Apple extends an in-app purchase exemption for some developers impacted by pandemic

The pandemic isn’t over yet, according to Apple. The iPhone maker has once again pushed back a Covid-era deferral of an App Store rule that allowed app developers to bypass Apple’s in-app purchase system for specific services that had been forced to go virtual due to ongoing Covid outbreaks. Specifically, Apple will continue to defer its App Store Review Guideline 3.1.1, which requires apps offering “paid online group services” to do so via in-app purchases.

The impacted developers — whose original business models were built around in-person events, not virtual ones — have been able to forgo Apple’s requirement to use its in-app purchase system during the pandemic.

Initially, Apple had only dropped the in-app purchase requirement on person-to-person services — like those involving a medical consultation between a doctor and patient, a tutoring session between a teacher and student, a real estate tour between a realtor and client, or a fitness training session between a trainer and client, for example. But Apple was soon publicly criticized by Meta (Facebook), for continuing charge commissions on group services events that could hurt small businesses during a global pandemic.

Facebook, of course, had an ulterior motive. It wanted Apple to give it permission to use Facebook Pay, its own payments system, where it was waiving fees, instead of Apple’s in-app purchases. Even if Apple had only temporarily agreed, Facebook would have been able to onboard many thousands of customers into its own payments ecosystem.

Instead, Apple temporarily deferred its own fees for online group services, including one-to-few and one-to-many services, like online seminars or group yoga classes. This addressed Meta’s criticism that it was profiting off the backs of small businesses being crushed by the pandemic, while also not giving Facebook Pay any advantages.

As the pandemic continued, however, Apple has had to keep pushing back the deadline that would have ended the deferral and returned these businesses to Apple’s in-app payments system. In November 2020, Apple extended the deadline for the deferral’s end to June 2021. And in April 2021, it extended it again to December 31, 2021. Last November, Apple reminded developers the deadline was soon approaching.

Unfortunately, the impacts of the omicron variant caused Apple to push that deadline yet again.

Now, the company says impacted developers will have until June 30, 2022, to return to Apple’s in-app purchase system — a date Apple clearly hopes will be a more palpable time frame to start tapping back into its lost revenue stream.

The company also noted it’s extending the deadline to implement account deletion functionality inside apps that allow for account creation, due to “the complexity of implementing this requirement. In other words, it’s a change that’s time-consuming and difficult to implement, but even more so when businesses are again struggling with office closures, staff out sick with Covid, and kids attending virtual school at home.

The extensions, announced quietly over the weekend with a post on Apple’s Developer site, come at a time when Apple’s in-app purchase business model is under attack from many sides. The company is engaged with a lawsuit with Epic Games, now under appeal, and was just fined by a Dutch regulator for not complying with antitrust rules as Apple continues to force developers to use its in-app purchase infrastructure for third-party payments. The company also had to recently comply with a similar rule over in-app payments in South Korea.