Friday, January 5, 2024

HEY Calendar Rejected From the App Store

David Heinemeier Hansson:

We’ve spent the last year tackling the number one request for our email service Adding a calendar!

David Heinemeier Hansson (Hacker News, 9to5Mac):

Apple didn’t even bother to give us a reason this time! I mean, at least they’re not saying it’s definitive (yet??), but it’s just so fucking tiring to deal with this bullshit. This isn’t even a new service! It’s a FREE addition to the existing you let in!

All I wanted for Xmas this year was for Apple to stop fucking with developers, trying to turn them upside down at every junction to shake them down. I love Apple hardware, I hella respect Apple Safari, but this monopoly App Store bullshit has got to stop.


This is why I’m pushing so hard for PWAs! We’re betting all of on that strategy. No native apps, just the very best PWAs you can possibly find. It’s why I have PWA tech as my #1 objective for Rails 8. We need to collectively break free from this bullshit.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Apple just called to let us know they’re rejecting the HEY Calendar app from the App Store (in current form). Same bullying tactics as last time: Push delicate rejections to a call with a first-name-only person who’ll softly inform you it’s your wallet or your kneecaps.

Since it’s clear we’re never going to pay them the extortionate 30% ransom, they’re back to the bullshit about “the app doesn’t do anything when you download it”. Despite the fact that after last time, they specifically carved out HEY in App Store Review Guidelines 3.1.3 (f)!

That guideline says:

3.1.3(f) Free Stand-alone Apps: Free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web based tool (eg. VOIP, Cloud Storage, Email Services, Web Hosting) do not need to use in-app purchase, provided there is no purchasing inside the app, or calls to action for purchase outside of the app.

The plain reading of this is that the items in parentheses are examples, not an exhaustive list.

But the whole “the app doesn’t do anything” isn’t even in the formal guidelines!

And, anyway, I thought they satisfied that last time by offering free, temporary accounts.

Jason asked them on the phone: “If we just put all these features in the existing app, is that ok?”. Answer: Yes. So Apple thinks separate apps for iCloud is better for users, but doesn’t want competing services like HEY to be able to do the same? What? Why?!

And why do huge companies like Salesforce, JPMorgan, Netflix or Google get to have apps “that doesn’t do anything”, but if you’re a small software maker like us, you can’t?


I built a system that tracked the app reviewers test sessions because we got tired of playing telephone with app review being of no help. Could watch what they were doing and infer what they actually wanted.

Douglas Fischer:

Sometimes I think it must be easier to handle a room full of teenagers then chat with this apple team. They can’t handle even very basic conversations where they clearly are wrong.

I can remember a lot of times when I pointed mistakes in their own screenshots. They even sent me pictures of another app to justify rejecting my app.

Probably the worst part of being on Apple platform.

Lon Baker:

This is why all my future products will be PWA first.

I’ve dealt with the Apple BS for a decade, in minor ways compared to this.

It is why I have an Android phone next to my iPhone — never know when an app is held hostage or worse yanked from the AppStore.


It’s as if a great OS was held hostage by its creators compared to a terrible OS being super-friendly.

I’m not sure that Android is terrible or that Google is super-friendly, but it does seem like Apple is holding back its platforms.

Alex Russell (via Hacker News):

This is the backdrop to the biggest app store story nobody is writing about: on pain of steep fines, gatekeepers are opening up to competing browsers. This, in turn, will enable competitors to replace app stores with directories of Progressive Web Apps. Capable browsers that expose web app installation and powerful features to developers can kickstart app portability, breaking open the mobile duopoly.


Update (2024-01-09): Amrita Khalid (Slashdot):

Following the [2020] saga with Hey, Apple made a carve-out to its App Store rules that stated that free companion apps to certain types of paid web services were not required to have an in-app payment mechanism.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

After spending 19 days to review our submission, causing us to miss a long-planned January 2nd launch date, Apple rejected our stand-alone free companion app “because it doesn’t do anything”. That is because users are required to login with an existing account to use the functionality.

This is a ridiculous charge. The App Store is filled with high-profile applications that require an existing service account and simply presents a login screen when first launched. Here are just four[…]

Most notably, Google Calendar seems to do exactly what Hey was rejected for.

Jason Fried:

When Apple forces companies to offer In App Purchases in order to be on their platform, they also dictate the limits to which you can help your customer.


Let’s say someone signs up for HEY on an iPhone, pays with Apple’s IAP system, and then decides to switch to an Android phone. Billing is entirely messed up now. They can’t update their credit card through the HEY app on Android because their billing info is stored with Apple. And we can’t help them. Who wins there? Apple wins. This creates immense lock-in when all your service subscriptions are tied to a single platform. If you change your phone, do you now also have to change your email address?


When you think about the big picture of a complete customer relationship, in app purchases are one of the most hostile customer experiences I’ve seen. Sure, the purchase part is relatively easy (most modern purchase flows are these days), but that’s where Apple stops. We end up with our hands tied behind our backs. Unable to help customers to our own high standards because Apple won’t let me, or my employees, do our jobs.

David Heinemeier Hansson (tweet):

So here’s what we did to comply with the “it has to do something” bullshit. We created a dedicated tribute to Apple’s History right into the app, which you can use if you don’t have an account with the HEY email service.


So now the app “does something” when you download it. Despite the fact that this requirement exists nowhere in the Apple App Store Guidelines. Despite the fact that the store is chockfull of apps that also doesn’t “do anything” without a login.

