Friday, June 19, 2020

It Doesn’t Work

Matthew Panzarino (also: MacRumors, Hacker News):

“You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” says Schiller. This, he says, is why Apple requires in-app purchases to offer the same purchasing functionality as they would have elsewhere.


“We didn’t extend these exceptions to all software,” he notes about the “reader” type apps — examples of which include Netflix. “Email is not and has never been an exception included in this rule.”


I asked Schiller if this meant Apple felt entitled to a portion of the revenue of every business that had an app, regardless of whether that business was an iOS-first.

“I get why there’s a question here,” he says. “But that’s not what we’re doing.”

Except that FastMail and Superhuman have been doing the same thing for years. And there are tons of other apps that don’t work unless you have a particular kind of account or hardware device. “Reader” apps, as Apple describes them, are not a coherent category.

Matt Birchler:

I feel like this is recursive logic. The app does this becuse they had to bend over backwards to not tell the user how to sign up. They did that because of existing App Store rules that force them to not help the user here.


The amount of contortion this line of logic requires is unconscionable, and is the kind of reasoning that make people believe salespeople do not trigger automatic doors.


I have no idea if it will take the US or EU torching it for things to change, but it baffles me that the bundling of a web browser was considered a bigger problem than this.

John Siracusa:

Wow, this is extremely flimsy. Who is Apple protecting with this stance? The poor iOS user who might download the free Hey app and be shocked to learn that it doesn’t function without an account

…or maybe it’s about that 30% cut of in-app purchases? Yep, a real stumper.

Nick Heer:

The reason I emphasized how Hey works at the top of my piece from earlier this week is because it isn’t an email client, it’s a Hey service client — and Apple sees those as wildly different categories. […]

Zendesk is another product built on email standards that doesn’t do anything unless you sign in — there is no way to register within the app. But it’s allowed in the App Store either because it has bulk pricing options or because it offers access to a professional database. It’s also not marketed as an “email client”.


But the App Store is worse without the Hey app for those who use Hey. I can’t imagine tacking a standard IMAP client onto the app, as Apple suggests, would improve it.

Nick Heer:

You can find dozens of similar examples if you start poking around. It sure seems like a lot of apps have been approved by mistake. If App Review can’t understand the rules about when it is okay to only show a login screen upon launch, how are developers supposed to know? Inconsistencies reflect human nature but so, too, should Apple’s responses to such inconsistencies.

Nicholas Van Exan:

Totally not the larger / important / competition law point, but how do they arrive at the conclusion that Hey is not a “Reader” type app but cloud storage apps are? Cloud email is literally cloud storage. I’m literally paying to access my emails, stored on cloud servers.

Kara Swisher:

And how — given that access to the mobile universe is controlled by just two companies: Apple and Google. As one person intimately familiar with the mobile ecosystem noted to me, Apple and Google are the “two tollbooths” for us all.


Yet Apple has also changed rules in ways that many developers find capricious and unfair and, more to the point, scary. While complaints have been raised for a long time about what Ben Thompson of Stratechery calls Apple’s “rent-seeking” practices, many developers do not want to speak out for fear of falling afoul of Apple and, worse, getting banned from its store.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The app is only crippled on the App Store because that’s what they had to do to fit Apple’s written and unwritten rules. By the book. It’s not ‘an email app’, it’s the Hey app; Apple’s framing is BS, and it’s disappointing to see people fall for it

Christian Selig:

Ugh, this is so painful to see from Apple.

“You download the app and it doesn’t work without a paid account. We don’t want that kind of experience on the store. pause … Except for Netflix.”

Michael Love:

Uber seems to have adopted the legal position that they’re a service connecting passengers with drivers and don’t operate a physical business at all; from that perspective there’s not much difference between taxing their service fees and taxing Hey’s subscription fees.

Ken Kocienda:

“Let’s make the App Store insanely great.”

What if that were Apple’s philosophy? It doesn’t seem like it is.


If it were, I can’t imagine that it would come down to splitting hairs over ambiguously-worded rules or inconsistently-applied policies.

The priority would be to get great apps on the platform, and to encourage developers who want to “Think Different” to invest their time and effort into making new iOS apps and services that nobody thought of before.


Love that Apple devotes a lot of time detailing why a perfectly reasonable app can’t exist on their platform

And at the same time continues to promote coloring book apps which charge $15/week with a 3-day free trial

Which one makes the App Store better?

See also: You Download the App and it Doesn’t Work (via David Heinemeier Hansson, Hacker News).


Update (2020-06-22): Jeff Johnson:

People claim that the main benefit of the App Store is safety, but if that’s the case, then why do developers of non-malware apps get hassled so much by Apple?


This is the difference between protection and a protection racket.

See also: The App Store Doesn’t Make Apps Safe.

Update (2020-07-09): See also: Matthew Panzarino, who talked with Phil Schiller, on The Talk Show. I was even more confused after listening to this. He says that App Review’s “it doesn’t work” was a side comment, not an actual reason for rejection. So then why did addressing “it doesn’t work” by adding a trial help? And he says that the rules aren’t changing; e-mail apps were never considered “reader” apps. So then why were Superhuman, FastMail, and other e-mail apps approved before? Lastly, why is Hey considered different from apps like Basecamp and Zendesk? As best I can figure out, Apple did change an unwritten rule recently, and Hey is essentially being granted a special exemption.

21 Comments RSS · Twitter

Wow, what an eye opener this page has been to me. I had formerly argued that it's weird that a commercial business (HEY's owner) wants to be on the iOS plaform to make money but doesn't want to pay for the infrastructure that Apple offers.

But now, when Michael mentioned FastMail, I suddenly realize that I saw this wrong. Just because a paid service that runs just as well without a specific iOS, e.g. in a browser, wants to also offer a decicated iOS client, Apple shouldn't be able to ask for a share of their overall revenue!

However, there's still something that I remember from someone mentioning in the extensive Twitter discussion:

Apple supposedly only asked to add an _option_ that would allow someone who has not created and paid for a HEY account elsewhere yet, would be able to subscribe to the service thru the Apple subscription servive - and only then Apple would get their 30% share. Which, if that were the case, would be again acceptable in my opinion, bevause in this case Apple is acting as the retailer. Question remains if that's how it would work, and if HEY would be allowed to tell users that they can also sign up on the HEY's website (without giving money to Apple). So that the choice would be the user's: Use Apple for convenience or not. If that's how it would work, then I would still say that HEY should accept this trade and stop behaving as if they're unfairly treated.

Can someone clarify this?

@Thomas Even if HEY offered IAP, Apple doesn’t allow them to mention that you can sign up from the Web site. You can’t even link to the Web site. You can’t even link to a privacy policy that includes any navigation to other pages on the site.

Everyone should read Jeff Johnson’s thread about this. He echoes much of what I’ve been saying for at least a year. The “Apple is a retailer” comparison is BS for the simple fact that Free apps exist and incur the same costs to Apple (besides a 2% payment processing fee) as Paid apps — hosting, review, etc. But Apple only takes money from developers who want to make a living. It’s insane.

Additionally, it’s even crazier because the Free apps which use the most resources (ie. most downloaded, updated weekly and need constant review) are from the biggest richest tech companies and their apps all exist on Android — so they pay zero and add zero value to iOS.

It’s the indie developers of paid apps who are adding the most value BY FAR. Yet they are the guys and gals that Apple is screwing the most!!!

@Ben G

Excellent thread and great counter point to the stupid store analogy. People often use Walmart as example, not mentioning there are dozens of other option to retail, and there are only Two App Store.

Seriously Post Steve Jobs's Apple is rotten to its core. And cares nothing but money.

I am trying to remember the last time Phil Schiller sounded so hypocrite and stupid. It's ridiculous.

John Daniel

> Wow, what an eye opener this page has been to me.

How so? It seems like you understood the issue well enough. The anti-Apple squad appears to have created some doubts, but you don't seem to need any clarification.

John Daniel

Apple doesn't allow the app to offer an alternative. Otherwise, every scam app in the world would do that. You can certainly link to the web site and your privacy policy can have navigation links. You just can't use those to get as a way to avoid in-app purchase. It isn't difficult to append a query to the URLs the app uses to hide any subscription offers.

These are restrictions imposed on the app itself. The web site and the service can do what it wants. Hey is an e-mail service after all. Why not offer a $9.99/mo IAP subscription and then just e-mail the user every month with a longer-term, offsite subscription offer? No rule against that. They would probably make more money over all and keep everyone happy. But then, they would miss out on all of this free publicity.

Robert Bant

I have to agree with @John Daniel. A $9.99/mo, offered thru Apple would make the most sense. They don’t offer monthly subscription on, they could have this option as an IAP only. I would even choose to purchase the IAP version of Hey because I don’t have to commit to a year if after a month I don’t like their service and, most importantly for me I don’t have to deal with another website.

@John You are not allowed to link to a page from which it’s possible to navigate to a page where you can purchase. Basecamp itself ran into this issue with the Basecamp app simply because they had a Help link to their knowledge base. They weren’t trying to sell from that page.

Please see the Jason Fried piece I linked to where he explained how, money aside, IAP offers a worse customer experience, e.g. because they have no ability to help customers with billing issues. (Granted, some customers would prefer IAP for other reasons.)

John Daniel

@Michael There is no restriction on what a developer can say on a web site. The restriction is in the app. If the app facilitates an IAP end-around, then it gets rejected. I would expect that a company skilled in web server code and electron apps should be able to provide a web page and URL that can be used from the app. I don't have millions of dollars to spend developing a new app that circumvents IAP, yet I'm pretty sure I can create a web page and URL in just a few minutes.

Now I'm confused. What exactly are we debating here? An oppressive Apple that abuses developers or customer experience? I'm a developer. I'm quite happy to let Apple deal with billing issues. Hell, I would even pay Apple to handle things like billing, licensing, tax collection, tax remittance, VAT exemptions, trade sanctions, customer information, chargebacks, and region-specific price formatting.

Doh! Well, that's awkward, now isn't it? It's almost as if Apple actually provides useful services to developers for that 15-30%.

@John As I said, the restriction is on what the app is allowed to link to. No one’s questioning that one could make a special Web page with no links. It’s just rather silly that you have to, if you’re not trying to do an end-around.

That’s great that you find the service to be worth 15–30%. But a cross-platform service already has to handle all that stuff themselves. So supporting IAP means extra work for the developer to support a second payment processor, plus the aforementioned customer experience issues, plus playing (a lot) more money for this service that they didn’t want in the first place. And, as Brent Simmons recently wrote, implementing this stuff using Apple’s APIs is actually more difficult than the alternatives.

Plus Apple doesn’t allow devs to give refunds, offer educational discounts, or do any other billing related tasks that help customers. And honestly what do they provide? How often are average users buying apps?

I have just as many paid apps on my Mac as my iPhone and only 10% of them come from the Mac App Store. Most of the other 90% were a web registration which took me all of 60 seconds to sign up and then approve a payment via PayPal.

In reality, I’m happy to take an extra minute to pay directly to a developer if I know it means they’re getting more of my money. Because if I’m paying for an app it’s something I *need* so I want to make sure that it’ll be around in the future.

I’ve seen FAR too many paid iOS apps suddenly disappear. Obviously a part of this is Apple’s huge 30% cut taking too much money from the developers combined with Apple setting expectations that iPhone apps should be free or 99 cents. There’s hardly any market for apps $10+. And many devs soon realize they can’t make up the difference with increased sales volume which Apple tends to tout as a benefit of the store, so they quit. Thus we end up with an App Store mostly full of garbage and abandonware, instead of a curated library of high quality apps from developers that we can trust.

Compare this to my favorite Mac apps which sell directly to customers: many of my most treasured paid apps have been going strong for 10+ years. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single paid app that I used in that time that stopped being developed.

John Daniel

@Michael So how is Apple supposed to know the intent of a developer? How is Apple able to tell an honest mistake and desire to save 7 minutes of effort from someone trying a scam?

It isn’t Apple’s business to make life easier for cross-platform developers. You cited a blog post by Brent Simmons. He is specifically talking about subscriptions vs. up-front payments. That is completely different and has nothing to do with Apple vs. other providers. Furthermore, he isn’t “actually” saying anything of the sort. The “actual” word he uses is “probably”. And he does this when comparing Apple’s total solution to Stripe, which is just a payment processor. He is only talking about technical difficulties, not cost. And as is typically the case by developers, he ignores global legal obligations.

Given what I have seen over the past few months from developers’ attitudes towards Apple, I think Apple’s major fault is that they are far too trusting of developers. Brent Simmons actually does touch on this part. He laments the fact that Apple reviews apps and business models for scams and illegal operations.

Where are all of these scam / security risk apps that Apple is supposedly saving me from? I've been downloading Mac software for nearly 30 years (since the days of Shareware from FTP), from who-knows-where, and I've NEVER come across an app that has done anything malicious to my computer or my personal data. Even with the latest OS X that's locked down, I still bypass the security to run random apps I find on Github or wherever. Not one single problem.

I've also jailbroken my iPhone for over a year straight about 9 or 10 years ago, and recently for a few weeks. No problems whatsoever.

This argument that Apple forcing all apps to be installed via the App Store is somehow saving us from iPhone Armageddon is total BS.

@John Because one looks like “click here to subscribe” and the other is just a link to the homepage or knowledge base.

I think you’re misreading Simmons’ post. In any case, there are also full-service payment processors like FastSpring and Paddle that handle all the legal/tax stuff for you. And they are easier to integrate than IAP.

@Ben Yes, the experiment has been run, and it turns out that the Android way has been fine for billions of users.

John Daniel

@Ben Apple's security infrastructure makes malware very difficult. Most of the time malware developers don't even bother. So it makes sense that you wouldn't see it. That being said, your experience is not necessarily what everyone sees. Adware on the Mac is common. Some of it is quite malicious and could easily be said to be malware. But the only way to install adware is for the user to bypass Apple's security and install it on purpose. Scamware rates are much higher. I have very precise rates of infection across a large population, but I'm not going to post that here.

@Michael Apple is the only "full-service" payment processor. I'm very familiar with Fastspring and Paddle, but they most definitely do not handle all the legal/tax stuff for you. I could tell you exactly where the gaps are, but I'm not really in a magnanimous mood anymore. I would rather people try it for themselves if they seriously think it is easier to integrate than IAP. I'm done trying to reason with people. All I have are hard data and experience, which are worth much less than internet misinformation.

Apple is the only “full-service” payment processor. I’m very familiar with Fastspring and Paddle, but they most definitely do not handle all the legal/tax stuff for you.

The thing is Hey isn’t looking for “full-service”. In fact, even if they were, Apple wouldn’t be willing to provide that. After all, the Hey app doesn’t only exist on iOS. So Hey needs to either look into multiple payment providers, or do some of the stuff on their own anyway, so Apple’s value-add as far as payments go is kind of moot.

Now, you can argue Apple still helps in terms of marketing (the occasional featured article, etc.), but again, Hey wasn’t asking for that. It’s forced upon them.

John Daniel

@Sören So we’re back to Basecamp now, eh? Of course, that’s all true, If you go to Basecamp’s website, it is clear that they have invested in their own payment processing system. They even mention VAT refunds for business users. So, unlike most developers apparently, they understand how to legally run a global business on the internet. This isn’t unusual for a big company. If they’ve got “millions” to spend on their app, and 32 offices around the world, they can afford to manage their own payment system. Companies like Spotify and Basecamp don’t like having to pay for Apple’s payment system when they have already setup their own to serve non-Apple customers. I don’t blame them for that. What I blame them for is agreeing to use Apple’s system so they get access to a billion Apple customers for a flat fee of $99 and then trying to cheat.

But I’m glad you brought this back to Basecamp. That’s the crux of the issue. Apple has setup the App Stores in a way to heavily favour small developers. It is designed to support developers who only target Apple platforms. Developers can target other platforms if they want, but Apple doesn’t subsidize that activity. Within the confines of Apple’s walled garden, all 3rd party developers are equal. They pay the same fees, have the same review problems, and have an equal shot.

And this is what small developers are so upset about? They want big multinational companies to pay less than they do? They want millionaires to have more rights than they do? They want the rich to be able to violate their signed agreements once those agreements become inconvenient?

I guess an attitude like that shouldn’t surprise me these days. That’s what all this is about, isn’t it? Developers want to Make Apple Great Again!

@John The App Store is demonstrably unequal. The big/important developers have paid lower fees and gotten favorable review treatment, not to mention special carve-outs in the guidelines.

If they’ve got “millions” to spend on their app, and 32 offices around the world

They’re 50 employees. And “millions” to build an app aren’t really that much — at median US salary, one million is 14 people working on an app for a year. Or fewer than 9 people from Silicon Valley.

It sounds like a lot of money, but you’ll be hard-pressed to produce a non-trivial app for much less than that.

Companies like Spotify and Basecamp don’t like having to pay for Apple’s payment system

…I mean, come on. Spotify has 73 times the employees that Basecamp does.

What I blame them for is agreeing to use Apple’s system so they get access to a billion Apple customers for a flat fee of $99 and then trying to cheat.

“Cheat”? Cheat on what? If Apple allowed, 1990s-style, to buy their IDE for $1.5k a year or whatever and then produce sideloaded software for iOS, I’m guessing that’s what Basecamp would do.

It’s not Basecamp’s fault that Apple allows very few paths here.

And this is what small developers are so upset about? They want big multinational companies to pay less than they do?

I really don’t see where you get the impression that Basecamp is a “big multinational company”. I don’t know that much about them, but my guess is their international offices are mostly either a bunch of salespeople, and/or developers working remotely from home.

Developers want to Make Apple Great Again!

Please don’t.

Anyway, I’m guessing all this will be completely ignored tonight at the WWDC keynote. Which is a real shame, and which will put a stain on the entire conference. An unforced error.

I hope Tim or Craig or Phil surprises me by bringing it up and clarifying.

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