Apple loosens some in-app restrictions after friction with developers

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Apple has issued new rules for its App Store in an effort to address some of the issues that have cropped up regarding the company's governance of its digital storefront for iPhones.

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The changes include, but are not limited to, updates for game streaming services, fewer restrictions for in-app purchases on free email apps, and new rules for online classes.

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According to The Verge, the most notable alteration is an explicit ruling on game streaming services such as Google Stadia or Microsoft’s xCloud, which Apple tells CNBC are now allowed.

That said, the company's flexibility stretches only so far. Each game must also be downloadable “directly from the App Store" and every update must be individually submitted to Apple before a company could stream to its users — meaning Microsoft or Google are not able to build an overarching app with access to all games.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The companies can offer games on the App Store as separate pieces of software using their streaming tech, and they can also build so-called “catalog” apps that can link out to individual apps.

Nevertheless, the game-streaming apps would still be subject to Apple’s normal App Store rules, including its controversial 30% cut and Microsoft and Google would have to radically change their business models to get their cloud gaming services onto the iPhone.

In a statement, Microsoft disparaged the move, saying that even with the proposed changes, user experience will still be "bad."

"Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud," they wrote. "We’re committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission."

Additionally, in these new guidelines, "one-to-one" digital fitness or tutoring classes do not have to be billed through the App Store, but “one-to-few or one-to-many services” do require the usual in-app purchase.

Finally, as noted in Apple’s full App Store guidelines changelog, rule 3.1.3(f) adds a formal exception for “free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web-based tool."

The tech giant says that category includes VOIP, cloud storage, email services, and web hosting applications: which are now exempt from having to use Apple’s in-app purchase for subscriptions.

As The Verge pointed out, there are caveats.

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Developers cannot offer purchases or include a call to action to purchase elsewhere that is built into the app itself.

This new rule comes following Apple’s struggle with the Basecamp-developed email app Hey. In another conflict, Apple sparred with WordPress and eventually apologized for seemingly forcing it to add in-app purchases.

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