Pay up or get out: Apple's options for South Korea's App Store law

Posted:
in General Discussion
South Korea's ending of App Store payment restrictions raises questions over how Apple can continue its claimed privacy-driven control over apps -- and whether it will even comply with the new law.

National Assembly of the Republic of South Korea
National Assembly of the Republic of South Korea


South Korea's decision to end Apple and Google's ability to control payments in their App Stores does come with some unspecified wriggle room. There are to be details and practicalities that the country's government says will be worked out during the execution of the law.

This is not a case, however, where the practice means anything less than the theory. Apple and Google have lost their exclusivity, and once broken in South Korea, it may get broken everywhere -- unless these companies take certain steps.

The barrier to breaking up App Stores has always been a mixture of business, politics, and technology. Once enacted, the South Korean decision will demonstrate political will that other countries will follow.

And once enacted, the decision will force Apple and Google to demonstrate that it's technically possible to run multiple payment systems for everything. Currently developers can offer subscriptions outside of the App Store, but can't tell users that it can pay for them elsewhere from within the app.

There is still the issue over whether South Korea's decision breaks international trade agreements. If it does, much is going to depend on the White House's reaction to the vote to pass this law.

An issue likely to cause international tensions is that arguably the new law is really a political move intended to protect Samsung. In case you've been living under a rock for a decade, Samsung is South Korea's pride and joy -- and as it pertains to this market, it is chiefly a hardware vendor and so untouched by this law.

Regardless of US political pressures, however, Apple and Google do have certain countermeasures that they are likely considering as we speak.

Accept the future

For all that it makes via the App Store, Apple's major source of income has been through hardware. It's transitioning to more of a services company, but either way, some loss of App Store income won't destroy the firm.

So Apple could just accept South Korea's decision. It could introduce alternative methods of payment and it could accept that it's going to lose its 15% or 30% cut in some cases as at least some developers switch to their own systems in every territory.

Some developers will stay with Apple. Others will switch and then find that the costs of running such a payment system are high enough that they turn back to Apple.

A still from Epic's parody of Apple's '1984' Super Bowl commercial
Epic Games would surely use its own payment system if allowed


But the biggest players, like Epic Games, will run their own payment systems. They'll also expect to get the same promotion that they have before, and now the App Store becomes a cost for Apple instead of a revenue stream.

The new law doesn't mean there will have to be alternative app stores, but it does mean Apple can't automatically take its cut from app sales. So whatever Apple may think of losing potential revenue, it isn't going to like having to shoulder more of the costs for running the App Store.

During the Epic Games trial, Tim Cook said that breaking up the App Store would raise difficulties for users who then had to pay multiple vendors. "It would be a huge convenience issue," he said, "but also the fraud issues would go up."

True or not, in making that point, Cook also showed that Apple is hardly going to let its app earnings go easily. "[We] would have to come up with an alternative way of collecting our commission," he stated.

It's not as if Apple can just drop apps because they aren't paying, either. South Korea has included clauses that prevent Apple or Google removing apps from their stores as a retaliatory measure, or adding unwarranted delays to approving apps.

If Apple does retaliate against developers by doing either, it is the same as if Apple were to ignore the South Korean law. The country would fine Apple up to 3% of the revenue it earns in that territory.

Cost of doing business

It's not clear how much Apple makes in South Korea. It's also not yet clear when the government would impose the highest fine, or what would trigger any lower rates.

There's also the issue of when it would impose the fines. We don't yet know about grace periods, we don't know whether it would be done by fining Apple its last 12 months of earnings at the point a fine was set, for instance.

We also don't know what would happen if Apple, or Google, broke the law repeatedly. It appears that the government would impose a blanket fine, but it isn't clear.

Center: flag of South Korea
Center: flag of South Korea


Assuming that South Korea does decide, at any point, to fine Apple 3% of its revenues earned in the country, we can't actually know how much that is. The government can presumably figure it out from tax reporting that companies are required to do, but really only Apple knows exactly what it earns where.

