Apple has announced a variety of changes to the App Store Review Guidelines today after multiple major App Store controversies over the last several months. The new guidelines and updates relate to areas like in-app purchases, streaming game services, and personal lending applications.

Apple says the goal of the new 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 guidelines are to add additional transparency around the types of applications required to use Apple’s in-app purchase system. There is a specific clarification related to person-to-person experiences, something that has come under scrutiny as businesses shift to virtual classes and experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple says that if an app enables the purchase of realtime person-to-person experiences between two individuals, such as fitness training, medical consultations, or real estate tours, developers can use purchase methods other than in-app purchase. Apps that offer one-to-few or one-to-many realtime experiences must use in-app purchase, Apple says.

Further relating to in-app purchases, Reader applications may now offer account creation for free tiers as well as account management functionality for existing customers. Free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web-based tool, such as email services and web hosting, do not need to use in-app purchase so long as there is no purchasing inside the app.

Elsewhere, Apple’s new guidelines focus heavily on streaming game services and formalize the expectations for these services, should they choose to be available on iPhone and iPad. This should apply to services such as Microsoft’s Xbox streaming game platform and Google Stadia, though Apple is not specifically addressing any specific services with these guidelines.

Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.

Apple explains that each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual application, such that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, and integrates with other iOS features and experiences. Companies can, however, offer a catalog application that includes links to the App Store versions of all of the games available through their service.

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For example, a company can offer 11 applications on the App Store: 10 games and 1 catalog. The catalog application would link out to the 10 games available in the service through the App Store, but the games and the catalog app must adhere to other App Store guidelines related to in-app purchase. Apple specifics that streaming game services must offer “users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase.”

Apple says:

  • Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the userʼs device, etc.
  • Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

The new guidelines centered around streaming game services come after Microsoft criticized Apple and blamed the company for its decision not to bring its xCloud streaming game service to iPhone and iPad. The new guidelines formalize Apple’s requirements for the streaming game category and offer a path for companies like Microsoft and Google to bring their services to the iOS ecosystem, albeit with the requirement that the in-app purchase system is used.

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While details here are still a bit murky, it seems that the game you download from the App Store can essentially be a “wrapper” and the actual game is streamed over your internet connection. Essentially, you would download the “game” from the App Store, sign in with an existing account or sign up using Apple’s in-app purchase system, then play the game from the company’s servers.

There are also new guidelines for App Clips, which is a new feature in iOS 14:

App Clips, widgets, extensions, and notifications should be related to the content and functionality of your app. Additionally, all App Clip features and functionality must be included in the main app binary. App Clips cannot contain advertising.

Finally, Apple is also cracking down on applications that offer personal loans. Apple says that apps offering personal loans must clearly disclose all loan terms, including things like maximum Annual Percentage Rate and payment due day. Apps are also forbidden from charging a maximum APR higher than 36% and may not require repayment in full in 60 days or less. Apple says these changes related to personal loans are in accordance with the military lending act.

You can find the full App Store Review Guidelines on Apple’s developer website here.

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