The iOS 15.5 beta is adding a big new feature to iPhone apps — the ability to make payments outside of the App Store in certain circumstances. It's a change that's going to significantly impact how you access premium content on your phone.
Found by 9to5Mac (opens in new tab), the in-development version of the next iPhone software update contains permissions for apps to link users to external purchase systems. This option currently only works for "reader apps," which are those that offer access to previous purchases or subscriptions for "magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video," according to Apple's developer guidelines (opens in new tab).
While these apps should be much easier for users to manage and pay for content with (assuming this permission makes it to the final version of the update), the trade-off is they can't also offer in-app purchases if they use this permission.
When you open one of these apps for the first time, you'll get an alert explaining that this app offers external payment options. If you delete an app you've subscribed to, you'll get another pop-up telling you that you can't manage your payment to the app through the App Store (illustrated in the image below), hopefully reminding you to check in on your subscription elsewhere.
Apple isn't a big fan of users making external payments through iOS apps. It's the reason why you can't sign up for services like Netflix through the iPhone app, only through a browser. But if you've been following Apple's recent legal efforts concerning the App Store, you won't be surprised by the addition of this new third-party payment permission.
Recently, Apple had to let Dutch dating apps use third-party payments due to local laws (via iMore (opens in new tab)), and last year's huge Apple vs. Epic Games trial also revolved around the ability to make in-app purchases outside of the App Store, resulting in Apple being ordered to offer the ability for third-party payment systems. Apple's new permissions efforts seem to be so it can comply with these rulings and avoid future litigation.
iOS 15.5 now has a public beta option, but we recommend most iPhone users wait until the stable release of the update. There's no official release date yet, but we'd expect it to happen in a month or two given Apple's previous release patterns.