Apple Offered Special App Store API Access to Hulu and Other Developers

Today is the fourth day of the Epic Games v. Apple legal battle, and documents shared in the trial continue to give us insight into the App Store and Apple's business practices.

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‌App Store‌ Vice President Matt Fischer is on the stand answering questions from Apple and Epic lawyers, and one of the emails shared as evidence confirms that Apple has established special deals with major app developers like Hulu.

In 2018, a tweet from developer David Barnard commented about ‌App Store‌ subscriptions being automatically cancelled through the StoreKit API, questioning why there hadn't been more offers to swap billing away from the ‌App Store‌.

Matt Fischer asked Cindy Lin about it, and she explained that Hulu is a developer with special access to a subscription cancel/refund API.

Hulu is part of the set of whitelisted developers with access to subscription cancel/refund API. Back in 2015 they were using this to support instant upgrade using a 2 family setup, before we had subscription upgrade/downgrade capabilities built in.

Apple does not further detail who other developers with special access might have been in the correspondence, but these are not features that all developers have access to.

Apple has long said that the App Store provides a "level playing field" that treats all apps in the ‌App Store‌ the same with one set of rules for everybody and no special deals or special terms, but it's clear that some apps are indeed provided with special privileges.


Fischer was asked specifically whether Apple has given some developers special access to allow them to do things that other developers don't get to do, and Fischer said no, but he said that Apple sometimes wants to test a feature with a small group before providing it to all developers.


Prior to when ‌Epic Games‌ implemented its own purchase options and kicked off this entire legal battle, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney asked Apple for a special deal that would allow it to bypass the in-app purchase system, which Apple denied. Just this week Sweeney also said that he would have accepted special terms from Apple for lower ‌App Store‌ commission.

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Top Rated Comments

dannyyankou Avatar
40 months ago
That doesn't sound like "level playing field" to me
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mihirdelirious Avatar
40 months ago
"We treat all developers equally."
So that was also a lie under oath.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Graphikos Avatar
40 months ago

Fischer was asked specifically whether Apple has given some developers special access to allow them to do things that other developers don't get to do, and Fischer said no, but he said that Apple sometimes wants to test a feature with a small group before providing it to all developers.
This makes sense to me, but it's also a really good way to go about explaining special access that might not have been as legit.

However, Apple does give choice companies/developers access to new APIs and whatnot all the time. Right? These are the companies that get on stage right after the announcements to show off what they could do with the new APIs.

So Apple allowed Hulu to access some otherwise restricted APIs while they were developing methods for the masses? Makes sense. You can read into the "level playing field" as much as you want but to push development there has to be testing and what better way can you test if not with actual, real-world apps and companies? It's the right thing to do... listen to what your developers need and work with them to improve the experience all around.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kennyt72 Avatar
40 months ago
It seems this level playing field has a few bumps on it
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Quu Avatar
40 months ago
It's clear that Apple has lied when they have said publicly all app developers are playing under the same rules. They did a special deal with Amazon they allowed special access to API's to Hulu etc

If you're big enough or create enough revenue Apple is willing to treat you differently. It's just the case that EPIC wanted too much while Amazon, Hulu and others were willing to accept the more minor exceptions Apple offered them.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
barkomatic Avatar
40 months ago
The whole "level playing field" is a joke. I'm not sure Apple will be forced to to include 3rd party apps outside of it's app store but it's starting to look like developers are going to get to be allowed to let people sign up in app for subscriptions without Apple getting a cut.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)