Apple SVP Phil Schiller: huge iOS App Store changes are coming this spring

Caitlin McGarry
9 June, 2016
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Apple’s App Store problems are well-documented. It’s difficult to find apps, even when searching for them by name, and it’s tough for developers to stand out from the millions of other apps in the store. At next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple will officially announce its overhauled App Store.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, spilled the beans on those changes in Wednesday interviews with The Verge and Daring Fireball. First, a new App Store subscription model will reward developers who can keep paying customers around for longer than a year. Apple will slice its cut of their subscriptions to 15 percent from the standard 30 percent after the first year. The company is planning to encourage all developers to explore the subscription model – and now they actually can. Previously, only certain categories like news, cloud, dating and streaming apps could sell subscriptions through the App Store. That’s going to change in the spring. The 85/15 percent split will kick in sooner than that, on 13 June.

The second big change you’ll notice this spring is the search ads appearing in the iOS App Store for the first time, a rumoured change that Schiller confirmed.

“We’ve thought about how to carefully do it in a way that, first and foremost, customers will be happy with,” Schiller told The Verge.

The App Store interface will be easier in general to navigate, with the return of the Categories tab, the addition of 3D Touch so you can force press to share app recommendations with others, and a better way to manage all those app subscriptions you’re about to rack up.

A few features that developers have been clamouring for, like the ability to offer free trials and charge users for major upgrades, are unlikely to appear in iOS 10 this September. According to The Verge, Apple’s thinking on paid upgrades is related to the new subscription model – if developers charge their users on a yearly basis, the cost of upgrades should be baked into that cost.

But it’s unclear if the reduced cut that Apple will take from successful subscription apps will make up for the price increase that some of those apps levy on subscriptions purchased through the App Store instead of directly from the developer. The Verge pointed to Spotify as a prime example, which charges US$9.99 if you subscribe directly on its website and US$12.99 if you subscribe through the App Store. Apple Music is US$9.99 no matter how you subscribe, giving the Cupertino company a leg-up on the competition.

Why this matters: Apple needs to appease developers, who have brought in more than US$40 billion since the App Store’s launch eight years ago. But the increase in subscription-based apps and newly introduced App Store search ads may not be great for those of us who use and search for apps. Apps that shouldn’t offer subscriptions may start doing so, meaning average iOS users will have to choose between paying more, or using fewer apps. In fact, Schiller told Daring Fireball’s John Gruber that these developer-friendly changes won’t even be part of the WWDC keynote – Schiller says it’s because the keynote is just too full, but perhaps another factor is minimising backlash from end users.

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