Basecamp’s New App, Hey, Flagged in App Store Limbo for Not Using In-App Purchase

David Pierce, writing at 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.

Waugh and Basecamp didn’t think that rule applied. 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. […]

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.

I really don’t get it. Even if we concede that the App Store rules around in-app payments (lowercase) being required to use Apple’s In-App Payments (uppercase) APIs (which give Apple their 15-30% cut) are OK (which is a big concession), I don’t see how Basecamp’s Hey app is violating them.

You cannot sign up for Hey within the iOS app. And if you have a Hey account in free trial mode, the iOS app doesn’t have links or buttons prompting you to become a paying customer. They don’t tell you to upgrade to a paid account outside the app. When you don’t already have an account, these are the only three screens you can see in the app: a sign in screen, a help screen, and a password reset screen. The help screen says, in its entirety:

Trying to join HEY?
You can’t sign up for HEY in the app. We know that’s a pain. After you’ve created an account, you’ll be able to use the app.

Need help from a person?
Send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll get right back to you.

That’s it. They don’t even tell you where you need to go to create an account. I don’t see what more Basecamp could do here. The Hey app isn’t dancing around the App Store’s rule 3.1.1 in some cute way — they’re complying with it completely. Am I missing something?

If this is not a mistake on Apple’s part — and it might be a mistake, given that version 1.0 of the app was approved, and there are many apps in the App Store for which you need to sign up and pay outside the store, including Basecamp itself! — it’s outrageous. The rules as they’re written are controversial (and the subject of antitrust inquiries in both the U.S. and E.U.), but the Hey app seemingly complies with all of them.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020