John Gruber:

It seems bonkers to me that after all the bad publicity that befell Apple in June 2020 over Apple’s rejection of the Hey email app, that they’d veto a Hey companion app — that requires the exact same type of account as Hey email — for the exact same reasons. They should have just let it through, for the risk of bad publicity alone.


The stakes for Apple are much higher today than they were in 2020. The last thing Apple wants is a news narrative along the lines of “More Bullshit From Apple Trying to Squeeze Developers Into Giving Them a Cut of Revenue When the Developers Simply Want to Sell Subscriptions Directly to Customers Over the Web”. But by rejecting Hey Calendar, they seem to be inviting such a narrative.

I just don’t get it. Apple has nothing to gain by this — nothing, not a cent — but a lot to lose.

They just can’t help themselves. Meanwhile, I just received an e-mail from Apple:

Apple Vision Pro will have a brand-new App Store, where people can discover and download all the incredible apps available for visionOS. Learn everything you need to know to prepare and submit your visionOS apps to the App Store.

We can’t wait to see what you have in store.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Apple approved the HEY Calendar!! It’s now available for download in the @appstore. Ridiculous it needed this level of awareness/pressure, but I’m so happy for our iOS team to see their work through the weekend pay off in full.


Above all, I just wish Apple would stop acting like this. Codify what it actually takes to get approved in the App Store Guidelines. If login-wall apps must have a demo mode or whatever, say so! Then enforce it equally and consistently! Don’t make us guess and grief like this.

And, yes, I also do wish that @TheJusticeDept get on with their case, so we can have the courts clarify what should be done with about this monopoly power.


Update (2024-01-10): David Heinemeier Hansson:

I’ll admit it was a bit cheeky to make our new HEY Calendar app “do something” by including Apple’s own history as a preview for people who don’t have an account. And I didn’t give the gambit better than 30% odds of succeeding, but lo and behold, it did!


There’ll always be a legion of Apple fans to defend every abusive tactic the company employs, but there absolutely is also a huge tribe of developers who recognize monopoly bullshit when they see it. The loud, impressive support from this group really helped us push through this second round of nonsense.

Stephen Hackett:

For each of my three Kickstarters, I’ve included digital versions of the highlighted dates for people to import into their calendar apps.


To be clear, from these screenshots, it doesn’t seem like HEY copied my direct work or research, and I only came across this after someone sent me a link to DHH’s tweets.


It’s a real bummer to feel like I’ve been ripped off by a much bigger company, seeing them pitch something I’ve worked hard on as a free feature in their app. There’s some irony there.

Eric Schwarz:

Apple isn’t blameless in this, with a famously opaque and confusing App Store review process. However, Hansson should have learned that an app has to do something when you’re not logged in the first time he tangled with Apple over Hey’s email client.

There’s no reason he should have learned that, because (1) the so-called “do something” rule is not actually written in the guidelines, and (2) after the previous tangle, Apple revised the guidelines to specifically permit free clients for Web services like HEY Calendar.

Nick Heer:

That is the only logical explanation. After all, what rule would permit a free frontend for a paid email service, but not for a calendar?

Now we’re back in a muddle because Apple seemingly relaxed and clarified the guidelines but is actually still using a hidden rulebook.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I’ve dealt with lots of app review bs. Including forcing me to split a free trial into a separate app which throttles the app ranking (two apps which really should be one). I don’t even want to go into all of it.

If/when they force Swift/SwiftUI on us, I’m gone to become a web developer and/or C++ dev. At least the users of those technologies don’t have the rug pulled from underneath them by some doofus in management who has delusions of grandeur and thinks they are the next Steve Jobs for introducing some bullshit new framework that is vastly inferior to the one they are replacing.

If they are gonna copy patterns from inferior platform/frameworks then I’m going to those frameworks they are copying because they at least have real cross platform chops (not Apple cross platform).

> It’s as if a great OS was held hostage by its creators compared to a terrible OS being super-friendly.

This is the most misinformed comment I read for a long time. Publishing app on iOS and Android, I can say that despite its pitfalls, Apple Store is 100 times better than the PlayStore.
On the PlayStore it is literally impossible to get a contact with an human. There is only random cryptic rejection messages with zero way to discuss your case. I can't remember a single time with managed to get a response other than another automatically generated e-mail to any question we had about rejection.

And the publishing delays are also far worse than on the Apple side. It can vary from 4 hours to 7 days for any minor update, and it more often many days, than a couple of hours.

Come on, DHH is no dummy. He’s deliberately repeating the mistakes from their past App Store rejection so he can get free PR for the launch of their calendar app. This long established business feigning ignorance of the App Store rules bit is tiresome. Just mark up the IAP prices by 20% over your web site sales channel or get over it.

Yet another reason to be positive about tech in 2024. People turning towards PWAs.

The web is for apps.

@Rup Which mistake do you think they’re repeating? From what I can see, they are not violating any guidelines. If they were clearly doing something wrong, they would have gotten a written reply citing the rule, rather than the cryptic phone call that doesn’t.

Just marking up the IAP prices is bad for customers, for competitive status with apps that don’t have to use IAP, and it creates other problems.

It doesn't cost 30% to provide payment infrastructure and a wonky ass app store with a confused mess of a search.

It doesn't cost 30% to host apps for download.

Apple know their services aren't worth 30% to developers. Apple has therefore come up with a bunch of bullshit excuses, backroom deals, and double standards.

So far it's kind of funny.

What's less funny is the amount of people that are rushing in to defend this behavior. As if Apple couldn't and shouldn't be better.

> As if Apple couldn't and shouldn't be better.


Isn't it just perfect that developers have to pay the Apple's tax while Apple does its best to avoid paying states' taxes?

Leave a Comment