If you know what you earn somewhere, then obviously you know what 3% of that earning is. And so you also know whether it's worth just paying the fine.

Apple, and Google, could therefore decide to ignore the South Korean law and just accept they're going to hand over the fine amount every year.

It might be worth it financially, just from a straight balance-sheet calculation over what it costs to run their businesses in South Korea. But it could also be much more worth it for the signal that sends to every other country, including the US.

You can't say the optics are very good, not if a business effectively decides that it is above the law. But these two companies could do it.

And what that will tell every other country is that at best, they should legislate to make higher fines.

Pull out

Apple and Google do have another weapon. They could simply cease operating in South Korea, or anywhere else that enforces this kind of law.

Apple makes a big deal of loving countries like Singapore, but it doesn't sell anywhere for the fun of it. Apple sells worldwide because it can make money worldwide.

If it can't make money in South Korea, there is nothing whatsoever to stop Apple pulling out completely.

It's not as if it hasn't waved that particular fist before. In July 2021, Apple's attorneys threatened to abandon the UK if local courts ordered "unacceptable" patent fees.

The UK is an unusual case as Brexit has made it more difficult and costly to run any international business there. South Korea had no such politically-created issues, except now it does.

Many other countries are currently in the process of antitrust investigations, or litigation, that could equally end up making Apple reconsider its operations. France is due to hear a case on September 17, 2021, about abusive contract terms in the App Store, for instance.

Then in the US, President Biden signed an Executive Order specifically to encourage greater competition for small businesses entering markets dominated by Big Tech firms.

Plus the US House Judiciary Committee has unveiled sweeping antitrust legislation that also takes aim at Big Tech firms like Apple and Google.

Credit: White House
Apple isn't escaping App Store attention in the US, either. Credit: White House

Worldwide implications of South Korea's decision

More than resisting breaking up what it sees as profoundly important for users' privacy, Apple could fight South Korea solely to protect itself everywhere else.

It's not as if Apple can pull out of America, but if countries think they're going to lose the company over this, they may think twice. If they believe they will also lose Google, they will think much more than twice because of how central Google's services are to so many businesses.

There's no question that Apple pulling out of countries would look bad. But Facebook recently threatened to withdraw certain services in Australia, and got what it wanted.

All of the current anti-Big Tech legislation around the world is really about establishing that technology firms are not above the law. We can't have Apple being unanswerable to authorities, but if it's financially more viable for Apple to pay fines or leave countries, it certainly can do so.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 84
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 2,657member
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    tylersdadxyzzy-xxx
  • Reply 2 of 84
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,642member
    For idiots who defended knockoff devices. This is what happens when you allow knockoffs to pass as the real thing. Now countries and anyone can say “don’t like it? Leave.” to Apple and replace them with any knockoff (Samsung in this case) they want.

    Obama failed us, Trump failed us. Biden still has a chance but it may be too late. Instead of pandering to foreign knockoff companies America should have stuck by their innovators and builders. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “but that would be unfair to China”, a country who is first to steal American technology.

    Google should have been stopped in its tracks for the same practices. American or not. The fact Android is open was a HUGE HUGE HUGE red flag. Now, even Google is getting kicked out.
    davkillroy
  • Reply 3 of 84
    darkpawdarkpaw Posts: 212member
    What does this give to an indie developer? I can see it only affecting those developers who have the means to implement their own payment processor.

    What happens if Apple have to allow third-party stores onto iOS? Do I, as an indie dev, have to decide which stores to put my apps on? It's hard enough to deal with the one App Store at the moment, but adding extras will make it very time-consuming for me.

    Will Apple have to create some way for any third-party store to check our developer profiles and certificates?

    And what about updates? If I've signed up to three or four stores, every update has to go to those three or four stores. That multiplies my work with every store I sell in.

    Where are the updates stored? My own server? AWS? Who's paying for this?

    Will every store use the same image sizes for their marketing etc., or will I have to do a 2048x2048px image for Apple's store, and an 1896x1896px one for a different store?

