Epic v. Apple was a long-running case in which a judge ruled that Epic had failed to show that Apple is the only one who can make mobile gaming transactions. The court also ruled that Apple's App Store rules prohibiting other payment options are anti-competitive and issued an injunction directing Apple to remove them.
The court ruled that Apple engaged in anticompetitive conduct and that Apple's anti-steering provisions conceal critical information from consumers, and unlawfully restrict consumer choice.
The court issued this permanent injunction to stop Apple from making rules against any other payment system. The most important bit is bolded:
Apple Inc., its officers, agents and servants, employees, as well as any person who is actively participating with them (Apple), will be permanently restrained from allowing developers to (i) include in their apps and their metadata buttons or other calls for action that direct customers towards purchasing mechanisms. In-App Purchasing is not included. (ii) communicate with customers via points of contact obtained from customers by account registration within the App.
This particular wording comes directly from Apple's App Store rule 3.1.1. It states that Apps and their metadata must not contain buttons, external links or other calls-to-action that direct customers to other purchasing mechanisms than in-app purchases. So it is tempting to believe that the judge has declared that rule anticompetitive and crossed out.
It's a bit more complicated because this text is now in a court order. This means that it doesn't belong to Apple and can be interpreted however Apple wishes. The court made it clear that it would enforce the rule and that anyone who believes that Apple is violating it should let it know. My bolding is:
The Court will have exclusive jurisdiction to enforce and amend the injunction. Any party named in this Order or another person violates any part of the Order, plaintiff can, upon motion, notify the attorneys for defendant and seek sanctions or any other relief that may be necessary.
Now comes the difficult part. What does this injunction have to do with Apple and the App Store This rule is very important. Let's take a look at the differences between a button or an external link.
Developers are not permitted to include in their apps or their metadata buttons external links or other calls-to-action that direct customers to buying mechanisms.
This sentence can be made to make sense in a variety of ways:
Apple does not allow developers to include links that lead customers to purchase mechanisms in their apps.
Apple does not allow developers to block calls to action from app metadata (such as descriptions in the AppStore) that direct customers to purchase mechanisms.
Consider the following sentence instead:
Apple does not allow developers to include buttons in apps that direct customers towards purchasing channels.
It's a complete disaster. Here's an example of a button which takes you to the Amazon app's purchasing system:
This is the game! What does it mean to have a button on an app that directs a customer to purchase mechanisms? It is a checkout button. Amazon can add a cart and a checkout button to the Kindle app. It is not stupid that the court specified buttons and links. This means that they are assumed to be different. A button cannot be an external link that takes you to Safari.
Apple will claim that a button is a representation of what something looks like. Developers will insist that a button represents how something works.
This means that buttons in iOS apps could direct users to purchase mechanisms. If the button only takes you to the internet, it would be an outside link!
I'm confident that a lot developers will test this language aggressively, and that Apple may find itself creating new rules to protect its lucrative app-based purchasing system from competitors. I am confident that Apple will claim that a button simply means what an item looks like. Developers will insist that a button actually describes how it works. This is where Apple has a lot to irony.
However, Apple will not be able to determine what the order means. That decision will be made by the court. This is a difficult position because the court expressly believes that the anti-steering rule violates competition.
Apple has not responded to a request to comment on the distinction between buttons and external hyperlinks.