Glenn Fleishman: App Store subscriptions don’t solve problems for most developers

Glenn Fleishman, again at Macworld:

We’ve confirmed with Apple that Schiller’s expansive vision is an accurate one: any developer can submit an app that relies entirely on a subscription to perform a task. It can be effectively a login screen, like with Netflix and Hulu, rather than conform to the broader policy Apple has enforced on most apps that weren’t periodicals and streaming media libraries to date. Schiller’s examples included enterprise apps, which are effectively in continuous development. In fact, many enterprise apps are already sold on a subscription basis, but typically couldn’t charge a subscription fee directly within iOS.

But Apple also stressed that not just every business model will pass its muster. Unlike with periodicals and streaming media apps, which are allowed to have no content or use without a subscription, apps in other categories will need to “make sense.” As Apple notes on the What’s New page, “the experience must provide ongoing value worth the recurring payment for an auto-renewable subscription to make sense.”

We don’t yet know precisely how Apple will evaluate that, and uncertainty is bad for developers. Schiller also promised much faster app review turnaround for developers, but speed doesn’t matter if an app doesn’t meet Apple’s test, and Apple doesn’t yet offer formal advance review of app features or business model. (We have heard of developers discussing features more broadly, but informally, with developer relations staff.)

And the rebuttal from John Gruber:

What I was told from people at Apple today is that “Content” and “Service” are merely examples of the type of apps that qualify for subscription pricing, and they are willing to accept “all categories and apps that make sense as subscriptions”.

They are very much open to feedback from developers on this; will be listening to developers on this next week at WWDC; will have more information about this during WWDC sessions on the new subscription features; and, most importantly, Apple will be providing more details on subscriptions, including a detailed FAQ and updated guidelines, after WWDC.

In short, we don’t have all the answers we need yet. But Apple is aware of the questions.