Hey there: Apple’s public fight with one developer

The App Store rules and Apple’s selective interpretation cause a pre-WWDC dustup.


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In the wee hours before Monday’s WWDC keynote, Apple managed to smooth things over with Basecamp, the two having fallen into a very public disagreement over the rejection of an app update to Basecamp’s cross-platform email service, Hey.

That’s the name of it. It’s called “Hey.” That’s not just how the kids talk now, putting “Hey” at the end of sentences. It might be, The Macalope doesn’t really know. It’s not how he was using it in that sentence, hey.

He was using it that way in that sentence.

The 1.0 release of Hey had been approved by Apple but the 1.0.1 update was rejected under the argument that it should never have been approved in the first place because it didn’t implement Apple’s purchasing mechanism so the app didn’t work immediately. This rightly incensed Basecamp’s management which shot back on Twitter and the company’s website, saying Apple was acting like “gangsters.”

Microsoft, which has never done anything wrong itself and was just trying to be helpful, chimed in to say that it is very concerned about app store pricing. Microsoft takes just 5 percent of revenue from apps sold on the Windows Store. Of course, it has to because the Windows Store is a ghost town that the ghosts have also have decided to leave and have gone so far as to take their favorite tumbleweeds with them.

“I’m taking Mr. Brambles and Spikey.”

Before you even get into the the details, this argument was optically just so bad for Apple. Basecamp’s CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, had previously testified before congress about this very issue. Then here comes Apple, saying “This is a nice app you got here. It’d be a shame if sumpin’ were ta happen to it.” Right before WWDC. [chef’s kiss]

And it gets worse when you actually do get into the details. Apple’s statements during this dustup, for example, were sometimes a little hard to swallow.

“These rules have been around the App Store since the day we started,” said Phil Schiller…

Literally the rule you’re citing was added in 2018. So, maybe it was around the App Store, but it wasn’t actually in the Apple Store. Maybe sitting on the fax machine or something.

Apple also said of Basecamp’s other apps:

These apps do not offer in-app purchase—and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years.

Look at all I do for you. And this is how you repay me? You’re killing your poor mother. Just look at her!

They don’t work for you, Apple. They make apps that make your platform better. No one has yet argued that any of their other apps violated the App Store rules, so why even bring that up?

It’s ironic that Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines used to say:

If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.

It’s good that they removed that because it often seems like the only thing that helps.

Ultimately, Basecamp managed to work it out by adding a 14-day free trial period with a randomized email account name, so that the app would work without having to set up an account on something gross like a webpage or something, ew. You know, like an animal. Javascript all over your hands. This seems to have satisfied some of what Apple was demanding, but not all of it. Yet the company has indicated that it will approve the update.

Which really just perpetuates the problem. This one disagreement was solved because the wheel was intensely squeaky. We’ve managed to kick the can down the road. Yayyy.

The Macalope cares much less about the percentage of the revenue Apple takes than other factors. 30 percent is a lot, but it does drop to 15 percent after the first year if you use subscription-based payment. To Basecamp’s point, it seems ludicrous that Apple is trying to insist that if you have a multi-platform application, you must still use its payment mechanism on iOS if you’re [pretends to don reading glasses] a non-reader-only consumer-oriented app as determined by Apple and only Apple.

Have they walked that part back? It’s hard to tell. Which is another problem. Apple’s rules are arcane, confusing and applied at will. The company loves to boast about how much money flows through the App Store, but when you set yourself up as the only good place for developers to sell apps, you’re effectively saying yourself that you represent a monopoly, no matter what your share of the end-user market is. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on the smartphone market, but it arguably has a monopoly on the paying part of the app market. Indeed, The Macalope has made this very point himself numerous times to show that, despite the thoughts of some pundits, the company’s not going out of business any time soon. Google’s executives have even made the same point themselves by repeatedly claiming people would start shipping Android first any day now until finally just dropping it.

When you make yourself a monopoly, don’t get mad when people react to you like you’re a monopoly.

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