Spotify says it isn't bringing in-app purchases back to the iPhone, but new code found in its latest app suggests otherwise

The 2023 redesign of Spotify's app
(Image credit: Spotify)

It's been a strange few weeks for the Spotify app, at least the iPhone one. Reports from December suggested that the company was working to bring in-app purchases back to its app after having removed the ability to sign up for Spotify Premium back in 2016. That was based on code found within its app which showed that there were indeed references to options that would allow people to sign up once more.

However, things got more interesting when just a day later Spotify was moved to respond, saying that it wasn't bringing in-app purchases back to the iPhone after all. Farshad Shadloo told The Verge that “we have no plans to switch IAP [in-app payments] on at the moment.”

That, we thought, was the end of the story. But as is so often the case with a good drama, there's more to it than we originally thought. Because here we are, just a few weeks later, dealing with a distinct case of deja vu. Because once again, Spotify's app has its in-app purchase code back and nobody seems to know why. Spotify had removed it following last month's discovery but today it's back — and it's the exact same code that was discovered before.

Spotify can't make up its mind

The discovery was made by @aaronp613 on X, the social network better known to the majority of the planet as Twitter.

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Backing up for a minute, it's difficult to understate just how big a deal Spotify's relenting on in-app purchases could be. Because it could change the way that people use Spotify on their iPhones.

Right now, people who want to subscribe to Spotify Premium must do so via the service's website, something that's a pain but far from a huge deal. Spotify ditched in-app purchases via Apple's App Store because it didn't want to pay the 30% cut that Apple takes from each transaction. That's something other companies also do, and for the same reason.

But while subscribing to Spotify Premium isn't something people do repeatedly, the same can't be said for another feature of Spotify. The app now allows people to listen to audiobooks, much like Audible and similar options. But because Spotify won't pay Apple its cut, audiobook fans have to buy their books via the Spotify website and then download them in-app. That's something people do much more often, and it's sure to be a bone of contention for many.

Could Spotify be looking to add some sort of in-app payment system to allow people to buy audiobooks in-app? If it is, it'll have to use Apple's payment system rather than its own — Spotify only needs to look at Epic Games to see why. Or try searching the App Store for Fortnite, perhaps.

What's going on?

Spotify couldn't have been more clear when it said that it wasn't bringing in-app purchases back, but it wouldn't be the first time that a company has said one thing and then done the opposite.

It's also possible that Spotify is getting ready to piggyback off future laws that might require Apple to allow third-party payment systems, but time will tell. For now, we can do little more than wait to see what Spotify has in mind. Because there's one thing that is clear. No matter what Spotify says, that code is designed to do something. What it is, we'll find out sooner or later.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.