.

All in all, Apple’s not making huge strides in terms of giving developers the freedom to let users sign up for their services. While it makes signing up for some accounts, a tiny bit easier, most things are still unchanged.

While the scrutiny around its App Store policy has been growing amongst lawmakers across the world, the company has been conservative about mending its practices.

Last August, it allowed developers to send emails to customers to inform them about various offers and alternative payment methods. Plus, it allowed dating apps in the Netherlands to include third-party billing methods for in-app payments — but it’s still collecting a 27% cut instead of 30%.

It’s pretty clear that Apple won’t make massive changes to how it operates the App Store without some arm wriggling.

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