Apple’s testing of a new iOS subscription payment system is a huge step backwards

Apple is testing a new subscription payment system for iOS devices that would allow developers to automatically charge a higher subscription renewal price rather than requiring explicit opt-in, as long as the user is notified before the price increase. renewal price and has the option to cancel their subscription.

While this is fairly common practice with subscription services, that’s not how it’s supposed to work on iOS. From Apple Developer Documentation (opens in a new tab):

When you increase the price of a subscription, Apple notifies affected subscribers by email and push notification and asks them to accept the new price. On iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4 and later, affected subscribers are also notified via a price consent sheet that automatically appears in your app… If they don’t agree, their subscription expires at the end of their current billing cycle.

The new payment system was first reported by the developer Max Seelemann on Twitter (opens in a new tab) and later confirmed by TechCrunch (opens in a new tab).

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The issue appears to be limited to the Disney+ app for now and only appears to be affecting a limited number of users as part of a pilot test of a new iOS payment system.

Apple told TechRadar that the company is “piloting a new Commerce feature that we plan to launch very soon. The pilot includes developers from different app categories, organization sizes, and regions to help test an upcoming enhancement that will , which we believe will be great for developers and users, and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.”

It’s unclear if this system, if implemented, would be open to all developers on the iOS platform, or if only select developers would have the ability to automatically charge a price increase.

Analysis: Even though it could be worse, it’s still a terrible idea

One of the worst things about subscription-based models is that they require a lot of user management and juggling. Who among us hasn’t completely forgotten that a subscription fee was due on a certain date and only realized it once we suddenly had a lot less money in the bank than we did? thought it?

This is especially problematic when you’re dealing with an annual subscription, which is a lot of money and much more likely to be forgotten by the user (making it more unlikely to be canceled before renewal fees ). Subscription services are a very attractive model for businesses for this reason, and a major headache for users.

Apple’s current system is about as good as you’d expect, all things considered. It may not prevent you from forgetting about an impending renewal and overloading your bank account accordingly, but at least it forces you to explicitly accept a higher price after an ‘introductory’ rate expires and automatically cancels subscription if you don’t. do not do anything.

We’d much rather see Apple stick with this system than let a company automatically charge users a higher rate if they don’t act on it. On the positive side, it seems that the renewal price increase notification is very obvious and there is at least a link for users to review the subscription and cancel it if they wish.

There’s no getting around the fact, however, that it could open the door for well-heeled developers to take advantage of users by starting at a very low price and then increasing it dramatically for renewal. While most users would immediately move to cancel if they saw this kind of fraudulent behavior, even with the new notification system there will be a small subset of users who misread, misunderstand, or simply miss the notification and will find themselves hit with a higher than expected load out of the blue.

Given this potential nightmare scenario, it’s likely that only certain big developers would be allowed to automatically charge you a higher price this way, which is a different issue. This would give big players in the industry special treatment that disadvantages smaller, legitimate developers, with no obvious user benefit.

Given Apple’s generally good track record when it comes to user protection, this feels like a big step backwards and is disappointing to see. If the big fish in the App Store pond get special privileges, we should stop pretending that Apple’s platform is as fair as the company claims.

As this appears to be a small pilot test, we hope Apple sees how valuable its current subscription payment model is to its users and doesn’t break what is already working well.

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Elaine R. Knight