Apple unveils significant change to the way EU iPhone users can pay for Spotify — but it still wants that 27% cut

App Store icon logo on an iPhone 12 Pro
(Image credit: James Yarema / Unsplash)

Apple continues to tweak its App Store rules in an attempt to comply with the European Union's Digital Markets Act which came into force at the beginning of March. Its latest change allows Spotify and other music streaming apps to offer their EU-based users a link or buy button that will send them to their own website — and that website can offer alternative payment options, bypassing the App Store entirely.

The move doesn't mean that app developers will be able to keep all the money to themselves, however, because they'll still have to hand over 27% of any transactions that are completed within seven days of the link being clicked. But it's another option that was previously forbidden but is now allowed, albeit while still costing developers money.

Apple also confirmed that it will now allow game emulators into the App Store worldwide, as it continues to make wholesale changes to a system that has drawn criticism for a decade, and we can likely expect more changes to come as well.

Music to Spotify's ears

Apple confirmed the rule changes in a post to its developer website, simply saying that it had updated the App Store's review guidelines "to include Music Streaming Services Entitlements." It's only when we take a look at the new section that things start to get interesting.

"Music Streaming Services Entitlements: music streaming apps in specific regions can use Music Streaming Services Entitlements to include a link (which may take the form of a buy button) to the developer’s website that informs users of other ways to purchase digital music content or services," Apple's developer guidelines read. "These entitlements also permit music streaming app developers to invite users to provide their email address for the express purpose of sending them a link to the developer’s website to purchase digital music content or services."

Apple continues, saying that "in accordance with the entitlement agreements, the link may inform users about where and how to purchase those in-app purchase items, and the price of such items." However, the entitlements are still limited to use on iPhones and iPads in the EU, meaning that "in all other storefronts, streaming music apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase."

While Apple didn't specifically call out Spotify, it's easy to imagine that the Swedish streamer was forefront of its mind when writing these new rules. Apple was recently fined $2 billion by the European Commission after Spotify complained about the way it was complying with the DMA. The EC argued that Apple prevented developers from "fully informing iOS users about alternative and cheaper music subscription services outside of the app," giving an unfair advantage to Apple's own Apple Music platform.

Apple's new change is clearly an attempt to appease the EC and the DMA's anti-steering rules, but it remains to be seen whether it's enough. Following news of the fine Apple released a statement reminding everyone of Spotify's growth within the App Store, seemingly suggesting that the world's biggest music streaming platform wouldn't be where it is today if it wasn't for the iPhone.

Spotify has not offered subscriptions via the App Store for years because it doesn't want to pay Apple a cut of its subscription-based proceeds but did recently say it would update its app to comply with Apple's newer linking offerings earlier this year. Spotify has reportedly complained regarding these latest changes, and over the weekend the European Commission announced it was "assessing" whether Apple has fully complied with its decision, handed down on March 4

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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.