iOS 15.5 adds support for external payments in “reader” apps like Netflix

iOS 15.5 supports external purchases via outbound links in so-called “reader” apps like Netflix, Spotify and Hulu that don’t want to use Apple’s in-app purchase system.

Three iPhone screenshots showcasing an example reader app using an external link to take user to a third-party payment option on the website
Image credit: Apple
  • “Reader” apps like Netflix will be permitted to tell you about external payments!
  • iOS 15.5 includes support for external payments in third-party apps
  • Apple previously implemented similar changes on the App Store

iOS 15.5 bring support for external payment options

Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac:

The latest beta version of Apple’s operating system has full support for the new entitlement used by apps to indicate that they let users make external purchases. For instance, if the user deletes an app that offers external purchases, iOS will show an alert saying that it is not possible to manage purchases and subscriptions through the App Store.

The text of the alert reads as follows:

External purchases from [app’s name] may still exist. You cannot manage or cancel any external purchases through the App Store. For more information, contact the developer.

Before, you could request a refund for any app download or in-app purchase. That’s no longer going to be the case for apps using outside payment options. Read: How to request a refund from Apple for apps, media and subscriptions

Arguably the most contentious App Store rule prohibited apps not only from linking to eternal websites for account creation and payment purposes but also from informing the user that they need to subscribe via a website before logging in to the app to access the content. Read: How to view your App Store download history

You could see for yourself the consequences of Apple’s policy in apps such as Netflix, which greet you with a login screen devoid of any actionable information. For example, there’s no button in the Netflix app which you could click to land on Netflix’s payment page. There’s no text to inform you what’s going on other than a cryptic line saying, “Members that subscribe to Netflix can watch here in the app.”

Apple was forced to make this change due to regular pressure around the world.

What are “reader” apps?

To allow external payments, Apple has had to make changes to both the App Store backend and the iOS operating system itself. Apple has already implemented changes on the App Store side, and now with iOS 15.5 developers can finally implement third-party payment options in apps should they choose to do so.

The company explains in a post published on its Apple Developer website that a change to the App Store Review guidelines now permits apps to use outside payment options. The change applies globally, but only to “reader” apps, which are apps like Netflix that basically act as a glorified viewers for digital content likme digital magazines, books, audio, music or video.

From the updated App Store Review guidelines:

3.1.3(a) “Reader” Apps: Apps may allow a user to access previously purchased content or content subscriptions (specifically: magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video). Reader apps may offer account creation for free tiers, and account management functionality for existing customers. Reader app developers may apply for the External Link Account Entitlement to provide an informational link in their app to a web site the developer owns or maintains responsibility for in order to create or manage an account.

Developers must sign up to use the External Link Account Entitlement. If approved, the app is allowed to use one external link to an external website for account creation and payment purposes. Apple receives the right to deny the request if offering access to digital content isn’t the app’s primary functionality.