Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Stands by Its Rejection of Hey

Apple shared an email sent to Basecamp with a number of news outlets, including TechCrunch and NBC News. It reads, in part:

Apps that operate services across multiple platforms may allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or on your website, provided those items are also available as in-app purchases within the app. In fact, the app does not function as an email app or for any purpose until the user goes to the Basecamp Hey Email website to start a free trial or purchase a separate license to use the app for its intended purpose.

[…]

If you would prefer not to offer the users the option of in-app purchases, you could consider having the app function as marketed — an email client that works with standard IMAP and POP email accounts, where customers can optionally configure the Hey Email service as their preferred email service provider. This would allow the app to function as an email client without requiring an additional payment to use its features and functionality. Under this approach, what you sell on your website is clearly an email service separate from the function of your app as distributed on the App Store.

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch interviewed Phil Schiller about the company’s stance:

“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.

To be clear, this is against the App Store rules for most apps. The exceptions here are apps that are viewed as ‘readers’ that only display external content of certain types like music, books and movies — and apps that only offer bulk pricing options that are paid for by institutions or corporations rather than the end user.

Schiller is clear on our call that Hey does not fit these rules.

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. The Gmail app, for example, allows you to sign in with any IMAP account, which stops it from falling afoul of the “reader” app restrictions.

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”.

John Siracusa (more on Accidental Tech Podcast):

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.

Maybe someone really will stumble across the Hey app, and maybe they will download it expecting to be able to use it immediately only to be shown a bare login page and no way to sign up from within the app. And maybe that will suck for them and they will delete the app. Maybe many other apps will become more client apps with fewer ways of registering for them, too.

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. That leaves adding in-app purchases and foregoing 30% of revenue from users who registered within the app, or advising Hey users to switch to Android. But is that better for users? I can’t imagine so.

There is, I suppose, some logic to Apple’s rejection on the basis of its current rules, but I agree with Panzarino:

I think that, for me, it boils down to some simple observations. The fact is that Hey violates app store rules. Which means that the question is not ‘how can we contort those rules or squint enough to justify it’ but instead ‘should those be the rules’?

In his interview, Schiller indicates that there are no imminent changes to the App Store rules nor any changes the company is considering making. The case of Hey has made it clear to me that Apple ought to further clarify its rules. Hey falls precisely between the cracks of several app types that are allowed, but it’s hard to see that until the developer tries to submit the finished product to the store.

Also of note is the way Apple closes its email to Basecamp:

Thank you for being an iOS app developer. We understand that Basecamp has developed a number of apps and many subsequent versions for the App Store for many years, and that the App Store has distributed millions of these apps to iOS users. These apps do not offer in-app purchase — and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years. We are happy to continue to support you in your app business and offer you the solutions to provide your services for free — so long as you follow and respect the same App Store Review Guidelines and terms that all developers must follow.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but this reads as wildly passive aggressive — the kind of thing someone only writes if they know that they have all of the power and isn’t worried about the moral high ground.