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Apple Allows 'Reader Apps' to Use External Accounts (and Payments)

Apple has announced that it will allow a subset of apps to link to external sites where users can create or manage their accounts and payments. Changes to the Apple App Store Review policy only apply to what Apple calls "reader apps," which are apps designed primarily to provide access to some kind of digital content, such as magazines, books, audio, music, or video. . Apple's plans were first announced last September in the context of a settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) , and were due to go into effect in early 2022.


The App Store Review Guidelines have been updated today with new information explaining how reader apps can implement this feature.

In particular, developers must apply for something called an External Link Account Entitlement to enable this functionality in their own applications. This way, Apple will still be in control in terms of what developers can implement a certain feature. That is, instead of simply changing the App Store rules to allow this type of behavior for apps in a supported category, the entitlement process requires developers to request and then receive approval for that particular use case. This way, Apple can more thoroughly review apps that are allowed to add external links, instead of just leaving it up to their App Review team .

The company has also published usage guidelines and implementation details for developers who are allowed to use external links. Here, Apple explains that not all apps that offer access to digital content will be approved—access to digital content must be the "core functionality" of the app, Apple says. For example, a social networking application where users can also stream videos would not qualify.

Apple also states that apps must allow users to access content or services they previously purchased outside of the app; they must allow people to log into their account; and they cannot provide live, personal services such as live tutoring, fitness training, real estate tours, or medical consultations.

Notably, Apple says that apps that choose to exercise the right to use external accounts cannot offer in-app purchases on either iPhones or iPads. This is an either/or situation.

Apple's instructions also detail how links should work, including, for example, how they should open in a new browser window rather than in a web view, and how links should be displayed. The developer's web page also cannot advertise prices offered outside of the App Store. She can only say something very simple, like "Go to example.com to create or manage your account." There are a few more technical requirements.

Although Apple opened access for submissions today, the company notes that the API will be available for use and testing in "an upcoming iOS and iPadOS beta."

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