Apple doubles down on controversial App Store rules

19 Jun 2020

Image: © Aleksei/

Apple is threatening to remove Basecamp’s new email app, Hey, from the App Store.

This week, it was reported that Apple was threatening to remove email app Hey from its App Store if the Basecamp-owned email service didn’t begin offering in-app subscriptions and sharing revenue with Apple.

Apple executive Phil Schiller has said that the company has no plans to reverse this decision or change the App Store rules.

The newly launched Hey service allows users to screen and sort emails, set aside articles for later reading and provides a separate section called the ‘paper trail’ where users can store all of their emails relating to financial transactions. Basecamp is charging $99 per year for the service through its website, but does not allow users to subscribe through the app.

Apple takes up to a 30pc cut on purchases and subscriptions through its App Store, which developers have taken issue with in the past. Music streaming platform Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple last year, alleging that it was engaging in anti-competitive behaviour.

Apps on the App Store must offer an in-app subscription option, but there are exceptions to this rule for apps viewed as ‘readers’, according to TechCrunch, displaying external content like music, books and movies, as well as apps that offer bulk pricing options paid for by institutions or corporations rather than the end user.

What happened with Basecamp?

Apple initially approved the Hey app but when a bug fix was due to be published, Hey was rejected from the App Store for not including an option to sign up within the iOS app.

David Heinemeier Hansson, CTO of Basecamp, tweeted that Apple was acting like a “gangster” charging a “ransom”. Apple told The Verge that the company requires all developers to adhere to certain business model guidelines.

In another tweet, Heinemeier Hansson said he was “literally stunned” that Apple doubled down on the rejection of Hey’s updates unless the company “submits” to sharing 15 to 30pc of revenue made through App Store sales. He added that he was told the Hey app would be removed completely if the company did not comply with Apple’s requests.

The comments were made on the same day that the European Commission opened a new antitrust investigation into Apple’s practices on its App Store. This investigation will focus on Apple’s proprietary in-app purchase system and restrictions on the ability of developers to inform iOS users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

Apple’s response

Following the accusations made on social media by Basecamp’s CTO, TechCrunch spoke to Apple executive Schiller, who is senior vice-president of worldwide marketing. Schiller said the company is not considering any changes to the App Store’s existing rules.

“There are many things that [Basecamp] could do to make the app work within the rules we have. We would love for them to do it.” He said Basecamp could charge different prices in the app and on the web, or offer a free version with additional functions.

Schiller also noted that email “is not and has never been an exception” to the App Store rules in the way that readers, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have been. He said that the Hey app “should never have shipped to the store”.

When asked if Apple felt entitled to a portion of revenue of every business that has an app, Schiller replied: “I get why there’s a question here, but that’s not what we’re doing.”

He said that if a developer is going to charge for an app and it is a digital service, then Apple wants developers to use its in-app purchase mechanic and payment system “to ensure that users have a good experience in the app and that the payment system is secured”.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic