Devs Finally Angry At Apple's App Store
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Fear And Loathing In The App Store 26 - If you are a dog on a leash you don't notice it unless you try to go your own way. So if you want to be a happy App Store developer don't pull on the leash like Basecamp did.

To be clear, I personally don't like Apple's way of doing business but I can see the attraction of a good place to market your work. Users also think, when they do think, that it protects them against the bad people among us devs. I don't particularly mind the 30% cut they take of everything, though I do think its a bit on the high side, but that's the up front deal and you can take it or leave it and adjust your price accordingly.

What I really take exception to, and what most devs seem to ignore, is that Apple is the judge, jury and executioner in its own App Store kingdom. You have no right of appeal, no adjudication and no higher authority. Indeed, the terms and conditions actually say that going to the press gets you kicked out anyway - rough stuff. Yet we go along with it all.

The point is that the majority of devs simply work toward getting their apps accepted and then sit back and hope the money starts coming in. I guess this is what Basecamp was hoping but things turned out a little different.

Basecamp created Hey, an app to access its online email service. The service is paid-for and the rules say that even, or is that especially, if you give your app away, any in-app purchases have to be done via the Apple API and they are subject to the 30% Apple tax. However, there is a long code of practice that if you create an app that simply accesses a paid-for service then that's OK. Your users sign up for the service on your website and then you give them a free app to access it. But, and as we are programmers and logical this should be obvious - what is to stop any in app-purchases being recast as signing up to a web service with a free app thrown in?


Basecamp seemed certain that it was fine with the sign-up to an existing service not being an in-app purchase and, indeed, so was Apple when the first version of the app past inspection. Then there was a need to upgrade the app to fix some problems and Apple noticed that the App was free but the service was paid-for and not via the approved API. The update wasn't issued and there were threats that the app would be pulled. Obviously Basecamp thought that Hey would be exempt as it accessed an existing service that users had paid for - in the same way that apps such as Netflix and Slack do. The complication is that developers can't discourage users from using Apple's in-app purchasing method and new subscribers have to be given the ability to sign up via the app and hence give Apple a 30% cut. Basically the app was telling users to go to the website to sign up, so cutting Apple out of the deal.

As you can imagine this led to a lot of anger and a lot of tweets saying that this was unfair and inconsistent.

Basecamp's chief technology officer, David Heinemeier tweeted:

"Wow. I'm literally stunned. Apple just doubled down on their rejection of HEY's ability to provide bug fixes and new features, unless we submit to their outrageous demand of 15-30% of our revenue. Even worse: We're told that unless we comply, they'll REMOVE THE APP."

I'm only surpised that he was "stunned" and:

"There is no chance in bloody hell that we're going to pay Apple's ransom. I will burn this house down myself, before I let gangsters like that spin it for spoils. This is profoundly, perversely abusive and unfair."

Thing is, I'm fairly sure that if Apple let this one go Basecamp would be very happy to continue using the App Store rather than realizing that nothing much about the situation has changed:

"The Oura ring tells me last nights sleep was shit. Heartbeat way up. I’m not going to lie, having Apple threaten your existence is literally stressful business. Think of how many developers suffered sleepless nights over this. Enough. "


"This is what keeps me up: Why does a 1.5 trillion dollar company need to shake down small software makers? The ones that helped them build that trillion-dollar empire, by creating all the apps that gave the ecosystem such an impenetrable moat?"

I think the answer is that this is how Apple became a 1.5 trillion dollar company. In response to Basecamp's appeal, Apple basically said we are not changing our rules so that your app can stay in the app store.  Then, after some negotiation Apple announced, just before WWDC, that it had approved a version of the app - but on an temporary basis and the app still had to be changed to fit in with the rules. The nature of the tweets changed:

"Apple has approved HEY for iOS 1.0.2 without IAP!! We’ve submitted 1.0.3 for final, definitive approval with a new free option and HEY for Work. SO NOW WE WAIT. CAN THIS STAND-OFF END IN A TRUCE?"

See what happens when the leash is relaxed...

The new version of the app offers a free temporary account, but doesn't use the Apple sign-up API, so a sort of victory for Basecamp, but I'd watch what happens when the media spotlight on the issue is switched off.

The call for Apple to be investigated for anti-trust violations has increased. Microsoft, with no real app store of its own, has outlined how bad the situation is. Perhaps Apple is a little worried about the response because this was posted on the developer website:

"Additionally, two changes are coming to the app review process and will be implemented this summer. First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself. Second, for apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. Developers will instead be able to address the issue in their next submission."

Yes it's slight progress but it's also a "when did you stop beating your wife" moment. Why have there been no appeals before this? Why could we not challenge the guidelines before. Why were bug fixes ever subject to rule scrutiny at all?

All is not good, but as long as your app gets into the store and makes money nothing much else seems to matter.

It is time we woke up to the situation and not just react when the leash is yanked.


More Information

Apple reveals new developer technologies to foster the next generation of apps

Apple, HEY, and the Path Forward

Fear and Loathing In The App Store

  1. Apple Drops Bitcoin App 
  2. Apple Rejects App For Being Too Simple     
  3. Banned For Life      
  4. When Apps Vanish
  5. Apple Doesn't Want Amateur Hour       
  6. Apple's Reasons For Rejection 
  7. Google Wants Everyone To Know Where You Live   
  8. Apple Takes Down Innovative App      
  9. The EFF Refuses Apple's Conditions       
  10. Firefox Gets A Walled Garden        
  11. Apple Is Watching       
  12. Apple Punishes IFixit  
  13. Fear And Loathing In the App Store 13 - Apple Rejects Gravity 
  14. Apple Rejects F.lux And It Isn't Even In The App Store!
  15. Apple Bans F.lux And Then Duplicates  It
  16. App Store Income Dashed With No Appeal
  17. The Strange Case Of AdNauseam
  18. Apple Bans Templated Apps
  19. Apple Rejects Net Neutrality App
  20. Apple Stops Crypto Currency Mining App
  21. Oracle Owns JavaScript and Apple Pulls App
  22. Apple Revokes Facebook's Developer Certificate
  23. Is The Walled Garden About To Close Around MacOS?
  24. Apple Promotes Own Apps Before Yours
  25. Developer's Facility Used To Create Open Apple App Store
  26. Devs Finally Angry At Apple's App Store.
  27. Epic Games V Apple - Smash The App Store

Jailbreaking the Developer  

Epic Games CEO Finally Notices That UWP Apps Are A Walled Garden

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