Hey in the App Store

June 17, 2020

There's a mess brewing between Apple and third-party developers again. I sure hope that this issue doesn't overshadow the launch of Hey, about which I'm very excited, but it's hard to not focus on it today.

Yesterday, on Twitter, David Heinemeier Hansson posted this note:

Wow. I'm literally stunned. Apple just doubled down on their rejection of HEY's ability to provide bug fixes and new features, unless we submit to their outrageous demand of 15-30% of our revenue. Even worse: We're told that unless we comply, they'll REMOVE THE APP.

This is a really bad look for Apple. The Hey app is free in the store, and does not mention how to sign up or offer any other option to sign up for the service. It's just an app for existing members to use. Just like Slack, Gmail, Basecamp itself, and countless others. 

Reporting at Protocol, David Pierce has the full story:

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. That's why Basecamp, which companies typically pay for, is allowed on the App Store when Hey, which users pay for, isn't. Anyone who purchased Hey from elsewhere could access it on iOS as usual, the company said, but the app must have a way for users to sign up and pay through Apple's infrastructure. That's how Apple supports and pays for its work on the platform.

John Gruber chimes in with an excellent response:

[H]ow could such a distinction be made in writing? There are some apps that are definitely "business services" and some that are definitely "consumer products" (games for example), but to say that the area in between encompasses many shades of gray is an understatement. The entire mobile era of computing — an era which Apple itself has inarguably largely defined — is about the obliteration of distinct lines between business and consumer products.

Let's hope Apple fixes this quickly. It's a ridiculous decision that's only going to cause further problems down the road. If they wanted to instate a new policy, they picked the wrong independent company to bully around. I'm sure DHH won't go down quietly.