Tuesday, June 16, 2020

HEY Rejected From the App Store

David Heinemeier Hansson:

We celebrated too soon with getting Apple’s approval for HEY in the App Store. Yes, v1.0 was approved, but now we’ve been denied our v1.0.1 update, which has important bug fixes, because we don’t do IAP.

It’s really sad that Apple has such a capricious and inconsistent review process. What’s OK one minute might not be OK the next. If we have to bite our nails every single time we push out a bug fix, we’re not going to have any nails left in a fortnight!


We’ve been dealing with the App Store for years at Basecamp. We’ve submitted to all their (ridiculous) requirements.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

HEY is doing exactly what Basecamp is doing, is doing exactly what Netflix is doing. Offering a subscription service that must be purchased on the web, then a client in the App Store to access that.


We don’t use the App Store for our Mac app for this reason. But we have no choice but to use the App Store for iOS. It’s the monopoly store in apple mobile town.

David Heinemeier Hansson (Hacker News):

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.


It’s clear that Apple feel like they’re now so far above the trifling concerns of antitrust law that even while under the scrutiny of regulators and justice departments on TWO CONTINENTS, they can still afford to tighten the screws. Gotta make that pivot to services pay!!

David Heinemeier Hansson:

We did everything we were supposed to with the iOS app. […] You can’t sign up, because Apple says no. We don’t mention subscriptions. You can’t upgrade. You can’t access billing. We did all of it! Wasn’t enough.

We’ve been in the App Store with Basecamp for YEARS. We know the game. It was always rigged. It was always customer-hostile, deeply confusing, but the unstated lines were reasonably clear. Now Apple has altered the deal, and all we can do is prey they don’t alter it further.


Update (2020-06-18): See also: MacRumors, Hacker News, Forbes, TechCrunch, Dithering.

John Gruber (tweet):

The rules as they’re written are controversial (and the subject of antitrust inquiries in both the U.S. and E.U.), but the Hey app seemingly complies with all of them.

David Pierce:

Apple told me that its actual mistake was approving the app in the first place, when it didn’t conform to its guidelines. Apple allows these kinds of client apps — where you can’t sign up, only sign in — for business services but not consumer products. That’s why Basecamp, which companies typically pay for, is allowed on the App Store when Hey, which users pay for, isn’t. Anyone who purchased Hey from elsewhere could access it on iOS as usual, the company said, but the app must have a way for users to sign up and pay through Apple’s infrastructure.

Ryan Jones:

Ah ha! Apple says “business services” can bypass the 30%.

Also, LOL.

Also, what a way for us all to find out! A spokesperson via a correction via a news story via Tweet storms.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

I hear from a little bird that March was the date for the new, extractive stance. The policy 3.1.1 didn’t change, but Apple apparently decided in March that it could be a growth opportunity to start enforcing it harshly. That’s why old apps haven’t been hit yet. Just fresh prey.

David Pierce:

As for questions like “What if I pay for G Suite on my personal email, isn’t that the same thing,” or “What about all the other subscription email services that work kinda the same way,” the answer seems to be […]

John Gruber (also: Hacker News):

First, no such distinction is made in the App Store Review Guidelines. The lone instance of “consumer” refers to the “Consumer Health Records API”. […]

Second, how could such a distinction be made in writing? There are some apps that are definitely “business services” and some that are definitely “consumer products” (games for example), but to say that the area in between encompasses many shades of gray is an understatement. The entire mobile era of computing — an era which Apple itself has inarguably largely defined — is about the obliteration of distinct lines between business and consumer products.


At some level there’s a clear distinction here — Netflix and Kindle are clearly consumption services. But Dropbox? Dropbox is a lot closer to an email or messaging service like Hey than it is to Netflix or Kindle. The stuff in my Dropbox account is every bit as personal as the stuff in my email account. When you put Dropbox in the same bucket with Netflix and Amazon Kindle, it seems to me like the distinction is not so much between what is and isn’t a “reader” app or what is or isn’t a “business” app, but between companies which are too big for Apple to push around and those they can.

