PaymentKit: How Apple Lets Some Air Out of this Pressure Cooker

The theoretical Payments API could make it so that developers stop losing their minds with rage while keeping users safe and driving new innovation in mobile payments.

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read
PaymentKit: How Apple Lets Some Air Out of this Pressure Cooker

There are a million debates going on all at once right now about the App Store, and while I’ve made my annoyance at some of these debates known, I wanted to do what I love doing more than anything else: I want to propose a solution.

So I’m not a business guy, and I’m a product and design guy, so none of my feelings here are about how Apple can get the best ROI or EBITDA or whatever, I am trying to solve for the problems I see growing that are going to hurt them more than any change to the App Store ever would.

What Do I Want?

Simply, I want Apple to allow third party payments in apps. This does not have to turn the App Store into some sort of hellscape where card details are stolen on the regular and no one wants to buy anything anymore because it’s so bad.

E-commerce has grown a ton over the last decade, and it’s grown almost as much in the past 6 months all over again. People buy things online all the time, and modern tools allow merchants to collect that data securely. I’d love to see that come to the App Store, but in ways that only Apple can do.

How Do We Do That?

Let’s get PaymentKit that payment platforms can build into. Make it similar to CarPlay where Apple needs to work with the payment platforms directly and make sure that they build SDKs that app developers can import into their apps that tap into this API. This will let Apple know that what merchants are using in their apps are safe and from reputable payment platforms. Submit your app to the store with payments that don’t use this new Payments API? Rejected? Want to kick your users out to a web browser and take payments there? Nope, use the official API.

Not only will this make it so that merchants have a choice, it will make it so that payment platforms rush to make amazing SDKs that tap into this and let merchants do everything they want. iOS is a huge market after all, and we all know iPhone and iPad users spend money, so you know they would jump all over this opportunity.

PaymentKit would tap into as many of the things we love about buying apps in the App Store as possible, but it inevitably wouldn’t do everything. Recurring subscriptions, for example, would not get to live in your other subscriptions in the App Store (since the logic ran on the payment provider’s end), so there would still be value in Apps using Apple’s traditional payments system. I’d love to see this theoretical API tap into things like how when you delete an app from your phone it asks if you want to cancel your subscription as well. If the user said yes, an API call would be made on the back end to cancel the sub.

And yeah, make them use Apple Pay as the default payment option when the user has that set up on their device, why not?

Now this is a very generous version of the API, and maybe Apple wouldn’t go this far, but no matter how powerful they made this, they could then keep their same 30% cut that they have today and developers would have it as an option. Smaller shops could keep using it because they don’t want to set up a MID and get a payments system in place or write the full API integration with their gateway, they just want Apple to handle it.

And surely some larger merchants would stick with it, either because of momentum or because they think their users actually prefer it. Either way, this would show us if the cut is competitive and worth it for all it gives you as a merchant.

What About Everything Else?

There are still concerns that this does not address. There’s still the issue of blocking apps like Stadia and Xbox Game Pass, which are not blocked because the devs won’t give 30% or because they’re malicious apps, but because their businesses aren’t compatible with current App Store rules. I personally think these apps should be allowed, but I’m happy to punt on that for now.

How about side-loading (or as we call it on every other platform, installing apps from the web)? While I think it could be beneficial to have a way for people to get into a mode that allowed them to install apps similarly to how things work on the Mac with Gatekeeper, I also think that could wait for another day. After all, everyone benefits from the advantages of an App Store, so let’s not open that can of worms until we have a really good solution that gives freedom without turning iPhones and iPads into a toxic hellscape of malware.

Oh, and Epic’s idea of a third party app store? Nah, not happening anytime soon.

Header photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash