Apple Is Reportedly Not Approving a Spotify App Update

Peter Kafka, Recode:

Last fall, Spotify started a new end-run via a promotional campaign offering new subscribers the chance to get three months of the service for $0.99 — if they signed up via Spotify’s own site. This month, Spotify revived the campaign, but [Spotify general counsel Horacio Gutierrez] says Apple threatened to remove the app from its store unless Spotify stopped telling iPhone users about the promotion.

Spotify stopped advertising the promotion. But it also turned off its App Store billing option, which has led to the current dispute.

Both the old and new App Store Review Guidelines limit the ways that apps may reference and use subscriptions purchased outside the app. Neither version says that an app must offer a subscription option using in-app purchases.1

It’s unclear how Spotify notified users about the promotion. If it was via an Apple mechanism — such as push notifications or an in-app notice — I understand the initial threat to remove the app. If it was via an email newsletter or another outside method, that stretches over the line. An app update that doesn’t allow for an in-app billing option does not appear to be a violation of the App Store guidelines, and should not have been rejected.

Amidst an ongoing inquiry into potential anti-competitive behaviour from Apple, this feels like it’s stepping over a line. Spotify is being passive-aggressive, but that’s no reason to reject the app. And, while it’s Apple’s store and nobody has the right to have their app on it, this feels wrong.

Update: This is, of course, assuming that Kafka was provided with the full context from Spotify, which I’m not so sure about. There’s something missing here. This may well turn out to be nothing more than a miscommunication, but Spotify is pretty good at the PR game and, as noted, Apple is already being looked at for this sort of thing.

Update: Christina Warren, quoting Apple in 2011 when the then-new subscription model launched (emphasis mine):

Apple does require that if a publisher chooses to sell a digital subscription separately outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to customers who wish to subscribe from within the app. In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.

I assume that rule still stands, making Spotify in violation of it when they launched their more expensive IAP subscription option.

Update: Jonas Wisser:

For the record, as recently as last week I got that offer of three months for $0.99 as a a Spotify ad. […]

I don’t remember it explicitly _saying_ I had to go to the website, but there was no other way to act on it.

An ad within Spotify’s player is a pretty sneaky way to try to skirt Apple’s rules.

  1. “Apps may allow a user to access previously purchased content or subscriptions (specifically: magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, access to professional databases, VoIP, cloud storage, and approved services such as educational apps that manage student grades and schedules), provided the app does not direct users to a purchasing mechanism other than IAP.” ↥︎