Chuq Von Rospach:

Office 365 is okay outside but Hey isn’t? why?

also, how is this ANY different from Adobe Creative cloud subscriptions? I’m confused.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

We keep trying to find logic, consistency in Apple’s App Store decisions. What’s different about Fastmail? Why not Gmail? Outlook? But it’s looking at the question the wrong way. The answer is much more basic: power. Apple can do what they want, when they want, so they do.

Apple feels no obligation to be even internally consistent. They told us that straight up! They were not going to discuss precedence, just our individual case. Which is what everyone with absolute power always wants to do: reduce everything to a case-by-case situation.

• • •

Casey Newton:

This is not your typical developer hyperbole. Apple’s behavior here is truly inexplicable and I imagine it will have implications for the various antitrust investigations now underway

Russell Ivanovic:

The “old” rule was “if you want to process payments externally, fine, but don’t dare mention it in your app”.

This has now changed to “actually offer the payments in app so we can take 30%, or get off the store”. It’s a wild escalation.

Don Whiteside:

Not even to mention how dopey this policy is compared to the old (also dumb) normal of “we get a cut unless you provide absolutely no way to sign up via the app.” Am I just forbidden to write an app that lets a person use the api for a subscription service I do not provide?

Michael Love:

This is just outright cartoonishly evil. Does my daughter’s violin teacher have to start paying Apple 30% of her tuition now because classes are virtual?

Dieter Bohn:

Haha remember April Fools day this year when we learned some companies like Amazon get to skip the 30 percent cut to Apple for digital purchases and we thought that was as arbitrary and capricious as it could get?

We were so young, so naive.

Josh Centers:

Don’t like Apple’s policies? Just build your own mobile ecosystem.

• • •

Kyle Howells:

Imagine if Safari & Chrome could (& regularly did) arbitrarily demand changes to websites, the companies business models, or just block companies or subjects they don’t like from the internet entirely.

That’s what our modern computing world is like for apps & app developers.

Loren Brichter:

I think the conversation has shifted so far that people are begging for scraps. I have one of the most powerful tools for knowledge in the known universe and it can fit in my pocket and Apple crippled it with a big, beautiful, Foster + Partners-designed glass ceiling.


If it’s a security nightmare then the security model is wrong. If you can’t make the security model work then someone else can. Unless you prevent them. Which they are.

Colin Cornaby:

It seems like the broader issue is that the App Store is the only way on to the iPhone.

George Claghorn:

I kind of resent people talking about this as “Apple making decisions about their own platform” instead of “Apple deciding what I can install on my phone that I paid for based solely on whether it sufficiently pads their exorbitant profits.”

Josh Centers:

Two things should be true: you have a right to run the software you want on the computers you own and you should have the right to repair the computers you own.

Prior to the iPhone, neither of these statements was controversial.

Matt Birchler:

This is a perfect example of why side-loading should be an option on iOS. Sure, make them notarize the app like they would do on the Mac and block them from using Apple Pay for signing up in the side-loaded app or something, but this restriction is kind of nuts.

Kyle Howells:

Given how important computing devices phones are now, Apple shouldn’t really even be allowed to lock the iPhone to only running apps from the AppStore.

The more I see Apple abusing its control of the iOS & macOS platforms the more I feel tempted to just drop native development and make web apps.

At least then I’d control those. They can’t be blocked, randomly removed from the AppStore or arbitrarily rejected on a whim.

Loren Brichter:

Both [the App Store and the Google Play Store] are filled with scams and junk. The alternative is an option that is “no store”. Let the stores actually be highly curated. Deprive the junk and scam any shelf space. And allow ideas and businesses to develop on hardware that people own with autonomy.

• • •

Cabel Sasser:

It’s pathetic to say, but I respect your bravery in immediately calling them out for this. We’ve dealt back-channel style with capricious rejections for years and years and it’s so exhausting, and though we almost always prevail, the only thing that gets Apple changing is bad PR.

Steve Streeting:

The worst thing about the app stores is when they allow you on, but then reject updates you desperately need to deploy to help your users. Rejections for things that were always there, and that other people do. I’m sure almost everyone has a story like this.

It causes such incredible stress that as a dev I wouldn’t go near the Apple app stores with somone else’s barge pole now. It’s like playing Russian Roulette every time you submit an update.

