Archive for August 21, 2020

Friday, August 21, 2020

WordPress Bug Fixes Blocked Over IAP

Matt Mullenweg:

Heads up on why @WordPressiOS updates have been absent… we were locked by App Store. To be able to ship updates and bug fixes again we had to commit to support in-app purchases for .com plans. I know why this is problematic, open to suggestions.

WordPress has been in the App Store for a long time. Recall that Tim Cook told Congress that Apple was not changing the rules to make more apps subject to fees but had instead “exempted additional categories of apps.” And that in June Apple said that “bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations.”

Ben Thompson:

I am admittedly puzzled as to why Apple is denying me updates to the open source app for my open source web site because one user of that app happens to sell domains.

Also, I thought Apple wasn’t going to hold bug updates hostage anymore?

WordPress (and the app) are GPL, and App Store TOS and DRM violate GPL. Thus only the copyright holder can submit an app for all of WordPress, both self-hosted and

Apple is thus holding millions of websites hostage for 30% of Automattic domain sales 🤷‍♂️

To be clear, the app doesn’t sell anything, and why would it? It’s an open source project. Apple is requiring the addition of functionality that has no plausible reason to exist.

Fernando Bunn:

I just had a bug fix release rejected by Apple because of an issue that’s there since always and never caused a rejection before. (Basically, if you try to SIWA without internet connection we display a generic error)

I sent a new build, asked for an Expedited Review, they accepted the request and it’s “In Review” for more than 24h…


They rejected the expedited Review (after 2 days), saying that you can’t create an account using the app. I’m working with B2B apps for more than 9 years and it’s the first time I see this as a reason for rejection.

Meanwhile my critical bug fix release is still not approved.

And this specific app has the exact same login flow since ~5 years ago.

Maynard Handley:

To add to Ben’s point, there is a more generic problem here of a faction within Apple that have prioritized today’s rents over customer delight.

You may not care about App Store in-fighting but you see it elsewhere as well.

For example: Why is Apple being such a prick about audiobooks on Apple Watch? Clearly this is something people have wanted since day 1. But Apple DEMANDS that the only books allowed are those bought through Apple. Any 3rd party solution is clumsy and sucks bcs is fighting the OS


Update (2020-08-25): Sean Hollister (also: MacRumors):

While Mullenweg says there technically was a roundabout way for an iOS to find out that WordPress has paid tiers (they could find it buried in support pages, or by navigating to WordPress’s site from a preview of their own webpage), he says that Apple rejected his offer to block iOS users from seeing the offending pages.

Tom Bridge:

It was pretty convoluted to get there. Like, six or eight clicks deep in the help. They offered to restrict that page by referrer and user agent and were told to just do IAP instead.

Brent Simmons:

Will I be asked to add IAP to NetNewsWire for purchasing Feedbin and Feedly accounts? It doesn’t sound like that much of a stretch right now.


Related question: how is the PR hit to Apple worth it for the money they’ll make through these WordPress IAP sales? And: how is developer fear a good thing for the platform?

John Gruber:

How is WordPress’s app different from Hey other than that WordPress’s app already includes very useful free functionality? I really don’t get how this free app that doesn’t sell anything or require a paid account for a service violates any App Store guidelines.


This serves literally no one, not even Apple.

Anil Dash:

And the weird thing is, even if they walk this back, Apple is just contributing to the sense that they’re openly shaking down 3rd party devs now.

Chuq Von Rospach:

It’s almost as if Apple doesn’t understand its own policies any more, much less how they impact their reputation, good will and all of us.

Tyler Sonnemaker:

An Apple spokesperson told Business Insider that, per App Store policies, apps — including WordPress — operating across multiple platforms can let users access a service on their iOS app that they paid for on a different platform (such as a website), but the developers then have to offer the ability to purchase that service in the app, too.


Mullenweg told The Verge that WordPress has already agreed to comply with Apple’s demands and within 30 days will add in-app purchase options for the paid services offered by

Steven Hoober:

WordPress is 17 years old.

Is by far the most popular CMS, 60% market share.

Making it run A Third of all websites.

This giant of the internet cannot conceivably stand up to the second most popular desktop and mobile maker.

Matt Mullenweg:

I am very grateful that folks at Apple re-reviewed @WordPressiOS and have let us know we do not need to implement in-app purchases to be able to continue to update the app.


We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. Since the developer removed the display of their service payment options from the app, it is now a free stand-alone app and does not have to offer in-app purchases. We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused.

