‘Hey’ email startup claims Apple’s shaking it down

The ‘Hey’ email startup is claiming Apple’s shaking it down by not approving the “Hey” iOS app’s bug fix versions due to a dispute over Apple’s guidelines for app developers topped with some Apple gibberish about “business services” vs. “consumer products” among other such malarkey.

Hey's "Imbox"
Hey’s “Imbox”

David Pierce for Protocol:

Right around the time the team at Basecamp was launching their Hey email service to the public on Monday, Zach Waugh, Basecamp’s lead iOS developer, got a distressing email. The second version of their iOS app, 1.0.1 — with a few bug fixes from the original — had been rejected by the App Store reviewers. It cited rule 3.1.1 of Apple’s guidelines for app developers, which says in essence that if you want people to be able to buy stuff in your app, you need to do it using Apple’s payments system…

Hey does cost $99 a year, but users can’t sign up or pay within the iOS app. It’s an app for using an existing outside service, just like Basecamp’s eponymous platform — and Netflix and Slack and countless other apps. “So we were like, OK, maybe we just got the Monday morning reviewer,” Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson said. Lots of developers over the years have found that their app-review luck sometimes depended on who happened to be looking, and whether they’d had coffee yet. So Basecamp fixed more bugs, submitted a new version — 1.0.2 — and hoped for the best.

Then Waugh got a phone call. The Apple reviewer said he was calling because the new app hadn’t resolved the issue with rule 3.1.1. The issue had been escalated internally, and Apple had determined it was a valid rejection — the only way to move forward would be to implement Apple’s payments system. And not only that: Waugh was told that Apple would like a commitment and a timeline for implementing the payment system, or Apple might be forced to remove Hey from the App Store entirely.

When Waugh and Basecamp pointed out that there were many other apps — even email apps like Spark or Edison — that allowed users to log in to their existing accounts without signing up through Apple, the reviewer told them they wouldn’t discuss other apps. And that was that.

MacDailyNews Take: Is this really the ant hill upon which Apple wishes to die?

On Tuesday afternoon, Apple sent Basecamp a slightly softer written notice. “We noticed that your app allows customers to access content, subscriptions, or features they have purchased elsewhere, but those items were not available as in-app purchases within the app,” it said. Because Hey didn’t qualify as a “Reader” app, Apple said that existing subscribers could log in as normal but Hey needed to make all subscriptions available to new users as in-app purchases.

Apple told me that its actual mistake was approving the app in the first place, when it didn’t conform to its guidelines. Apple allows these kinds of client apps — where you can’t sign up, only sign in — for business services but not consumer products.

There’s much more in the recommended full article.

MacDailyNews Take: Do the right thing, Apple (i.e. the opposite of what you’ve done in this case so far).

That said, what’s to prohibit the Hey developers from adding an option to subscribe to their email service in-app for $99 plus Apple’s App Store cut (30% the first year, 15% thereafter) per year whle working to make it common knowledge that savvy users subscribe to services OUTSIDE of the App Store for 15%-30% less, not in it for 15%-30% more?

Final note: David Heinemeier Hansson is the guy who last year claimed that there was “gender bias” in the Apple Card approval process (disavowed strongly by Goldman Sachs) and he earlier this year testified before the U.S. Congress that Apple’s App Store appeals process would make “Kafka blush,” so there may be more going on here between Apple and Hansson than is seen on the surface.


      1. How many iOS applications does Google Play sell?
        How many iOS developers can sell through Google Play?
        But you CAN get Android applications legally, through multiple channels and methods and don’t require anyone’s permission.

  1. There is probably a lot of room to improve the App Store experience for small developers, but the rhetoric that there is an Apple “tax” is off base. Every store charges a commission for selling your goods. Apple has invested a huge amount of effort in building the App Store as a safe place to purchase content for your iOS devices. It is reasonable that they get paid a percent of the transactions that take place there. Maybe the fee structure should be change, but Apple is entitled to something.

    This reminds me of the children’s book “The Little Red Hen.” No one wanted to help her grow the wheat, mill the wheat or bake the bread, but they all wanted to help eat the bread.

  2. Sorry but you lost me at “Imbox”. And then there was another thing, $99 a year for an Imbox. My girlfriend said she had to peel me off the floor after I finally finished laughing.

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