Joe Cieplinski:

They absolutely are inconsistent. Which is why if your app is anywhere near that line, you either don’t build it or expect to some day get burned.

Daniel Jalkut:

The definition of insanity is submitting to the App Store again and again and expecting consistent results.


A lot of responses to this saying “just don’t include sign-up”. Except when this happened to us, the rep who called presented a new rule: the app should work equally for someone who discovers it through the App Store as anyone else, which means omitting sign-up is not allowed.

Benjamin Mayo:

In August, Apple reached out to say my app was going to be featured. A week later, App Review told me my app would be removed from the store permanently for violating Apple’s rules as my subscription ‘didn’t offer enough value for the money’.

I had to remove content that I offered for free and put it behind the paywall ... Apple would never confirm if those changes would suffice, but I did it and the app was not removed.

Matt Henderson:

I remember when they rejected an app we made, because we used a “Slide to start” UI control, which they claimed to have a monopoly on (since that was the control to unlock the screen at the time). And, that was also after having had the app in the store for more than a year.

David W Keith:

Dropcam wasn’t using In App Purchases, as they required hardware, which was excluded from IAP. When Nest tried to merge the features we were told to use IAP, which was specifically against Apple rules since it required hardware. We ended up not mentioning subscriptions at all.

Saurabh Garg:

My sister who’s not a developer learned programming in a couple weeks and built an app by herself for design professionals. Nothing amazing, but a nice design compendium. AppStore rejected it saying that they want ‘quality apps’ on the store. No recourse or any encouragement.

• • •

Rene Ritchie:

How would you handle current App Store complaints?

Daniel Jalkut:

It’s particularly frustrating because I know for a fact that Apple is composed of dozens, hundreds, thousands of caring, empathetic people who would like to see the developer/company relationship be mutually beneficial. Yet somehow this antagonism towards developers prevails.


The mood of being a developer in the Apple ecosystem for the past 10+ years has been one of simultaneously imagining what kind of incredible software the platforms enable, while worrying what Apple will let us “get away with.” Honest developers made to feel like renegades.


I don’t know what my breaking point is, because I still love Apple platforms so much. It’s just a real shame that so many years are being wasted antagonizing developers who could otherwise be even greater boosters of Apple’s technologies.

Jordan Dea-Mattson:

Spent 13 years working at Apple. Poured my life into it.

Disgusted by what I am seeing here.

Chuq Von Rospach:

as a former part of @tim_cook team in IS&T and a long time Apple supporter, I’m really disappointed. They got it wrong here, and increasingly, I feel like Apple has forgotten the question shouldn’t be “Can we do this?” but “Should we do this?”

Nick Heer:

[Basecamp] says that its apps are all “full-featured native apps” but its desktop apps are Electron-based. That’s not entirely relevant to this post, but it is my policy to shame websites masquerading as native apps.


Apple’s response to the E.U. antitrust investigation says that all apps in its store are subject to the same rules, but that is plainly not true, either. The way Apple is splitting hairs in Hey’s service offering and refusing to compare it to other apps is grossly unfair. The reason I included a detailed description of how Hey works at the outset of this post is because this appears to be the main difference between it and any other email app. But that is an undocumented, unclear, and almost wilfully pedantic interpretation.


WWDC begins in six days. Apple is using the lead-up to strongarm a well-known developer following its policies and issue dishonest statements and press releases about competition in the App Store on the same day that the E.U. announced an antitrust investigation into these practices. Audacious.


The two most compelling arguments against the iOS and iPhone user experience are the App Store policies and the sandboxing restrictions. Some of those choices are made in favor of privacy and speak for the user, but which users are better served by Apple getting their organized-crime-type cut than they would by getting a functional application designed the way Basecamp had in mind?

• • •

Match Group:

They claim we’re asking for a “free ride” when the reality is, “digital services” are the only category of apps that have to pay the App Store fees. The overwhelming majority of apps, including Internet behemoths that connect people (rideshare/gig apps), or monetize by selling advertising (social networks), have never been subject to Apple’s payments systems and fees, and this is not right.

