In a statement, the Commission said it is no longer challenging Apple's requirement that music streaming apps be distributed through the Apple App Store its in-app payment system.
The commission said: “Today's Statement of Objections clarifies that the Commission does no longer take a position as to the legality of the IAP obligation for this antitrust investigation but rather focuses on the contractual restrictions that Apple imposed on app developers which prevent them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative music subscription options at lower prices outside of the app and to choose those effectively."
Apple's App Store Guidelines for in-app payments state: "If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase."
Observers think that the Commission's climb down is less about Apple and more about changes expected to follow from the EU's Digital Markets Act – such as a requirement that Apple allows third-party app stores.
Third-party app stores must offer their payment mechanisms, which would render the issue moot from an enforcement perspective. It does mean though that Apple has avoided a hefty fine for all its past antics.
The Commission remains concerned "that the anti-steering obligations imposed by Apple on music streaming app developers prevent those developers from informing consumers about where and how to subscribe to streaming services at lower prices."
The Commission says at this stage of its investigation, it considers Apple's anti-steering rules to be unfair trading conditions that violate Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Apple's anti-steering rule says: "Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase" with limited exceptions for "Reader" apps that allow users to view content purchased elsewhere. In other words, apps cannot even promote external payment options.