Tweetbot and Twitterrific Face the Cliff

Long story short: If you’re a subscriber to either Tweetbot or Twitterrific, you can help them out with three simple steps:

  1. Reinstall the app if you’ve already deleted it; otherwise, make sure you’re running the latest version.
  2. Tap the “I Don’t Need a Refund” button.
  3. Feel good and go buy yourself a treat, knowing you helped the good folks at a small company whose work you’ve appreciated (and will continue to).

Long story long:

You surely recall that last month, in a fit of pique, Elon Musk spitefully pulled the plug on third-party Twitter clients with no notice whatsoever, in the most chickenshit way imaginable. Twitter didn’t even make it official that third-party clients had been banned until a week of confusion and dread had passed.

The obvious problem for developers of such clients, of course, is that Twitter clients are useless without the ability to connect to Twitter. A less obvious but no less serious problem is that the leading clients, Tapbots’s Tweetbot and The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific, were monetized through annual subscriptions. That left each company with thousands and thousands of customers with months left on those subscriptions, but no functionality.

Financially, this isn’t a “Huh, yeah, that must kinda suck” situation. It’s more of an “Oh shit, we’re fucked” situation. Twitterrific and Tweetbot weren’t side projects — they were flagship products from small companies. As I mentioned last month, The Iconfactory has a bunch of other great commercial apps (and games). Tapbots does too — Calcbot (a calculator and unit converter for both iOS and Mac) and Pastebot (my personal favorite clipboard history utility for Mac — I’ve been using it for years now). But you don’t need access to Tapbots’s sales figures to surmise that Tweetbot was the company’s sole tentpole.

Twitter’s kneecapping of third-party clients didn’t just mean that their future revenue was gone — it meant revenue they’d already collected from App Store subscriptions would need to go back to customers in the form of prorated refunds for the remaining months on each and every user’s annual subscriptions. Consider the gut punch of losing your job — you stop earning income. It’s brutal. Now imagine that the way it worked when you get fired or laid off is that you’re also suddenly on the hook to pay back the last, say, 6 months of your income. That’s where Tapbots and The Iconfactory are.

I can’t recall a situation like this, with an ecosystem of third-party clients collecting subscriptions and then having the first-party service yank the carpet out from under them — and their customers — with zero warning or sunset period. A proper sunset period would have allowed such third-party partners — and developers like Tapbots and The Iconfactory were indeed partners of Twitter1 — to stop accepting new subscriptions and renewals, and allow existing subscribers to run out the clock with service for the period they already paid for.

When a landlord decides to sell or repurpose a rental property, they give tenants notice that their leases won’t be renewed, months in advance. That’s always unpleasant and difficult. But they don’t just show up in the middle of the night, mid-lease, and change the locks or bulldoze the building.

This week, both Tapbots and The Iconfactory released updates in the iOS App Store to Tweetbot and Twitterrific — not to restore any functionality, but to deal with the grim meathook reality of these paid-for subscriptions rendered useless by Phony Stark’s imperious shitheadedness. Both apps, upon launch, now simply display a single screen describing what has happened, and offer options to users with existing subscriptions. Screenshots:

Their messaging and offers are similar and obviously coordinated.2 Also, unsurprisingly, both of their designs are utterly beautiful and perfectly on point for their distinctive respective brands. Magnificent work for a dreary task, presented in good cheer.

Tweetbot offers users three choices. The first is an option to transfer your existing Tweetbot subscription to Ivory, Tapbots’s magnificent (and magnificently Tweetbot-like) new Mastodon client. Any Tweetbot subscriber who has moved to Mastodon should tap this button immediately. This is, as the kids say, a no-brainer. (Any Tweetbot subscriber who has not yet moved to Mastodon should do it — it’s like the early fun Twitter of yore over there, perhaps even better, and Ivory feels like home to a Tweetbot junkie, trust me.)

Second, Tweetbot offers an “I am happy with what I got out of Tweetbot and do not need a refund” option, with a button labelled “I Don’t Need a Refund” and this text:

If you’ve been happy with the service we’ve provided over the years and don’t need us to send you a prorated refund back, you can choose this option. ❤️

Third is the option for a prorated refund:

If you want a refund for the remaining subscription time, simply do nothing. We will automatically refund you through Apple.

Twitterrific offers two choices: the same do-nothing-and-get-a-prorated-refund-from-us option, and a clear “I Don’t Need a Refund” button with this heartfelt description:

If you were happy with the service we provided over the years, and don’t want a pro-rated refund, please choose this option. We thank you!

These automatic refunds for every subscriber who does not choose to decline them (or transfer them to Ivory) will be issued in a month, on March 28. Worth noting with emphasis: Even if you already cancelled your subscription through Apple, you can still do this, because your cancelled subscription remains valid until its original expiration date. Just re-install the app and you should still see the “I Don’t Need a Refund” button.

As both companies’ entreaties make clear, the lion’s share of these prorated refunds will be paid by Tapbots and The Iconfactory, unwound the same way they were paid out, by the 70/30 or 85/15 splits of the original transactions. Apple will pay the 30/15 shares, Tapbots and The Iconfactory the 70/85 shares. I suspect, strongly, that given how longstanding both apps are, the overwhelming majority of their subscribers were in the 85/15 split that kicks in after the first year of a subscription. That 85/15 split is obviously better for developers in normal circumstances, but not when they’re on the hook to refund it.

These offers are more than fair. Any paid subscriber who doesn’t know what’s happening will simply get their prorated refund automatically. The money will just appear in their App Store account balance. But close to 85 percent of that money will come from the pockets of Tapbots and The Iconfactory. That is perfectly fair, but I do not think it is at all clear to people that that’s how it works. I suspect most users assume that money will all come from Apple, a company with somewhat larger resources than either Tapbots or The Iconfactory. And many of their customers who do not wish for a refund surely assume that the money they’ve spent will remain in the accounts of Tapbots and The Iconfactory by default. That is not the case.

Worse still, at this point, weeks after Twitter pulling the plug on them, there’s little reason to think most Tweetbot or Twitterrific users are still opening those apps. Untold users of Tweetbot and Twitterrific who have no desire to get their money back won’t even see their option to decline these refunds. In a few weeks they’ll receive refunds, largely paid by Tapbots and The Iconfactory, that they didn’t even seek.

There is something noble about two longtime rivals — competitors, yes, but with nothing but deep respect and camaraderie for each other — facing this terrible cliff together, with dignity and grace, considering their users first, as ever.

But all is not lost.

If you are a subscriber to either Tweetbot or Twitterrific, I beseech you to decline these prorated refunds. It’s a couple of bucks for you, but in the aggregate, this amounts to an existential sum of already booked revenue for these two companies, both exemplars of the indie iOS and Mac community.

Reinstall the app if you’ve already deleted it. Tap that “I Don’t Need a Refund” button and feel good about it. We have a month. Spread the word.

  1. Among other things, The Iconfactory coined the word “tweet” to describe Twitter posts, and was the first to use a bird icon to represent the service. Twitter’s own brand was derived from Twitterrific’s, not the other way around. ↩︎

  2. Notably, both start with sincere apologies. Twitterrific: “We apologize that we are no longer able to offer you access.” Tweetbot: “We are very sorry that we are no longer able to offer you access to Twitter.” They’re apologizing for something that was out of their control, against their wishes, and potentially ruinous for their own companies. That’s how much they respect their users. Twitter, on the other hand, has of course apologized for nothing and to no one. The only thing Musk has successfully done with Twitter is twist it into a company in his own mold, utterly devoid of the most essential of human qualities: honesty, grace, and empathy. ↩︎︎