As you have probably seen this past week, there has been a lot of controversy over the Hey.com email app being rejected from the Apple App Store.
Here’s some background on what the brew haha is about.
Apple is threatening to remove Hey.com from the App Store if the ambitious new email service doesn’t begin offering an in-app subscription and sharing a cut of its revenue, according to an executive at Basecamp, which makes Hey.
David Heinemeier Hansson, the CTO of Basecamp, said that Apple is acting like “gangsters,” rejecting a bug fix update and asking the company in a phone call to commit to adding an in-app subscription to prevent it from being removed. “I was taken aback by how brazen that threat was,” Heinemeier Hansson told The Verge. “I thought you were supposed to wrap the threats in euphemisms or something. But it was pretty clear.”
In an email to The Verge, Apple said that it requires all developers to follow strict guidelines around business models. The company declined to comment specifically on Hey, but said that App Store review guidelines require an in-app purchase option if an app wants to offer access to content purchased on another platform. Apple suggested the call to Hey’s team was not out of the ordinary, saying it always works with developers to bring them into compliance. Apple also told Protocol that the app shouldn’t have been approved in the first place.
The developer community has been very vocal in siding with the app’s developer. But there’s another side to this story. I view this situation from a user perspective rather than a developer. So the question is how does Apple’s operation of the App Store affect me?
Ben Brooks wrote a piece about the controversy which I was intrigued by. It sums up how I as a user feel about the situation.
FOCUS ON USERS
Apple employs an extremely simple, but effective business strategy: focus on making the best experience for users, and you will make loads of money. Amazon, Google, Uber, and many others copy this. But Apple is king of this strategy.
If Hey.com, or any other developer, wants an exception to the rule, then you need to prove that the best thing for the user is to grant that exception. Allow me to explain in two cases.
You cannot sign up for Netflix in the Netflix app, and Apple allows this and they say the do because it is a content consumption app. Which is likely a good cover-your-ass statement. The real reason: not having Netflix on the App Store would be objectively worse for users than Apple bending the IAP subscription rule.
Or put another way: if Android has a Netflix app, and iOS does not, then iOS is likely to lose more iOS users and thus profit than they would if they just waived rule and allowed the app. So even though the Netflix app is not an ideal user experience, it is the best Apple can do and Apple clearly feels not having Netflix on the iPhone is worse for the user than bending the IAP rules.
Now what Hey.com is saying: users have to subscribe on our website. What Apple is saying: that’s a worse user experience.
Stop there, because I know a ton of you agree with Hey.com, but I need you to be realistic as an iOS user. Is your argument that, as a user, the best experience is to use Safari to sign up and pay for Hey.com, and then further to always have to go to their website to manage that auto-recurring subscription? Is that really the argument? I think not.
Because that’s the worst user experience. The best is to have the App Store manage it, it makes signing up easier, safer, and faster. It makes management way easier.
So Apple, in looking at this says: it is objectively worse for users to bend the IAP rule, and by blocking Hey.com we are not likely to lose any meaningful amount of users. There are plenty of other options, so no, we will not make the experience worse for users.
Hey did not prove their case, and Apple sided with the users. You are also a user. Do you really want all these subscription based apps to start punting you to a website to sign up? Or do you actually find IAPs the best way to pay for subscriptions?
Yeah… Apple clearly agrees with you, that IAP subscriptions are way better than web subscriptions. And that’s why Hey.com got rejected, and frankly was always rolling the dice.
Ben’s article is well written and worth reading in full. You can find it here.