Tim Sweeney:

Here Apple speaks of a level playing field. To me, this means: All iOS developers are free to process payments directly, all users are free to install software from any source. In this endeavor, Epic won’t seek nor accept a special deal just for ourselves.

Ben Thompson:

“I heard from some of the largest companies in the industry about visits from Apple making clear that they were after their share of money, no matter how that money was made. And yes, Apple held up their updates until they agreed...”

John Gruber:

The issue exemplified by Hey is that there are cross-platform apps/services that don’t want to use Apple’s system, period, full stop. They don’t need to, or don’t want to, or think Apple’s cut is too high, or perhaps their business model literally can’t support giving up 30 percent of revenue — whatever. They’re not trying to collect money from users within their apps by circumventing Apple’s IAP APIs with their own payment processing — they’re simply willing to forgo in-app commerce completely and sign up all their users on their own, outside their app.

Daniel Pasco:

The real problem: Apple has championed the race to the bottom regarding pricing, because they make their money off of selling hardware and can afford to give away their operating system and software for free or at least at unsustainably low prices.


The biggest players on the App Store don’t charge for their apps at all, and those are the players that really matter to Apple. These are media and retail powerhouses that also don’t have to support themselves on app revenue, because they make their money elsewhere.

Damien Petrilli:

Ex: Google and Facebook make tons of money with their ads and analytics.

Their apps are downloaded million times but they pay Apple $99/y only as they don’t charge for their software.

So it’s not enough to cover the cost they generate to the App Store.

Ryan Jones:

On today’s @ditheringfm episode, @gruber said Apple’s maniacal focus on rent-seeking has surpassed talent retention as the company’s biggest risk.

Agree. Sad.

Update (2020-06-19): See also: Rocket, Accidental Tech Podcast, Tanner Bennett, Core Intuition, MacRumors.

Erik Telford (also: Hacker News):

You think Apple would understand not wanting a 3rd party mob boss to take 30% off the top considering they explicitly work around Google’s 30% cut in the Apple Music app on Android

Rogue Amoeba:

After many issues early on, Rogue Amoeba has avoided Apple’s App Stores. To save our sanity & revenue, we focused on direct distro via the Mac.

Sadly, problems have persisted & worsened. It’s time to speak up and share stories about #AppStoreAntitrust. We’ll go first.

Paulo Andrade:

I’ve been dealing with Apple’s App Stores since their inception. Both for my businesses as well as in representation of others. This is pretty much the way it works.


An app we built for a client never got approved due to subjective stuff like “too much marketing and no real value to users” when in our opinion that wasn’t true. Many iterations didn’t help. And since on iOS it’s “App Store or nothing” the project was shelved.

Seth Willits:

QuickPick was released in the Mac App Store in Jan 2011. Less than 60 days later all updates were rejected because it was “confusingly similar” to Launchpad, even though Launchpad came after, and the similarity was that they can look the same in a screenshot.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I’ve enjoyed the App Store immensely, & built a career out of it. I’ve shipped over a dozen apps since 2008. I’ve also had two apps killed outright by App Review, & plenty more that I just haven’t bothered to make because I know they’ll never be allowed on iOS. This stuff matters

Kyle Howells:

As soon as I got my hands on an iPad for the first time I loved it and instantly had ideas for apps I’d loved to make!

Within minutes I realised there’s no way Apple would allow them on the AppStore and so I never even bother to start them.

Jonathan Deutsch:

When the richest company in the world brainstorms stupid (“brain dead”) ideas to make your app conform to their arbitrary gatekeeping rules, ultimately changing the nature of the app and everything that made it novel, useful, or potentially world-changing.

And yes, they have done this to us too. Of course when we implemented their requirements, we still got rejected.

Tyler Hall:

I haven’t faced quite as much insanity as @RogueAmoeba has, but I do have two short anecdotes to contribute.

