Amazon’s Prime Video App Avoids the ‘Apple Tax’

It heralds a more consumer-friendly approach

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon’s Prime Video for Mac now lets you buy videos using your Amazon account.
  • It also includes Apple in-app purchases.
  • Amazon’s iOS app exploits the same Apple-provided purchasing loophole.
The Amazon Prime Video app's Homepage on Mac

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

Amazon’s latest Prime Video app shows how good an App Store app can be without Apple’s restrictions.

This update to Amazon’s TV- and movie-streaming app, Prime Video, supports all of Apple’s latest technologies, like picture-in-picture (PiP) and AirPlay, and also lets you watch in full screen. But the real pull here is the in-app purchase system. Jumping through a special loophole introduced by Apple last year, Amazon can offer its in-app rentals and purchases, alongside Apple’s own in-app purchases. It’s a great addition, but complex enough to confuse most of us. 

"My understanding is that Apple views the Mac and iOS stores as one and the same, i.e the ‘App Store’. Hence the single guidelines document, which makes no distinction between platforms apart from just a handful of platform specific cases," professional App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou told Lifewire via direct message. 

Prime Example

The Prime Video app is a perfect example of Apple’s inconsistent approach to buying things in apps. Pretty much any app can sell physical goods—grocery delivery apps, or Amazon’s regular app—without Apple taking a cut. But after that, it gets confusing. In a  statement provided to 9to5Mac last year, Apple said that it had established an exception for "subscription video entertainment providers" that would let them use their own existing subscription services in exchange for supporting the latest Apple features.

Now, take a look at the features added to Amazon’s new Prime Video Mac app. It works with AirPlay, and supports PiP, but it doesn’t work with Siri in my testing. It also allows you to buy videos with one click, billed to your Amazon account, while also offering in-app purchases for Prime Video Monthly, using Apple’s IAP mechanism. 

Amazon Originals on the Prime Video app on Mac

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

This isn’t the first app to take advantage of Apple’s special program. It’s not even the first Amazon video app. The Prime Video app on iOS also allows shopping that bypasses Apple’s payment system. 

Of course, you can do all of this via the browser, but then you may miss out on neat features like being able to download videos for offline viewing. And some people flat-out prefer the convenience and separation of apps. 

"As someone who prefers to compartmentalize everything I'm doing on my computer, I always prefer apps to doing things in [a] browser," Mac and Prime Video user Silverstring posted on the MacRumors forums. "It just fits my mental model of context-switching better than a bunch of tabs in a browser does, no matter how well things run on the web."

A Beautiful Mess

The point is, all this is an utter mess. Between Apple’s own shifting, contradictory rules on in-app purchases, and the various legal rulings compelling Apple to allow alternate payment methods, it’s hard for even the dedicated Apple-watching journalist to keep track of it all.

“All these artificial distinctions, that also keep changing, are hurting my brain when I try to either [understand] or remember them,” says Eleftheriou.

The iOS Kindle app, for example, still doesn’t let you buy books. It doesn’t even let you click a link to the Amazon site so you can buy it there. Instead, you must navigate to the store page yourself. It doesn’t seem absurd to wish for a world where a book-reading app would let you browse, try, buy, and download books without having to jump through so many hoops. Especially when you can buy paper books from the regular Amazon app with none of these barriers. 

Amazon Original The Boys on the Mac's Prime Video app

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

This mess benefits nobody, but at least, with apps like the new Prime Video, we can see how an ideal app store would work. Apps support the latest Apple technologies, which is good for users. Apps can process their own payments, too, which is also good for users.

All it needs is for Apple to stop demanding that apps only use the built-in in-app purchase mechanisms, or to drop the 30% cut to a level more palatable to sellers of digital wares. 

And that might not take as long as we think. With the pressure on Apple from various regulatory bodies around the world, its position is increasingly untenable. Hopefully, this Amazon app is a glimpse of the future.

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