    And what store is going to do this out of the goodness of their hearts? None. There will be a price. Will it be $99/year like Apple's? SO now I have to pay $99 plus $49 plus $35 plus $50 for those other stores every year.

    As an indie dev, I can't afford that. I'd stick with Apple's way of doing it.
    rob53killroyviclauyycFileMakerFellerrepressthismwhitejony0jahbladewatto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 4 of 84
    darkpaw said:
    What does this give to an indie developer? I can see it only affecting those developers who have the means to implement their own payment processor.

    What happens if Apple have to allow third-party stores onto iOS? Do I, as an indie dev, have to decide which stores to put my apps on? It's hard enough to deal with the one App Store at the moment, but adding extras will make it very time-consuming for me.

    Will Apple have to create some way for any third-party store to check our developer profiles and certificates?

    And what about updates? If I've signed up to three or four stores, every update has to go to those three or four stores. That multiplies my work with every store I sell in.

    Where are the updates stored? My own server? AWS? Who's paying for this?

    Will every store use the same image sizes for their marketing etc., or will I have to do a 2048x2048px image for Apple's store, and an 1896x1896px one for a different store?

    And what store is going to do this out of the goodness of their hearts? None. There will be a price. Will it be $99/year like Apple's? SO now I have to pay $99 plus $49 plus $35 plus $50 for those other stores every year.

    As an indie dev, I can't afford that. I'd stick with Apple's way of doing it.
    A post with too many silly questions. Funnily enough, you have answered ALL of your questions in the last line of your post. NOTHING changes for you. 
    tylersdadwilliamlondonelijahgurahara
  • Reply 5 of 84
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,723member
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you believe a developer has every right in the world to post their apps for free on the Apple App Store? Give me one legitimate reason why Apple should be required to host these apps for free. Apple doesn't charge for free apps but could start doing that if they wanted to. Apple could also start charging developers to even put their apps on the Apple App Store and if these stupid laws pass, I'm all for Apple doing that. There's no way anyone could force Apple to host things on their servers for free. It would be like me hosting your email server on my hardware, which I maintain, for free. Get a grip, I'd never do that and I doubt any company would do that. This shows how stupid these laws are.

    Of course, if you want to have your own payment system, then be prepared for Apple to start charging you a hosting fee for every download and install of that app. That's only fair isn't it?
    fotoformatdavwilliamlondonchaickakillroyentropysviclauyycFileMakerFellerrepressthismwhite
  • Reply 6 of 84
    rob53 said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you believe a developer has every right in the world to post their apps for free on the Apple App Store? Give me one legitimate reason why Apple should be required to host these apps for free. Apple doesn't charge for free apps but could start doing that if they wanted to. Apple could also start charging developers to even put their apps on the Apple App Store and if these stupid laws pass, I'm all for Apple doing that. There's no way anyone could force Apple to host things on their servers for free. It would be like me hosting your email server on my hardware, which I maintain, for free. Get a grip, I'd never do that and I doubt any company would do that. This shows how stupid these laws are.

    Of course, if you want to have your own payment system, then be prepared for Apple to start charging you a hosting fee for every download and install of that app. That's only fair isn't it?
    You have misread his post completely!!! He has been arguing that Apple SHOULD pull out of countries which pass laws unfavorable to Apple, like the one that South Korea passed now. Almost, half of his posts in this forum are about this. And he has been ridiculed/ignored by many of the AI forum members for those comments. He strongly believes that Apple pulling out of a major market over unfavorable laws is inevitable and wants to see that happen sooner. His post in this thread was related to that.
    edited August 31 williamlondonkillroyAniMillrepressthis
  • Reply 7 of 84
    looplessloopless Posts: 228member
    Only people who have never developed an app for sale want this to happen. Apple takes care of everything for you, money just appears in your bank account. It's worth every penny.
    thtscstrrfwilliamlondonrob53killroyviclauyycrepressthismwhitejony0jahblade
  • Reply 8 of 84
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you are all for someone going into Target and setting up their own cash registers. 
    scstrrfScot1williamlondonkillroyviclauyycjony0jahbladewatto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 9 of 84
    lmasantilmasanti Posts: 134member
    If we remember that Samsung took its second chief out of jail by treating government to not give money or advertisements during the Olympic games… that move is no surprise.

