Apple’s Anti-Consumer Behavior

Behind the facade of a friendly and innovative company comes a wide array of abuses of monopolistic power.


Daniel L. Lu (user:dllu), CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Pictured is Apple Park, Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

9:41 AM.

On January 9th, 2007, at 9:41 AM, the fate of Apple Inc. was forever changed by the release of the novel iPhone. At the time, the iPhone was considered inconsequential; it was slow, expensive, and there were more useful phones on the market. However, 15 years later, iPhones are everywhere, comprising 50% of the U.S. market share and 18% of the global market share. This success, along with the introduction of other products and services, has catapulted Apple into becoming a company valued at $2.35 trillion.

However, this rise to success comes with a cost. In order to stay popular and competitive, Apple has become a monopolistic company, abusing its market dominance and enacting anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices to stay afloat. From restricted services like the App Store to abuses toward the environment and their employees, Apple creates harmful policies that only benefit the company.

The biggest abuse of Apple’s market power is evident in the App Store, the crowning jewel of the iOS ecosystem. Being able to install a variety of apps provides users with the freedom of choice to do whatever they want with their iPhone. But behind all of those apps are developers that are suffering on the sidelines. The biggest grievance is Apple’s 30% tax on app developers: 30% of every single transaction that customers make goes to Apple. This is a hefty amount, especially for smaller developers, also known as indie developers. 

It is not just a tax on purchases; Apple also charges developers a fee of $99 per year for a developer account to publish apps for the Apple ecosystem, even free apps. Given that third-party apps are the lifeblood of Apple products, this shows Apple’s blatant disregard for the small developers who make up the majority of their App Store. App stores from other platforms are much cheaper: Google Play charges $25, Amazon Appstore is free to publish, and the Microsoft Store charges $19 for individuals and $99 for companies. All of these one-time charges are much more sustainable for indie developers.

Combined with the tax, a small indie developer that makes $2 from an average in-app purchase would need twenty more payments in order to cover paying the developer fee alone, not including the rest of their development costs. Twenty payments may seem small, but indie apps tend to only get up to ten downloads a day, and from those downloads, only 2% of users actually tend to make a purchase. With these dismal numbers, indie developers tend to gravitate towards implementing advertisements into their app, which is widely disliked amongst users.

What about a different payment platform? Well, that is simply not an option if you are not a big shot developer. According to Apple’s App Store Guidelines, the only apps that are allowed to implement a purchasing method other than Apple’s in-app purchases are “reader” apps, multiplatform services, enterprise services, person-to-person services, physical goods and services, and free stand-alone apps. Most apps don’t fall into this category, and if you are not a big company with leverage like Amazon or Disney, working out a deal with Apple is impossible. Companies have tried fighting Apple in this regard; for example, Epic Games is currently appealing in their lawsuit against Apple, and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, the Dutch consumer watchdog, found that Apple was abusing its market power and started levying fines. However, Apple has yet to come up with a reasonable solution.

So why not ditch the App Store entirely, and use a third-party app store? It is possible. The most prominent way to install iOS apps outside of the App Store is through a process called sideloading. Intended for developers testing their apps, it allows you to install apps and bypass the App Store guidelines. The process involves creating an Apple developer account, downloading the app you want to sideload, and using third-party tools to sign the app with your developer account and install it on your device.

The most popular way to sideload is through an app called AltStore, which aims to make the process easier. However, AltStore is not on the App Store because Apple does not allow it; they claim sideloading poses risks to their security model, and AltStore only makes it more accessible. Instead, you have to sideload AltStore itself, which requires access to a computer. As sideloading becomes more popular, Apple has been introducing more roadblocks. Now, apps have to be sideloaded every 7 days, while only 3 sideloaded apps (including AltStore) can be active at a given time, and only 10 apps can be sideloaded per week. With all these barriers, Apple has been effective at gatekeeping sideloading to the limited few with the technical ability and the inclination to jump through so many hoops in order to install their favorite applications.

Apple’s hefty 30% tax does not even ensure that the App Store is a highly curated, moderated system. With $60 billion in revenue from the App Store in 2021, Apple still manages to miss countless scam apps during the app review process. App reviewers typically review 50 to 100 apps a day, and an Apple engineer stated in a legal filing that “in certain instances, reviews took less than a minute to review apps.” The app review team is extremely small, too. There are only 500 employees charged with reviewing every single app that goes on the App Store. Given the fact that a single outside developer could poke holes in the App Review process, Apple really needs to step up their game to properly train and hire more reviewers.

Outside of software, Apple has historically been an opponent of “right to repair” legislation, lobbying extensively to ensure their bottom line is not affected. So it took many by surprise when Apple announced a self service repair program, allowing customers to repair their devices from the comfort of their own homes (especially appealing for those who live far away from the nearest Apple Store), as well as providing repair manuals to ensure that repairs are done properly.

In theory.

In reality, this self service repair program is a trojan horse; the program is too flawed to work properly and Apple’s intentions in establishing it were to take some of the heat off of them. First off, you need to either buy or rent 80 pounds of tools. iFixit and other repair businesses manage to repair devices without 80 pounds of specialized tools, so why does Apple require you to rent $1,200 worth of tools (the rental cost is $49) in order to do something as simple as a battery replacement?

But even ignoring that, the item prices themselves show that Apple is not serious about self service repair. In order to repair an out-of-warranty iPhone 13 Pro Max’s display, you would need to buy an “iPhone 13 Pro Max Battery Bundle,” which costs $71. That alone is $2 more than Apple’s pricing for repairing the battery. Add in the cost of renting the toolkit, $49, and it’s evident that Apple really does not want you to repair your iPhone yourself. And that’s ignoring the $1,200 hold that they place on your credit or debit card to cover loss or damage to the tools.

Besides monopolizing app distribution, taxing developers, and not supporting sustainable repair, Apple engages in other practices that are anti-competitive and monopolistic, such as restricting hardware and software features from third-party app developers. They have removed apps only to implement them into iOS later, and intentionally restricted NFC and tap-to-pay capability from other apps to support Apple Wallet, even though it is technically possible. Apple has vehemently opposed attempts to form unions at its stores. More and more employees are complaining about their workplace and environment.

Apple is an incredibly popular and successful company, but behind its success are dark practices that it has used to crush its competition. It is up to regulators as well as us, individually, to exert enough pressure in order to ensure that Apple does not continue to unfairly dominate the market.

With all these barriers, Apple has been effective at gatekeeping sideloading to the limited few with the technical ability and the inclination to jump through so many hoops in order to install their favorite applications.