Apple changes App Store rules following Steam Link ban

Apple changes App Store rules following Steam Link ban

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Screens remote desktop iOS
Has Apple changed its mind about Steam Link?
Photo: Screens

Apple has updated its App Store guidelines to include new rules for remote desktop clients.

Apps can no longer display a “store-like interface” that allows users to “browse, select, or purchase software” they don’t already own, but they can allow transactions if they are processed by a host device.

The change comes just a few weeks after Steam Link for iOS was rejected by Apple because it allowed purchasing inside PC games. It’s not yet clear whether the new rules pave the way for Steam Link’s approval.

Apple’s strict App Store guidelines — and the decisions its review team makes based on them — have created all kinds of confusion and controversy over the years. The latest, its ban on Steam Link, made no sense when so many remote desktop clients are already available on iOS.

So, Apple has updated its App Store guidelines to clarify the rules for these apps. But many questions are still unanswered.

Apple cracks down on remote purchases

Apple has an issue with remote desktop clients that allow users to make purchases outside of the App Store. It doesn’t take kindly to apps that sidestep its 30 percent cut of purchases — even if the content they’re selling isn’t available on the App Store.

That’s why Steam Link, which would have allowed users to purchase in-game content through Steam, wasn’t allowed on iOS. But the new rules may suggest Apple has changed its mind.

Apple now states that no remote desktop client can “resemble an iOS or App Store view,” or “provide a store-like interface, or include the ability to browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user.”

This is disappointing, but at least the rules are straightforward, right? Wrong.

Confusion for remote desktop purchases

Apple also states that “transactions taking place within mirrored software do not need to use in-app purchase, provided the transactions are processed on the host device.”

If you connect to a Windows PC using your iPhone, then, and you purchase something from the Microsoft Store to use on that PC, that’s okay because the transaction takes place on the host machine — not the iPhone you’re using to control it.

So, why was Steam Link banned? All it does is turn your iOS device (or Apple TV) into a remote monitor for your PC, allowing you to play games in another room. Your PC handles everything — including Steam purchases — while streaming the video to your Apple device.

The updated App Store guidelines don’t make the Steam Link ban any clearer. If anything, they indicate Apple has changed its mind about Steam Link and similar services, which should mean that Valve’s app will be appearing in the App Store soon.

Valve is yet to comment on the new rules, so we can’t be certain just yet. But it seems Apple is now accepting that it would be impossible for remote desktop clients to exist without allowing access to third-party stores.

Other guideline changes

Apple has made some other changes to its App Store guidelines with this update.

Apps that do not offer a subscription service can now provide free trials using a free in-app purchase that temporarily unlocks all functionality. Apps that do offer auto-renewing subscriptions are prohibited from tricking users into subscribing under false pretenses.

Apple also states that apps cannot encourage users to change system settings for things like Wi-Fi, while ads displayed in apps must be appropriate for the app’s age rating.

You can read the complete list of App Store rules on Apple’s website.