    When Nokia lost its cell phone business it became a ‘patent troll.’
    Now, that Samsung lost not only its cell phone business but also its chip and display panel business… it is becoming an ‘app store troll.’
    viclauyycjahbladewatto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 10 of 84
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,302member
    neillwd said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you are all for someone going into Target and setting up their own cash registers. 
    I think he's fine with Target selling him the pants and making a profit from it. He just wouldn't want to pay Target a commission for the matching shirt he purchases directly from the pants-maker.
    tylersdadviclauyycdarkvaderelijahg
  • Reply 11 of 84
    gatorguy said:
    neillwd said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you are all for someone going into Target and setting up their own cash registers. 
    I think he's fine with Target selling him the pants and making a profit from it. He just wouldn't want to pay Target a commission for the matching shirt he purchases directly from the pants-maker.
    And then for Target to stop selling the pants, however all parties may lose out.
  • Reply 12 of 84
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,302member
    gatorguy said:
    neillwd said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you are all for someone going into Target and setting up their own cash registers. 
    I think he's fine with Target selling him the pants and making a profit from it. He just wouldn't want to pay Target a commission for the matching shirt he purchases directly from the pants-maker.
    And then for Target to stop selling the pants, however all parties may lose out.
    Yup that's something the pants maker will need to consider.
  • Reply 13 of 84
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,787member
    Beats said:
    I can’t tell you how many times I hear “but that would be unfair to China”
    I've never ever heard or read anyone say that in the US, especially in this forum.  Practically everyone knows, just from daily shopping experience looking at product labels and info, that Chinese companies are doing very well in the US.  Maybe you hear that being said many times because you live in China?
    viclauyycdarkvaderwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 84
    rob53 said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you believe a developer has every right in the world to post their apps for free on the Apple App Store? Give me one legitimate reason why Apple should be required to host these apps for free. Apple doesn't charge for free apps but could start doing that if they wanted to. Apple could also start charging developers to even put their apps on the Apple App Store and if these stupid laws pass, I'm all for Apple doing that. There's no way anyone could force Apple to host things on their servers for free. It would be like me hosting your email server on my hardware, which I maintain, for free. Get a grip, I'd never do that and I doubt any company would do that. This shows how stupid these laws are.

    Of course, if you want to have your own payment system, then be prepared for Apple to start charging you a hosting fee for every download and install of that app. That's only fair isn't it?
    No. As a developer, I feel I should not be limited to Apple's way of distributing apps to my users. 

    It's as simple as that. I won't use their infrastructure and they won't get any money from me (other than my developers subscription). 
    williamlondondarkvaderelijahg
  • Reply 15 of 84
    loopless said:
    Only people who have never developed an app for sale want this to happen. Apple takes care of everything for you, money just appears in your bank account. It's worth every penny.
    Somehow I'm able to get my apps out to Windows users without the use of Microsoft's app store. Just like I've been doing since 1995. 
    williamlondongatorguydarkvaderelijahg
  • Reply 16 of 84
    chaickachaicka Posts: 247member
    rob53 said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you believe a developer has every right in the world to post their apps for free on the Apple App Store? Give me one legitimate reason why Apple should be required to host these apps for free. Apple doesn't charge for free apps but could start doing that if they wanted to. Apple could also start charging developers to even put their apps on the Apple App Store and if these stupid laws pass, I'm all for Apple doing that. There's no way anyone could force Apple to host things on their servers for free. It would be like me hosting your email server on my hardware, which I maintain, for free. Get a grip, I'd never do that and I doubt any company would do that. This shows how stupid these laws are.