Rui Carmo:

Incidentally, the App Store review policies (and the insane developer fees for individual users) are the main reasons that whenever I developed for mobile (back in the day) I did so for Android first, or stuck to web technologies.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I think it’s safe to say that pretty much every one of us who’s been on the App Store for a while has had to lop off features here or there, or entire apps in some cases, to satisfy App Review. That’s why everybody is so upset — we’ve all been through it, and have the scars

As a developer, it’s very frustrating to have to choose to limit your apps, not making them as good as they could be, because somebody who knows (and cares) nothing about your app or service, or any of that contextual information, decided they want to clip your wings

Until very recently, developer apps were severely constrained on iPad — not because iOS couldn’t support them, but because Apple was so afraid of apps ‘running arbitrary code’ that you weren’t allowed implement basic features like iCloud support

Even today, an iOS app that lets you write and run code is not allowed take up more than 80% of the screen (!) to render the output. I’m not kidding. Some of these limitations are insane, and definitely not fit for such a critically important computing platform


Codeless could have:

- Previewing on iPhones
- ‘Export to Xcode’ to generate Swift and Storyboard files
- Scripting to allow for logic in your designs

None of that got through review. Your iOS device could be more capable.

See also:

Update (2020-06-22): See also: Ben Brooks, Russell Ivanovic (tweet), Howard Oakley, Matt Birchler, Aaron Vegh, Mark Gurman, John Gruber, Release Notes.

Alastair Houghton:

Even those of us outside the App Store were affected by it.

My personal gripe was the way Apple allowed apps with scammy names like “Disk Doctor” into the Mac store (that app was in the top paid list in various places), while banning actual disk utility apps completely.

Kosta Eleftheriou (also: Hacker News):

For the longest time, I’ve been afraid to speak up about my story with App Review, fearing I’d put my popular app at risk. I’ve now decided that being transparent and sharing my experience to help others is worth it, so here it goes[…]

Adam Foot:

I’ve had very similar experiences with Shift Keyboard. Updates were constantly rejected for 8-9 months for the same reason until one day it just got through and I’ve no issues since

Ben Barnett:

I made an app which was almost ready just before Xmas shutdown years ago. Went to submit after Xmas to find unannounced policy change banning a particular (non-deprecated!) API from the store. It’s never been allowed since. No replacement API. That app was dead. So much time lost

11 Comments RSS · Twitter

Forstall ousted for a one time transient maps mistake. Good times, miss him yet?

Forstall ousted for a one time transient maps mistake. Good times, miss him yet?

The App Store was just as capricious if not more so in the Forstall era. (It’s kind of irrelevant, since Forstall wasn’t and wouldn’t be running the App Store.)

Forstall wasn't ousted over Apple Maps. Tim and the other execs wanted him gone, and that was just the public excuse.

Michael, I applaud you on this stunning collection of quotations. A snapshot of a very "the dam has broken" feeling moment.

In the midst of this Hey controversy, which re-kindled the whole antitrust issue, I am struck by the fact that Hey is essentially turning an open system with easy, universal, and automated import and import options into a closed system. How has such a service become the poster child for openness and consumer choice? How has it become an “anti-Gmail” when even Gmail offers rough IMAP compatibility?

Hey offers no import and no support for regular email clients. Of course, no regular email client could ever match the features of their purpose-built apps, but there is nothing to prevent them from exposing raw emails over IMAP — even if only for backup purposes, with no SMTP access. (Hello, EagleFiler!) They do offer the ability to bulk-export email as an MBOX file when leaving the service, but, how useful will that be to most users — and how useful is that to active users who only want to back up their mail as they go or run scripts and automations?

Hey is certainly free to do as they please and Basecamp has a good enough track record that I would trust them to do the right thing should they shut down Hey. Nevertheless, pretending that a $99 email service with no actual standard email support at all is a poster child for openness strikes me as profoundly misguided. By that standard, Zendesk is a more standards-compliant email system!

Apple states that Hey should not bill themselves as an email service on the App Store: that was part of their rejection statement and nobody seems to be commenting on that. *Would* Hey have been rejected if the app had been framed as what it actually is, not an email system, but a proprietary messaging service with an email conduit attached to it?

Let us, by all means, be outraged, but let us remember what the outrage is abetting…

@Hervé I have the same concerns about the HEY service itself. But I don’t think they are really marketing it as open, and calling it not-e-mail would be at least as confusing. The big picture of App Store policy, and letting people who want HEY choose it, is way more important than whether any of us likes this particular app.

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