Claiming that auto-renewing subscription apps are sometimes currently being “unintentionally interrupted” when users fail to spot the notification of a price increase and don’t opt into the new price, Apple yesterday announced a change to the App Store rules. Subscription apps can now increase the price and carry on auto-renewing without users giving explicit consent.
Apple is at pains to downplay any concerns that this will lead to exploitation. For one thing there will still be notifications of the increase, “including via email, push notification, and a message within the app,” and any users who see these notifications and don’t consent to the increase will be able to go into the app and cancel their subscription. (Mind you, considering that this change was supposedly required because users weren’t seeing the notifications and opting in, one might question whether they are any more likely to see them and opt out.)
We can get an idea of what this notification will look like by examining what now seems to have been a pilot scheme Apple ran for the Disney+ app: as Max Seelemann noticed in March, users of this app were notified of a price increase rather than asked for their consent.
Secondly, there are fairly tight limits placed on the degree to which app developers can ratchet up the price. They won’t be allowed to increase the price more than once per year (or rather, any increases that exceed that limit will have to go through the current explicit opt-in process), and these rises will be capped at $5 (or equivalent in local currency) or $50 for an annual subscription, and 50 percent of the current price. There is no danger of an unscrupulous developer turning a $1.99 monthly renew into $199 without you knowing about it.
Apple further adds that this change will only be implemented in regions where local laws allow it. In Chile, for example, users will need to give their consent for any increases to the subscription price.
It is possible to cancel a subscription at any time. Read: How to cancel a subscription on iPhone or iPad for advice on how to do that.
The big question: Does Google also do this?
No. Apple is setting itself apart from its main app-store rival in making this change.
If you look in the relevant help page for Android developers, you’ll read the following:
“When you increase the price of a subscription, you have at least seven days to notify your existing subscribers about the price change before Google Play begins directly notifying them.
“Existing subscribers have at least 30 days to review the price increase and decide whether to accept it. If they do not accept the price increase, their subscription is automatically canceled before they would otherwise pay the higher price.”
This is a big call. Will users prefer the nominal convenience of Apple’s new policy, or the tighter financial control offered by Google? It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and how the two companies sell their respective visions to users. Perhaps Google will follow suit.