On April 19 the WeChat team, citing new In-App Purchase terms by Apple Inc., announced the iOS tipping function on its Official Account(OA) platform would be shut down from 5:00 p.m. IPhone users will now no longer be able to tip emoji designers and content creators on WeChat through the tipping button at the end of an article.
“After long term negotiations with Apple, we have finally chosen to make adjustments to the iOS tipping feature within WeChat. We apologize for any inconvenience caused,” the announcement made by WeChat read.
The ins and outs of the incident
The terms and regulations for In-App Purchases(IAP) are not something new. On June 13, 2016, Apple updated its App Store terms to version 3.1.1, with new regulations stipulating that “apps may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than IAP.”
How does WeChat’s tipping feature work? A tipping button was put at the end of articles published through Official Accounts(subscription accounts) on WeChat, where readers could donate money(usually small amounts) for content offered. It encouraged content creators to produce better original content and even became a revenue stream for some bloggers, with WeChat not taking a cut. Apparently, according to Apple’s definition, the tipping feature is a virtual products/services purchasing behavior.
Apple requires that WeChat either adapt the tipping function to Apple’s own IAP’s mechanism or face the danger of being removed from the App Store. WeChat chose a third choice: it abolished the tipping function. At the same time, WeChat also provided a workaround encouraging authors to embed personal WeChat Pay QR codes within articles, but later disabled the feature.
It is reasonable for Apple to require WeChat to comply with its rules. After all, iOS is territory built by Apple and is a major revenue source for the company. The IAP terms have been applied to other virtual product/service purchases made within the ecosystem of iOS, including e-books, digital magazine subscriptions and mobile gaming.
It is also reasonable for WeChat to choose to abolish the tipping function. Firstly, it is abiding by the rules of Apple. Secondly, WeChat does not take a cut from the tipping revenue of bloggers, thus it suffers no loss. Thirdly, there is sufficient reason for WeChat not to use Apple’s IAP mechanism.
Apple takes a 30% commission from transactions made through In-App Purchases on Apple’s devices, which is way too much to ask from bloggers, and further contributes to spoiling the original intention of introducing the tipping function - to show encouragement and gratitude to authors.
IAP also requires users to bundle credit/debit card accounts before making transactions. Tipping a favored blogger is not a strong enough motivation for many to go through the trouble of binding a card to Apple ID. Plus, compared with China’s third-party payment systems WeChat Pay and Alipay, the transaction process of Apple’s IAP is notoriously slow, wearing down any passion left for readers to tip bloggers. Thus in all, applying the IAP payment method would not only result in a huge decrease in users willing to tip, but also would deteriorate the user experience in WeChat and dampen the benign interaction between authors and readers on its OA platform.
The Chinese blogosphere reacts!
This move has upset a blossoming group of people in China - the WeMedia, or China’s blogosphere. The news has sparked heated discussion on Chinese media over the wrestling between Apple and WeChat, the right and wrong of both parties and the possible impact this little incident will bring about for China’s tech scene. China Tech Insights has selected a handful of leading Chinese tech sites and key opinion leaders for their comments below.
Tech insider: Fang Jun
Apple is at fault here because it places so-called rules above a good product. The IAP mechanism is so not user-friendly and people in China seldom make mobile purchases through IAP; it is also strangling innovation happening in China by sticking to its rules. Paying for knowledge/content is an innovation which has emerged in China’s mobile internet era. If we all have to pay for content the way we pay for ebooks on Amazon(in order to walk around the out-of-date IAP), this will be a huge retrogression.
Blogger, Tech KOL: Jason Ng
This move by WeChat is the result of wrestling between WeChat and Apple as their relationship becomes more strained. In early 2016, WeChat introduced its Mini Programs, which has begun to nibble away at traffic from Apple’s App Store, in that it can assume the function of apps, even thoroughly replacing some apps. The App Store is the biggest entrance for traffic for Apple and is the lifeblood of iOS. Thus the threat to the Appstore that WeChat poses is the last thing Apple wants to see.
Blogger, founder of Zhulu.com: Lan Xi
This is not a complicated thing. It is just both companies have chosen to stick with their own principles. Apple wants WeChat to abide by its rules, while Tencent does not want Apple Pay to replace its own WeChat Pay. However the disappointment lies in that their solutions are both based on sacrifices made at the user’s expense, though they haven’t done anything “wrong” per se.
Will Tencent one day become a threat to Apple? This is undeniably a possibility. The pay-to-read function on its OA platform might be indefinitely delayed due to problems with choice of payment channel.
Blogger: Zhang Hui
It is not fair to blame Apple for upholding its policies, but this move inevitably hurts content creators, which is doubtfully Apple’s intention.
I never thought tipping was a sound monetization method, but I am very worried that Apple will call off similar payment methods used by other apps(content businesses). This could pose a danger to the booming content business in China.
WeChat’s decision to abolish the tipping feature is just the beginning of the battle between WeChat and Apple over their ecosystems. There is implied the possible danger of WeChat’s mini programs, and users might in the future have to make a difficult choice between the WeChat ecosystem and the iOS ecosystem.
The real victims in this incident are the content creators based on WeChat. However, a more worrying situation is: what if Apple is going to go hard on apps in the content business(including online education platforms, column subscriptions and online audio session providers)? They are the new innovations utilizing the paying-for-content trend in China. What if users do not want to use Apple’s IAP payment method? What other choices do they have if they don’t stick with Apple’s IAP?