So, basically, Apple tried to shake down WordPress. Perhaps the reviewer made a mistake, and the appeals process didn’t work. But Apple doesn’t want to admit that, so they insinuate that WordPress was trying to sneak through external payments. We know that wasn’t the real issue because Apple had previously said that removing the help links wasn’t sufficient. WordPress asked for weeks what they could do to get the app approved and was told that that the only option was to add IAP.

Dieter Bohn:

Don’t miss the attempt to redefine the clear and common meanings of words in this Apple statement.

WordPress was ALWAYS a “free standalone app” regardless of whether it happened to mention the mere existence of commerce outside the App Store or not.

Jason Snell:

Also troubling: Mullenweg only went public with Apple’s rejection because Apple had, weeks before, told WordPress that Apple’s decision was final and that they’d need to alter their app to add in-app purchases in order to stay in the App Store. It was only after Mullenweg’s original tweet went viral that Apple re-examined the decision, backed down, and apologized.

This shows that the old (Steve Jobs? Phil Schiller?) guideline that “going to the press never helps” may be the most hilariously false thing Apple has ever produced.

But let’s consider the larger issues. What is wrong with the App Store approval system that a major vendor like WordPress would apparently be rejected in a way that would have been entirely final without the intervention of higher-ups?

Ed Bott:

The fact that Apple FORBIDS legit service providers from helping their customers get to their payment pages just torpedoes Apple’s argument that they are all about user experience.

Ben Thompson:

I have sat on these anecdotes for several months now, in part because this is all I can say: none of the developers were willing to go on the record for fear of angering Apple. What I think the WordPress and Hey episodes show, though, is that these are the exact sort of apps where Apple is getting things wrong, at least as far as popular opinion is concerned.

See also: Hacker News.


Apple Files Response to Epic

Ina Fried:

“If developers can avoid the digital checkout, it is the same as if a customer leaves an Apple retail store without paying for shoplifted product: Apple does not get paid,” Apple said in the filing.


Apple says Epic has no antitrust case against it because it can’t possibly monopolize the mobile app market, given competition from Google. (Epic maintains that Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store are in fact discrete markets, each a monopoly in its own right.)

Dieter Bohn:

It might be a strong argument! I’d have more sympathy for it if developers had the choice of any other way to distribute software on iOS.


Apple is making the argument that the App Store is more than a marketplace, that it’s inseparable with offering SDKs and developer tools like TestFlight, ARKit, and even stickers.

I don’t know that those things need be bundled. They’re not on the Mac.

Sacha Sayan:

A better analogy is if the customer goes to the farmer’s market, and the grocery store gets angry because they’re not getting a cut.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I’m not on team Epic, and I’m definitely not on team Apple. The way Apple thinks about the developers that bring life to its platforms is disgusting

I don’t know whether there was an internal change in the last 18 months or if the mask has simply slipped, but Apple has made a lot of official statements lately that are really tone-deaf from the perspective of a developer. It doesn’t seem to understand or value our contributions or remember that apps existed before the App Store.


Update (2020-08-25): Dave Winer:

In 1980-something I was invited to give a talk at Apple along with a reporter from the NYT. The idea was that we would give feedback to Apple people to help them work better with developers and the press. I took the assignment seriously. I showed up with a list of requests, things Apple could do to give their platform an advantage over the IBM PC, their chief competitor at the time. # When I finished, Apple people lined up to give me feedback on how ungrateful I am. They do all the work and I make all the money and get all the glory. Funny thing, because I viewed it exactly the other way around. They had real salaries and benefits. I was always skating on thin ice.

Paul Haddad:

Apple keeps acting like it only creates development tools & technologies as a favor for developers. BS they do it because without outside developers no one would use their hardware. The relationship is and should be symbiotic.

Apple’s filing is here.

Nick Heer:

In the category of “arson, murder, and jaywalking”, Apple cited an insufficient changelog as one justification for pulling Fortnite from the App Store.

Jeff Johnson:

“Epic wants access to all of the Apple-provided tools like Metal, ARKit and other technologies and features. But you don’t want to pay.”


Apple deprecated OpenGL and is suggesting Epic should be grateful at not being charged extra for using Metal, the only non-deprecated alternative?

Russell Ivanovic:

Slightly odd considering the open alternative Vulkan is unsupported by Apple. “Epic used the only graphics API we would let them use”. Yeah…of course…what was their alternative exactly?

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple’s APIs are not just APIs, they’re Apple IP we developers all leech off of. This kind of thinking should have died with Steve, and is why Apple’s old guard needs to go

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Genuine question: what does a statement like this by @pschiller make you feel as a developer on Apple’s platforms?