    Of course, if you want to have your own payment system, then be prepared for Apple to start charging you a hosting fee for every download and install of that app. That's only fair isn't it?
    Perhaps a progressive switching towards a model similar/referencing to colocation hosting services may be the way out on how to deal with developers. Catalog 'App Store' services (to developers) and a price tag accordingly.

    Example: Colocation/Hosting Providers charges for # of CPUs, GBs of RAM, GBs of Storage Capacity. In the case of App Store, it can be something like:
    • App Hosting Service Cat A - 100MB @ $1.00 (w/o data backup) per app version and per market (if app is available/publish in 10 markets, it's charged accordingly);
    • App Hosting Service Cat B - 100MB @ $5.00 (inclusive of data backup, retention policy of 14 days) per app version and per market;
    It may also be two differentiated models:
    • Existing 'pool-based' Model for those developers who opt to stick;
    • New per service per market based Model.
    Ultimately, these creates choices and shut those politicians and regulators up. Apple can also remove itself from some of the unnecessary collateral liabilities which it has been shouldering for last decade or longer. Example: Parents will no longer be able to get support from Apple for app purchases made by their children which are paid via non-Apple payment system. Not legal expert here but I am sure there are legal liabilities which Apple can save itself from. Who knows, maybe a total revamp of App Store where it can toggle between Apple Payment mode or Non-Apple Payment mode and lists only those apps which have opted for each of the mode, and associated set of T&Cs for each mode. 
    viclauyycDBSyncelijahgwatto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 17 of 84
    I guess another option is for Apple to just charge an extra $100 for each device sale in that territory.
    That might cover it?

    Maybe they should just do that globally and remove the payment restrictions globally?

    I’d prefer it if they closed the app store in South Korea though, to send the message. I mean what is the timescale?
    If the law has been passed then surely having it open as it is is in breach - so close it.

    Maybe a combination of the two ideas? I.e. close the app store for iOS14 and earlier (except prior purchases of course) and increase the price of new devices. 

    One thing is sure, Apple will find a different way to get their revenue and it is us customers who will pay for this unwarranted blind-sighted government intrusion to commerce.
    lkruppkillroyjbdragonviclauyycmwhiteDBSyncjony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 84
    If Apple were to stop doing business in South Korea would it also stop sourcing components from South Korean companies? What size of a hit would this cause to Samsung and LG?  The law of unintended consequences will be at work here.

    killroyjbdragonDBSyncjahbladewatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 84
    killroykillroy Posts: 167member
    tylersdad said:
    rob53 said:
    Exciting times. I've been arguing for this for years and that's why so many people hate me on this forum.
    So you believe a developer has every right in the world to post their apps for free on the Apple App Store? Give me one legitimate reason why Apple should be required to host these apps for free. Apple doesn't charge for free apps but could start doing that if they wanted to. Apple could also start charging developers to even put their apps on the Apple App Store and if these stupid laws pass, I'm all for Apple doing that. There's no way anyone could force Apple to host things on their servers for free. It would be like me hosting your email server on my hardware, which I maintain, for free. Get a grip, I'd never do that and I doubt any company would do that. This shows how stupid these laws are.

    Of course, if you want to have your own payment system, then be prepared for Apple to start charging you a hosting fee for every download and install of that app. That's only fair isn't it?
    No. As a developer, I feel I should not be limited to Apple's way of distributing apps to my users. 

    It's as simple as that. I won't use their infrastructure and they won't get any money from me (other than my developers subscription). 

    You well pay for use of their server. And you well be kicked off if your app has malware.
    edited August 31 jbdragonmwhitejahbladewatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 84
    darkpaw said:
    What happens if Apple have to allow third-party stores onto iOS? Do I, as an indie dev, have to decide which stores to put my apps on? It's hard enough to deal with the one App Store at the moment, but adding extras will make it very time-consuming for me.
    Well like virtually any other business you’ll need to initially test all the markets you have access to and then focus on the one’s that give you the higher revenues.
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