Kara Swisher: ‘Is It Finally Hammer Time for Apple and Its App Store?’

Kara Swisher’s New York Times column on Apple’s rejection of Basecamp’s Hey app from the App Store is an outstanding overview of the whole dispute — accurate and fair. One central point that jumped out to me:

Yet Apple has also changed rules in ways that many developers find capricious and unfair and, more to the point, scary. While complaints have been raised for a long time about what Ben Thompson of Stratechery calls Apple’s “rent-seeking” practices, many developers do not want to speak out for fear of falling afoul of Apple and, worse, getting banned from its store.

But not Basecamp’s iconoclastic and outspoken founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, who took to Twitter and other media to complain loudly after the Hey.com app had been accepted by Apple and then flagged for being in violation of its rules last week. In practice, that means Hey.com cannot make crucial bug updates.

To say that “many developers do not want to speak out for fear of falling afoul of Apple” is an understatement. Almost none do. And one thing I’ve learned this week — mostly via private communication, because, again, they fear speaking out publicly — is that there are a lot of them. Without touching upon the question of who’s right and who’s wrong in the specific case of Basecamp’s Hey app, or the broader questions of what, if anything, ought to change in Apple’s App Store policies, an undeniable and important undercurrent to this story is that the business model policies of the App Store have resulted in a tremendous amount of resentment. This spans the entire gamut from one-person indies all the way up to the handful of large corporations that can be considered Apple’s peers or near-peers.

This resentment runs deep and is stunningly widespread. You have to trust me on the number of stories I’ve been told in confidence, just this week. Again, putting aside everything else — legal questions of antitrust and competition, ethical questions about what’s fair, procedural questions regarding what should change in the written and unwritten App Store rules, acknowledgement of all the undeniably great things about the App Store from the perspective of users and developers — this deep widespread resentment among developers large and small is a serious problem for Apple.

Even if you think Apple is doing nothing wrong, it’s not healthy or sustainable if the developers of a huge number of popular apps are only in the App Store because they feel they have to be there, not because they want to be there, and if they feel — justifiably or not — that Apple is taking advantage of their need to be there. Tim Cook rightly loves to cite Apple’s high customer satisfaction scores as a measure of success. I think if Apple measured developer satisfaction scores on the App Store, the results would be jarring.

Friday, 19 June 2020