Just days after getting into a controversy for rejecting the Hey email app on the App Store, Apple has made it clear that it is standing firm behind its original decision and is not planning to make an exception for Hey's parent company Basecamp. The Cupertino giant sent a letter to Basecamp underlining the key issues that resulted in the rejection of the Hey app update on the App Store. The letter also recommends the company to make certain changes in the app to adhere to the App Store Review Guidelines and terms.
“The Hey Email app is marketed as an email app on the App Store, but when users download your app, it does not work. Users cannot use the app to access email or perform any useful function until after they go to the Basecamp website for Hey Email and purchase a license to use the Hey Email app,” reads the letter, a copy of which has been shared online by The Verge.
Apple has cited Guideline 3.1.1, Guideline 3.1.3 (a), and Guideline 3.1.3(b) of its App Store Guidelines for the rejection. All these three guidelines define the in-app purchase requirement on the App Store. Particularly, the Guideline 3.1.3(a) specifies that there is an exception for “Reader” apps that are magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, and other content-centric apps, including Netflix. This means that apart from the Reader apps, all other apps on the App Store that require a subscription charge need to enable in-app purchases.
Forcing the in-app purchase mechanism by rejecting submissions on the App Store is what Hey creators have already called an “abusive behaviour”. Earlier this week, Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson explicitly said that the rejection is an “outrageous demand” - specifically aimed to let Apple grab the 15 to 30 percent cut from developers' revenue on their apps available on the App Store.
Instead of moving with what Apple has defined in its guidelines, the Hey app doesn't include an in-app subscription option. It even doesn't let users sign up for the email service through the app and asks them to create their account directly from its website.
Apple initially approved the Hey email app for its App Store debut, but the rejection came once Basecamp submitted its first bug fix update on Monday and subsequently on Tuesday, after submitting a follow-up fix. Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phill Schiller in an interview with TechCrunch said that the app was initially approved in error and should never have shipped to the store. This sounds similar to what the company told the media earlier.
Schiller also said that there were no plans to extend exceptions to all software. “Email is not and has never been an exception included in this rule,” he told TechCrunch.
TechCrunch asked Schiller on whether the rejection is meant to dominate the platform and get a portion of the revenue of every business that had an app regardless of whether that business was an iOS-first. He responded by saying that it's “not what we're doing.”
Having said that, a large number of developers have alleged Apple of forcing them to give a part of their revenues just to stay alive on the App Store. Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp also called that a “perversely abusive and unfair” behaviour of the company that has a strong presence in the market.
The letter sent by Apple suggests Basecamp some options to resolve the ongoing issue. One of the suggestions is to enable in-app purchases for new users, while existing users would continue to get the email service on the app. There is also a recommendation to let users “optionally configure” the Hey service alongside getting the options to enable their standard IMAP and POP email accounts. This means that the app would function just like Gmail and Outlook that both allow users to access not just their native email services but also configure other accounts.
Schiller in his interview also mentioned that Hey could offer a free or paid version of its app with basic email reading capabilities on the App Store and provide an upgrade email service through its native website.
However, Hey creators aren't likely to move on with Apple's suggestions. They're instead approaching the antitrust subcommittee that is already probing Apple for its “monopolistic” behaviour.
Apple is currently busy preparing WWDC 2020. But in the midst of its preparations for the annual conference that is taking place virtually this time, the issues from the Hey app and similar allegations by various developers have emerged. The company is also facing a couple of EU antitrust investigations into its App Store and Apple Pay. All this shows that things aren't that smoothly running for the iPhone maker.
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