Marko Karppinen:

I didn’t realize that “iCloud document storage” was something Apple provided developers in exchange for the 30% IAP cut. I’ve been paying $9.99/month for it like an idiot

Francisco Tolmasky:

It honestly feels like the warranty has expired on Apple’s values and they’ve just decided to go full mustache-twirling villain in the last month. The company has been unrecognizable from a product perspective for a while, but now they’re just doing 90’s era Microsoft cosplay.

Michael Love:

Along with all of the other offensive stuff about this: WE HELPED THEM BUILD IT. Not only by giving people a reason to buy iPhones, but we’ve shaped the way iOS has developed; most of Apple’s decisions about where to take iOS come from studying and/or ripping off our apps.

The Metal API which Apple insists is so innovative was most likely developed with a great deal of input / feedback / bug reporting from Epic, not to mention that Epic helped Apple evangelize it to other developers; did Epic get paid for any of that?

Platforms are collaborative efforts; that’s literally what makes them platforms. If Apple now views iOS not as something that they work with developers to deliver amazing experiences on but rather as a product they sell to us for money then they’ve completely lost the plot.

Christopher Lloyd:

The iOS origin story is rooted in a GPL violation, NeXT distributed modified gcc binaries for Objective-C and did not release source. Relenting in later releases and reworking of the changes after much FSF patience.


[When] the iPhone first came out, jailbreaks were plentiful and powerful… the iPhone tried to be a closed and locked down platform, but failed due to the almost continual existence of serious security flaws that allowed for 0-day drops of exploits with almost every new device release (which coincided with every new major iOS release).

This means that we can actually look back at the history of the iPhone and answer the question “could the iPhone have been as successful as it was if there had been a switch that allowed users to opt out of Apple’s complete control of not only whose apps could be installed, but further what kind of software could be installed (to let you install things like daemons or extensions to existing apps)” and the answer is “apparently, it could, because it did”.

Stephen Warwick:

We sat down (virtually, of course) with Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents and analyst Neil Cybart to discuss the lawsuit, how Epic got the ball rolling, its basic demands, and of course, the comparison between the lawsuit against Google. We also chatted about the context of antitrust complaints like those of Spotify, and what it all means for everyday consumers.

See also: Eskil Steenberg, Hacker News.

Seeking Special App Store Deals

Benjamin Mayo (tweet):

A letter signed by a trade group that represents top newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Washington Post says that Apple’s rules prevent them from investing in quality journalism. Among other changes, the letter asks for Apple’s cut of in-app purchases to be reduced to 15%.


Court documents revealed that Apple has privately granted these terms to Amazon, in order to attract Prime Video to its platform. This seems to be the central motivation behind this letter from the trade group: why is Apple willing to give these more favorable terms to Amazon but not to other media companies?


At a hearing before the Committee on July 29th, Rep. Hank Johnson asked Apple CEO Tim Cook whether the terms between Apple and Amazon are available to other developers. Cook assured the Congressman that they are “available to anyone meeting the conditions.” Interestingly, at the same hearing, Cook talked about how platforms are in fierce competition for developers.

So, this week, DCN’s CEO Jason Kint, wrote to Cook to publicly call for the disclosure of the terms of this deal so that “anyone meeting the conditions” can apply for them. This is a key test for Apple: Will app developers of any size (the ones for which Apple claims to be competing) be able to get the same terms? Did Cook speak the truth before Congress? Will Apple’s behavior match its trust-based branding?

The secret conditions must have something to do with water. The three members of the “established” program are a river, a canal, and a company headquartered below sea level.


Clearly this must be some kind of mistake. All developers are treated equally by Apple, and no one ever gets to skirt the rules or a better deal – at least according to congressional testimony under oath.

Nick Heer:

Apple’s credibility on the fairness of its application of App Store policies is increasingly tattered by cutting special deals like these. It is widely rumoured that a similar agreement existed for Netflix as well.

Juli Clover:

According to Apple, Epic Games in June sought a special deal from Apple’s Phil Schiller that would change the way in which Epic offers apps on the App Store. From CNBC:

“On June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a ‘side letter’ from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform,” former Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller wrote in a declaration.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney previously said that Epic was not seeking a special deal from Apple and was instead fighting for “open platforms and policy changes equally benefiting all developers,” but it appears that Epic did attempt to establish a unique relationship with Apple prior to when the lawsuit was filed.

It seems totally reasonable to ask for a special deal when other companies are clearly getting them (Schiller and Cook statements notwithstanding). Suing for special treatment would look bad, though, so Epic’s lawsuit seeks to change the rules for everyone.

Update (2020-08-21): Tim Sweeney:

Apple’s statement is misleading. You can read my email in Apple’s filing, which is publicly available. I specifically said in Epic’s request to the Apple execs, “We hope that Apple will also make these options equally available to all iOS developers…”