Microsoft is making some firm commitments today for the future of Windows app stores. The software giant has published 10 principles that it takes as promises to app developers, including not to block competing deals on the platform or to block certain business models that an app may make money from.
The principles also include that Microsoft maintain its own apps to the same standards as competing apps and is committed to "charging reasonable fees" that reflect the competing app stores on Windows. Microsoft also says it won't block apps on Windows based on a developer's choice of in-app payment systems.
These new principles are a clear answer to problems in the App Store that affect both Apple and Google – particularly Epic Games' ongoing litigation with Apple. Epic Games has implemented its own payment system for iOS and Android in Fortnite, which violates the guidelines of Apple and Google and forces developers to accept a 30 percent cut for in-app purchases of digital goods.
Fortnite on an iPhone.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
Apple and Google subsequently removed Fortnite from their app stores, and Epic Games immediately filed a lawsuit against Apple and Google. Android users can still download Fortnite from the site thanks to the openness of the Google operating system, but iOS users will no longer be able to install or reinstall the game. There have been disputes between Apple and Epic Games over these App Store policies that will ultimately be resolved in court next year.
Developers are also increasingly concerned about Apple's App Store policies, which many believe are restrictive of competition. Spotify, Epic Games, Tile, Match and others have teamed up with other developers against Apple and demand a "level playing field for app companies" and freedom of choice on Apple devices.
The European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation into Apple's App Store and Apple Pay practices earlier this year. Earlier this week, Congress released a blockbuster tech antitrust report classifying Apple as a "monopoly" for its control over iOS and iPadOS software.
"In the absence of competition, Apple's monopoly on software distribution on iOS devices has harmed competitors and competition, decreased the quality and innovation of app developers, increased prices, and decreased choice for consumers," it said the report. The antitrust report also claims Apple is using "privacy as a sword to shut out rivals and a shield to protect itself against charges of anti-competitive behavior".
Microsoft makes it clear that its new App Store guidelines are aimed at Apple. "Windows 10 is an open platform," says Rima Alaily, Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft. "Unlike some other popular digital platforms, developers are free to choose how they distribute their apps."
Next generation Microsoft Xbox consoles.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge
The software maker also addresses the fact that developers continue to charge 30 percent fees for in-game purchases in their own Xbox store. "It is reasonable to ask why we don't apply these principles to this Xbox store today," says Alaily. “Game consoles are specialized devices that are optimized for a specific use. Despite being very popular with their fans, they are far inferior in the PC and phone market. And the business model for game consoles is very different from the ecosystem around PCs or phones. "
Microsoft often sells Xbox consoles at low margins and offsets some of its costs by selling games and merchandise digitally, including cuts to digitally selling games on its platform. This is a different business model from Apple, which has high margins on iPhone and iPad devices and still makes 30 percent of sales on in-app purchases. Microsoft admits that "more work needs to be done to establish the right principles for game consoles".
Here are all of Microsoft's 10 App Store principles:
- Developers are free to choose whether they want to sell their apps for Windows through our App Store. We will not block competing app stores on Windows.
- We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer's business model or content and service delivery, including whether content is installed on a device or streamed from the cloud.
- We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer's choice of which payment system to use to process purchases made in their app.
- We will provide developers with timely access to information about the interoperability interfaces we use on Windows, as set out in our Interoperability Policy.
- Every developer has access to our App Store as long as they meet objective standards and requirements, including those for security, privacy, quality, content and digital security.
- Our app store charges reasonable fees that reflect competition from other app stores on Windows and doesn't force a developer to sell anything within their app that they don't want to sell.
- Our app store does not prevent developers from communicating directly with their users through their apps for legitimate business purposes.
- Our app store keeps our own apps to the same standards as competing apps.
- Microsoft does not use non-public information or data from its app store about a developer's app to compete with it.
- Our App Store will be transparent about its rules and guidelines as well as about advertising and marketing opportunities, apply them consistently and objectively, communicate changes and provide a fair process for resolving disputes.