Thursday, October 8, 2020

ProtonMail Forced to Add IAP

Sean Hollister:

But also, one app developer revealed to Congress that it — just like WordPress — had been forced to monetize a largely free app. That developer testified that Apple had demanded in-app purchases (IAP), even though Apple had approved its app without them two years earlier — and that when the dev dared send an email to customers notifying them of the change, Apple threatened to remove the app and blocked all updates.

That developer was ProtonMail, makers of an encrypted email app, and CEO Andy Yen had some fiery words for Apple in an interview with The Verge this week.


Yen tells me there was a month-long period where ProtonMail couldn’t update its app at all, even for security reasons, and Apple was threatening to remove the app if his company continued to delay. So ProtonMail decided to raise the cost of its entire service on iOS by roughly 26 percent to satisfy Apple’s needs, eating the rest itself.


Apple’s own head of app review from 2009 to 2016, spoke to Congress for its bombshell antitrust report, too. He testified that Apple’s senior executives would find pretexts to remove apps from the store[…]

Recall that Tim Cook told Congress that Apple had only exempted additional categories of apps from fees and that Apple does not retaliate or bully developers.

Jason Snell:

The more consistent the stories, the less Apple can claim this was all just a big misunderstanding.


Update (2020-10-09): See also: MacRumors.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

Really, really getting tired of Tim Apple. As a ProtonMail user, as an AdGuard user, as an “anything remotely useful” user.

Developers should not have to face this much grief from “500 experts” or the increasingly inconsistent CEO.

I hope I'm not getting too political here, but Tim Cook is more like Donald Trump than he would like to admit. On the surface they're polar opposites, but dig just a little deeper and you find they're both obsessed with the bottom line and positive PR, to the detriment of real solutions and real people.

Tim and his regime is the reason I'll be leaving the Mac platform after 25 years. What a shame.

Old Unix Geek

Quote from the article:

And while Apple increasingly pitches itself as the privacy company, Yen argues that Apple’s 30 percent cut is actually hurting privacy-centric apps — because it’s tough to compete with Gmail when you have to charge a fee for your service and you’re also being taxed.

This is not the first time we caught Tim Cook lying. Especially in the Qualcomm case where claims there has been zero communication between Qualcomm and Apple at any level.

That is very different to Steve Jobs Apple. Tim Cook, and by extension Apple, is very much a hypocrite right now. Which saddens me.

20+ years into Mac, 10+ years in iPhone. I never thought for a single day I would be leaving Apple one day. I cant believe I have been seriously thinking about it recently.

Old Unix Geek

A new report that Apple is using its App Store monopoly to force Telegram to censor the channels of the so-far peaceful Belarus protestors:

Delightful to see them work towards preventing freedom. It's best for everyone if such radical ideas never see the light of day. (/s)

Okay, this is getting a lot of play today, but I don't see why it's new.

From the linked article at The Verge:

"[ProtonMail CEO Andy] Yen says Apple’s demand came suddenly in 2018. “Out of the blue, one day they said you have to add in-app purchase to stay in the App Store,” he says. “They stumbled upon something in the app that mentioned there were paid plans, they went to the website and saw there was a subscription you could purchase, and then turned around and demanded we add IAP.”"

Emphasis mine.

ProtonMail makes money selling email plans. They're not required, and you can get a free one.

If you don't talk about a paid plan in your app, no IAP is required. If you do, Apple has pretty good precedent to require you also offer it as an IAP. You are not allowed, as I understand it, to mention the ability to buy services through another, off-app means.

Look, I don't love that, but at least I get it. It's not inconsistent unless I'm missing something here.

I'm also surprised by this...

"“When Apple charges 30 percent extra ... we don’t have a 30 percent margin! It’s very odd to find a business with 30 percent profit margins,” [Yen] explains."

Come off it. You can't say that and have this on your pricing page:

"ProtonMail is community software, funded by the community, and open source. We do not show ads or make money by abusing your privacy. Instead, we depend on your support to keep the service running. Revenue from paid accounts is used to further develop ProtonMail and support free users such as democracy activists and dissidents who need privacy but can't necessarily afford it."

70% of a donation, so to speak, is still a donation. If you weren't going to get ANY dough from iOS users -- if they're all free tier users and the app doesn't mention other tiers -- then 70% of something is all found money.

The point being these quotes are from companies who of course want Apple to pay less. This isn't a principled stand, afaict. It's a PR tool to put pressure on Apple to give up some revenue. I get why they're doing it, but I don't think Yen is being especially straight with us here.

Want to use the iOS App Store increase your range? Do it. But understand that has a cost.

That sentence reminds me a little of Ballmer talking to Java (What was it, "get on our backs and ride"?) and I'm trending into Rene Ritchie level pro-Apple screed, which scares me, so I'm going to stop now.

@Ruffin I assume this is like the WordPress case, where Apple found an obscure reference to a paid plan but then decreed that removing the reference was not a suitable fix and that they had to add IAP.

They were definitely getting revenue from iOS users before because they had purchased the paid plan on the Web, which is (and was) allowed.

Old Unix Geek

Microsoft is now promising never to prevent apps from running on Windows:

Old Unix Geek: Microsoft has a long history of being antagonistic to third-party developers, too. Netscape and Java took them to court for behavior which would have been in line with all of these principles.

Many of those "principles" are so vaguely worded as to be useless. What's an "objective standard" of "content" or "quality"? (That's a common Apple excuse today for rejection.) What are "reasonable fees that reflect the competition"? (Apple picked 30% because most other monopoly services take 30%.) What are "legitimate business purposes"? (Apple and their developers disagree strongly on this.) Does a monopoly really need "non-public information or data from its app store" to unfairly compete? (It's easy to embrace-extend-extinguish even without an app store.)

Besides, all Microsoft or any other company has to do is change their minds. There's nothing binding a company to this or any other 'promise'. The goodwill of their customers, I suppose, but monopolies can and do abuse that all the time. If you google "Microsoft breaks promise", the top story is from only 2 months ago. "We care about you!" promises from big companies are less reliable than campaign promises from politicians.

Old Unix Geek


all Microsoft or any other company has to do is change their minds

100% agreed. I remember well the late 90s & early 00s when Microsoft was the arrogant monopolistic enemy, and Apple the land of milk and honey. Then it changed. It'll probably change again with a change of CEO. The fact Microsoft is making this promise now suggests it's not in an arrogant phase, whereas Apple is.

@Ruffin: ProtonMail income is a 'donation' only in the sense that it's not required from all users. That doesn't mean they don't depend on it. It's not "found money". Apps and services like ProtonMail don't magically take zero time and effort to build and maintain simply because they offer a free tier.

There is a long history of organizations which rely on donations for their operating costs, like NPR, PBS, and your city's symphony, opera, and ballet companies. Do you not think NPR would be hurt financially if Apple heard a mention of an NPR pledge drive while listening to the radio on an iPhone and demanded that all NPR pledges go through Apple's IAP system so they can take 30%?

@Ruffin. I don't care. They shouldn't have to hide it. They should be able to announce it. They shouldn't be required to use IAP. Apple shouldn't have customer unfriendly rules like that.

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