9 July 2023
To some, Apple's App Store seems like an enigma that confounds web3 applications. Why is that so? Primarily, two factors come into play:
Firstly, there's a haze of ambiguity surrounding cryptocurrency regulations. This uncertainty compels Apple to be especially stringent with web3 enterprises.
Secondly, Apple has a sweet tooth for a substantial cut of 30% from all in-app transactions. This becomes an obstacle for web3 platforms such as NFT marketplaces (OpenSea) and DEXs (PancakeSwap) that are eager to develop and launch their app on the App Store.
Consider this scenario: you purchase an NFT, pay the gas fee, and then get slapped with a 30% Apple tax for buying the NFT. Isn't that a bitter pill to swallow?
Yet, all hope isn't lost. Four pathfinders - Uniswap, Axie Infinity, Sound XYZ, and StepN - have braved the storm and successfully launched their apps. Let's delve into their tactics that maneuvered through Apple's labyrinth.
For a long while, Uniswap seemed like an inaccessible gem in Apple's App Store treasure chest... until mid-April, when it managed to debut its app. The app allows users to manage their wallets, carry out cryptocurrency transactions, select between various blockchains like Ethereum, Polygon or Arbitrum, and showcase their NFT collections.
Apple's policies don't categorize crypto swapping within the app as an in-app purchase, allowing users to trade their ETH for USDT, for instance. However, Uniswap had to creatively navigate around Apple's 30% fee for direct crypto purchases within the app by directing users to the MoonPay website to complete transactions. This allowed Uniswap users to trade freely without technically breaching App Store guidelines.
Next in line is Axie Infinity, an NFT-based game that skyrocketed in popularity with the NFT boom in 2021. Axie Infinity circumvented Apple's restrictions by enabling players to purchase NFTs outside the app. These externally-purchased NFTs are recognized within the app once the player's wallet is connected, unlocking the game.
However, this approach had its caveats - claiming tokens for gameplay and accessing some game features are restricted to desktop usage to abide by Apple's rules. Despite these compromises, Axie Infinity successfully released its game on the App Store, offering a new frontier for blockchain-based gaming.
Now, let's shift our focus to Sound.xyz, an innovative music streaming platform that resembles your typical Spotify or Apple Music, but with a unique twist – collecting. Users can mint on the desktop, and their collection appears in-app once they connect their wallet.
Sound XYZ takes the concept of playlist curation to a new level by rewarding users for sharing unique referral links. This new model places music discovery back into the hands of artists and listeners, paving the way for a promising future of the curator economy in music.
Finally, StepN, a 'move-to-earn' concept, made waves by enabling in-app purchases of NFTs through Apple Pay, which other brands avoid by taking users off-platform. They introduced SPARK credits, a system similar to Fortnite's VeeBucks, where users purchase SPARK to buy NFTs in-app.
While they aren't dodging Apple's 30% fee, they've cleverly skirted around the ban on in-app crypto use by increasing in-app NFT prices.
If users wish to sell their NFTs, they would need to connect a wallet as they'll receive GMT tokens for their NFT, which can't be accepted unless it’s to their web3 wallet. This approach sets StepN apart from the rest, and gives us a blueprint for any web3 brand aspiring to launch an app on the App Store.
In October 2022, Apple released a comprehensive guide to assist crypto projects in their App Store journey. The guidelines are tailored to support new features, better protect customers, and streamline the review process. Here's a concise rundown of the critical points:
• Before you submit your app, make sure to provide App Review with complete access. This includes either an active demo account or a fully-featured demo mode. If your app includes account-based features, provide all resources needed for review, such as login credentials or a sample QR code.
• Apps that may include explicit adult content or contribute to harmful activities such as human trafficking and exploitation will be outright rejected. Similarly, apps exploiting recent or current events, such as violent conflicts, terrorist attacks, or epidemics, will face the axe.
• If you can't provide a demo account due to legal or security obligations, you may create a built-in demo mode showcasing all features and functionalities, subject to Apple's approval.
• If your app supports Matter, a protocol for smart home devices, you must use Apple's support framework to initiate pairing. Any Matter software component used must be certified by the Connectivity Standards Alliance for the platform it runs on.
• Display advertising should be limited to your main app binary. Ads must be age-appropriate, transparent about the information used to target the user, and avoid sensitive user data. Ads should not interrupt the user experience and must have clearly visible close/skip buttons.
• Apps can't use their mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, QR codes, or cryptocurrencies. However, apps may use in-app purchases to sell services related to NFTs, like minting, listing, and transferring. Apps may let users view their NFTs, provided that NFT ownership doesn't unlock features or functionality within the app. Users can also browse NFT collections owned by others, as long as the apps do not direct customers to external purchasing mechanisms.
• Advertising Management Apps, aimed at advertisers for managing ad campaigns across media types, do not need to use in-app purchases. However, digital purchases for content that is consumed within the app must use in-app purchases.
• Apps may facilitate transactions of cryptocurrency on an approved exchange, but only in countries or regions where the app has the appropriate licenses and permissions to provide a cryptocurrency exchange.
• If your app uses music previews from iTunes or Apple Music, you must display a link to the corresponding music in iTunes or Apple Music. Such music may not be used purely for entertainment value, like background music to a photo collage or the soundtrack to a game.
The guide sets clear expectations for crypto projects aspiring to join the App Store. It signals that while Apple is open to blockchain-based applications, it places a strong emphasis on user safety, transparency, and adherence to local laws and regulations.
Apple's App Store, while challenging, certainly isn't an insurmountable peak. It's a maze that needs skillful navigation. It's an ocean that demands the right approach to sail through. Each of our pathfinders – Uniswap, Axie Infinity, Sound XYZ, and StepN – has shown that it's possible, each finding their unique route to App Store success. They've left markers and traces for us to follow, learn, and innovate upon.
But hey, this isn't a journey you need to undertake alone. Refire Design, as a web3 design studio, we live and breathe these challenges every day. We've got the maps, the compasses, the know-how, and the creative zeal to design mobile apps that can not just survive but thrive in the App Store wilderness.
Thinking about launching your web3 app on the App Store? Let's turn that thought into a reality. We'd love to have a chat about your vision, your project, and how we can help turn Apple's maze into a straight path. So, how about it? Let's make a splash in the App Store together! Reach out to us today.