Apple, Hey, and the Path Forward

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, announcing that the bug fix update held by App Review has been released, and the company is trying something new:

Okay. We thought we were following Appleʼs unwritten rules for multi-platform SaaS products: No signups, no links, no mentions of where to sign up. Plenty of applications in the App Store work exactly like this today, including long-approved apps from Netflix, Google, Salesforce, and Nintendo.

But then Schiller said “One way that HEY could have gone… is to offer a free or paid version of the app with basic email reading features on the App Store, then separately offered an upgraded email service that worked with the Hey app on iOS on its own website.”

So we got down to it, and worked the weekend to get an update on Apple’s desk Monday morning. Our team did a great job implementing the product changes that Schiller asked for, and first thing this morning, right after we shipped 1.0.2 to our customers, we submitted 1.0.3 to the App Store for approval.

This new version introduces a new free option for the iOS app. Now users can sign up directly in-app for a free, temporary, randomized email address that works for 14 days. Think of it like a temporary SIM card you buy when traveling. Or for when you don’t want to give out your real email address, like a short term “for sale” listing, like Craigslist does it.

This is a very clever feature and, I think, makes Hey’s service even more compelling. If its app was not rejected from the iOS App Store, I wonder if Hey would have introduced something like this at all. But this feature has not been tested against the App Store rules, so it remains to be seen if Apple will see it as an acceptable solution.

Even if this improvement to the app is enough to make it sail through App Review, I don’t know that it’s fair to summarize this saga as Basecamp making lemonade from lemons. The possibility of a positive outcome does not necessarily warrant the bureaucratic struggle that created it. As of this morning, the rules of the App Store continue to be a reflection of Apple wanting to be right rather than happy. Hey’s difficulties are only different from the stories of countless developers only because they are being aired in public, and the cumulative effect indicates that changes ought to be made to the App Store so that developers want to be there, and not just because they must. At the very least, clear communication about different interpretations of rules must be a priority.