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Apple launches App Store explainer page as it faces fire over its policies

The company breaks down how it approves apps -- and what it bans.

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Apple has faced criticism over its App Store policies.

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple's defending its App Store -- by publishing an explainer site that breaks down its approval process and guidelines. 

"We created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers," Apple said on its new site. "We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users."

The site breaks down how Apple views its App Store and notes that it takes steps to "make sure apps are respectful to users with differing opinions." It rejects apps for content Apple views as "over the line," and it examines five areas -- safety, performance, business, design and legal -- when considering whether to approve apps. Apple also noted that it operates "a store that welcomes competition," despite claims by companies like Spotify that it's not competing fairly.

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The site arrives as Apple faces criticism over its App Store policies and approval process. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that iPhone owners can sue Apple for allegedly operating a monopoly through its App Store. And there's been outcry from makers of parental control apps that Apple unfairly banned their software because their apps compete with Apple's own software. Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and other heavyweights have also criticized Apple's App Store model. 

Even the man who used to run third-party app approvals for Apple called on the company Tuesday to "own up" to irresponsible policies against direct competitor services, saying "Apple has struggled with using the App Store as a weapon" for years.

App Store outcry

Apple last year became the first trillion-dollar company in the US, but it's been struggling in recent months. The company makes about two-thirds of its revenue from the iPhone, but people just aren't buying as many smartphones. They're holding onto their devices longer, and in places like China, they're increasingly opting for phones from Apple's rivals like Huawei and Oppo. This means Apple must expand its operations beyond the iPhone, and it's counting on its services to become an even bigger part of its business.

The App Store is the biggest moneymaker in Apple's services business. Anything that threatens the App Store could hurt Apple's push to become a services powerhouse. Apple has faced scrutiny over its App Store nearly since it launched in 2008.

The App Store is the only way to purchase apps for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches. A group of iPhone customers have alleged that Apple is effectively a monopoly that overcharges people for software. Apple charges developers a $99 annual membership fee, lets them set the retail price of their apps and then takes a 30% cut for each sale. For subscriptions, Apple charges a 15% commission after the first year.

Apple prohibits developers from selling iPhone apps outside the App Store, and Apple device users can't download software to their phones unless it comes from the App Store. Google's Android phones, by contrast, make apps available in a variety of places. Along with Google's official Play Store, people can download apps from stores operated by Samsung and Amazon. Some developers have also offered apps directly to consumers. 

Today, people who use Amazon's Kindle app on an iPhone or iPad can't buy books in the app, and new users can't subscribe to Netflix or Spotify using in-app purchases via the App Store. Instead, they have to go to a web browser to make the purchase and pay for the subscription. That's so the companies can avoid paying a commission to Apple.

Spotify, for its part, filed a complaint with European regulators in March, alleging that Apple wields its powerful App Store as a cudgel to stifle innovation, weaken competition and unfairly tax its rivals. Apple called Spotify's complaint "misleading" and accused the music-streaming giant of wanting a free ride to the disadvantage of smaller developers now that it's grown into a powerhouse.

Apple on Wednesday noted that 84% of apps in the App Store are free, and "developers pay nothing to Apple."

"Like any fair marketplace, developers decide what they want to charge from a set of price tiers," Apple's new site says. "We only collect a commission from developers when a digital good or service is delivered through an app."

App Store approvals

That site on Wednesday said Apple has 20 million developers in its developer program, and those people have made more than $120 billion selling digital goods and services in their App Store apps. Apple also touted the creation of over 1.5 million jobs in the US and over 1.57 million across Europe.

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Apple's new App Store explainer site seeks to address criticism the company has faced.

Apple

The company noted its "rigorous app review process" uses automated systems and hundreds of human experts who speak 81 languages across three time zones. Each week, the company reviews 100,000 apps, with most reviewed within 24 hours of the developer's submission. About 60% of the submitted apps are approved, Apple said, and the most common reason for rejection is minor bugs, followed by privacy concerns. 

"All developers have the opportunity to have a rejection reviewed by the App Review Board," Apple said on its site. "And the App Review team makes about 1,000 calls a week to developers to help them diagnose and resolve any issues that led to rejection -- so they can get their app onto the App Store."

Since 2016, Apple has removed over 1.4 million apps because they haven't been updated or don't work with Apple's latest operating systems. 

The company also detailed which third-party apps compete with its own apps. For its Camera app, for instance, Apple listed Facebook's Instagram, Snapchat and the Moment app as rivals. For iCloud storage, Apple cited Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. And for Music, Apple included Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube Music. 

"We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers," Apple's site said. "Our users trust Apple -- and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution."

CNET's Joan Solsman contributed to this report.

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