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Apple’s New Terms Let Apps Automatically Raise Subscription Prices
Along with the launch of the iOS 15.5 update, Apple introduced a new set of rules to govern its auto-renewing subscriptions on the App Store. Now, instead of asking users to agree to any subscription price increase, developers will be allowed to introduce a price increase without the app user’s explicit consent. To many, the feature feels a bit anti-consumer, as it allows developers to simply let customers know they’ll be charged more instead of requiring the customer to opt into the higher pricing.
TechCrunch was the first to break the news that Apple was pilot testing the new program last month when it appeared. Disney+ subscription customers had been told that prices were increasing but were not asked for their consent. Apple then confirmed this was the result of a “new commerce feature” it had planned to launch soon, which it said would be “fantastic for both developers and users.”
Apple’s position on the issue is that it could save many consumers the hassle of having their subscriptions automatically canceled just because they did not see an email or notification that asked them to opt into the price increase.
“This has led to some services being unintentionally interrupted for users and they must take steps to resubscribe within the app, from Settings on iPhone and iPad, or in the App Store on Mac,” the company explained in its announcement on Monday.
However, the opposite side of this argument is that those exact customers who would have missed the consent notification will most likely be the same ones who would now miss the notification informing them that their subscription will be increasing in price.
Customers who don't keep an eye on their inboxes and miss Apple's emails, those who have their iOS notifications silenced or aggregated into summaries using Apple's own notification management tools, and those who use a subscription-based app so infrequently would sometimes rather have their subscription lapse than being automatically opted into paying more.
There's also a case to be made that this shift will make it easier for unscrupulous users to profit from their victims. Although Apple checks apps for compliance with its App Store regulations as part of the vetting process, it has struggled for years to combat subscription frauds. There are still a few apps on the App Store that employ phony reviews to give the impression that their app is popular in order to defraud users.
There's also a case to be made that this shift will make it easier for unscrupulous developers and scammers to benefit from their victims. Although Apple screens apps for compliance with its App Store regulations as part of the vetting process, it has battled to combat subscription frauds for years. There are still a few apps on the App Store that employ phony reviews to make their app appear to be popular in order to defraud users.
Subscription scams are still prevalent today. Unfortunately, this new regulatory shift may exacerbate the harm caused by bad actors.
At the very least, Apple has included a few safeguards in its new program to prevent it from being misused. It states that developers can only raise prices once a year. The increase cannot be more than 50 percent of the subscription price, and the price difference cannot be more than $5 USD per period for non-annual subscriptions and $50 USD for annual subscriptions. It must also be approved by local legislation.
While some developers may be pleased with Apple's latest change because it relieves them of the burden of obtaining consent for minor price changes, others are likely concerned about the potential for abuse—particularly because abuse could have long-term negative consequences for consumers' willingness to subscribe to apps in the first place.
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