NFTs now bloom in Apple’s walled garden

Ever wondered how to buy an NFT? Soon, you'll be able to right from an iOS app.
25 October 2022

“Walled garden” by recursion_see_recursion is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Apple has long been known as a company that operates a strictly-walled garden. It’s a space where companies and products can only exist after strict vetting procedures for “quality control.” It’s a process that is certainly more selective than its competitors’ versions. The Google Play Store, for instance, offers more than 3.5 million apps compared to Apple’s 2.1 million, as of Q2, 2022. But, Apple’s advocates state, more doesn’t necessarily mean better, and Android’s more chequered history of suspect apps shows that more lackadaisical sentries may encourage greater choice but also come with more danger of users downloading malware.

What both app stores have in common are measures that prohibit the exchange of monies outside the confines of the walled garden (in countries that have not legislated to the contrary), and here Apple’s stricter approach is also prevalent. It fiercely protects its (typical) 30% levy and is willing to go to court to protect this revenue source. Amid the recent hyperbole of the release of the latest iOS and macOS versions, it’s also announced updates to the App Store Review Guidelines that cover cryptocurrency transactions and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

The updated guidelines now state that apps, “may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality such as […] cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency wallets, etc.”

Buying and selling NFTs from apps

And while NFT owners and prospective buyers may browse NFTs, both their own and those for sale (Apple states “minting, listing, and transferring” as acceptable activities), ” the apps may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.”

Although Apple is clearly tightening the screws on users’ abilities to exchange goods and services without exacting a levy on all transactions, this comes amid the resurgence of the Epic Games vs. Apple court case. That sees the games developer claiming that the “Apple tax” on its in-app currency, V-Bucks, is a monopolistic practice.

Many see the case as, if not a class action lawsuit, then at least a decent marker as to the future of what Apple will or will not be allowed to do. Another possible fly in Apple’s ointment is the mighty yet slow-moving legislative behemoth that is the European Union’s DMA (Digital Markets Act), that comes into force on November 1, 2022.

The law and the walled garden

The DMA will force Apple (and other large companies) to allow sideloading of apps onto devices and allow the exchange of monies outside walled gardens.

Apple’s approach appears to be “business as usual” in light of this wide-reaching legislation that goes to the heart of many tech giants’ business models. Public disclosure of user-profiling techniques, for instance, and a ban on weighting search results in favor of the search provider’s own services will hit Google and Microsoft hard. That’s assuming that big tech will comply.

Satirical cartoonist Doonesbury once featured the arrival of Windows 95 in a series of cartoons that hailed the then-newly-released OS as “one helluva platform” because it was “protected by 3,000 lawyers.” Part of big tech’s business model is the cost of fighting the minutiae of laws through local courts.

Apple will continue to place extra levels of protection around its walled gardens to ensure its revenues are safe from the latest technological innovations, like untraceable cryptocurrency exchange. But at the same time, many of its other protections are much more traditional, drive big, shiny, expensive cars, and hold law degrees.