Feb 11

About removing the iOS App from the store

I wanted to give some explanation why I removed the iOS app for our RSS reader from the Apple App Store. I know it is kind of expected to have an app and for me it is also a little bit sad - for one because I actually liked the app and used it every day for the past year, but there is also just a lot of work that went into it. I think it was a good blend of a native UI and having it still maintainable using webviews for the content.

During the last couple of months I tried to explain to the app store review team and their appeal board (whatever…) why I think the app does not need to include their In App Purchases and I still do not understand why it needs to be included. Let me explain what happened.

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A year ago the iOS app was released. At that point I was not sure if it would be accepted on the store having read some tweets about the app "Hey!", also regarding that matter. But their app is on the store and does not use In App Purchases, so I gave it a shot. During the review process I was asked to remove the possibility for users to register and of course to subscribe to the service through Paypal. Fair enough, as it was for existing users anyways.

I lived on happily for about a year with the app on the store, also did some updates, until with iOS 15 some things changed with the restore behaviour after idle, so I thought a bugfix release at the end of the year would be a nice christmas present. But what was that - the app suddenly got rejected. The reason was pretty crazy: For apps that require logging in you need to provide a demo account for the reviewers, and I had added the vox.com RSS feed to that account. For some reason vox.com posted content about Covid, and the app was rejected because I would need to be a public health institution to have that in my app. What? Second reason was that I need to implement In App Purchases.

I was pretty sure that this just could be a misunderstanding, maybe a new employee, maybe a little overly ambitious. After a lot of back and forth and the first "appeal", they dropped the point about covid, but kept the claim about IAP. There was a lot more of back and forth and I even phoned with one of the employees. I have to admit, after the call I actually thought their position makes sense at least based on their current rules. But I decided to read through the relevant paragraphs again, and that was when I got even more convinced it must be a misunderstanding. The relevant paragraphs in the guidelines are "§3.1.3 Other Purchase Methods", especially §3.1.3(a) “Reader” Apps, §3.1.3(b) Multiplatform Services and §3.1.3(f) Free Stand-alone Apps. Now the question is, under what sub paragraph the app falls.

At first one might think §3.1.3(a) “Reader” App, because, you know, it is a news reader. But looking at the examples, this category is about Netflix, newspapers etc. that create content. So I totally understand this is not suitable.

3.1.3(a) “Reader” Apps: Apps may allow a user to access previously purchased content or content subscriptions (specifically: magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video). Reader apps may offer account creation for free tiers, and account management functionality for existing customers.

Apple says, our app is §3.1.3(b):

§3.1.3(b) Multiplatform Services: Apps that operate across multiple platforms may allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site, including consumable items in multi-platform games, provided those items are also available as in-app purchases within the app.

The way I read this is that you would purchase things inside the app, like buying some magic power in a game. But you do not buy stuff inside the newsreader, as the content is free. It is out there. The web app just fetches and presents it, and the iOS app is basically just another frontend for that service.

In my opinion the app is §3.1.3(f) Free Stand-alone Apps:

3.1.3(f) Free Stand-alone Apps: Free apps acting as a stand-alone companion to a paid web based tool (eg. VOIP, Cloud Storage, Email Services, Web Hosting) do not need to use in-app purchase, provided there is no purchasing inside the app, or calls to action for purchase outside of the app.

I mean, I could not have described our app any better ☺️ and that is probably also why I had to remove all of that functionality in the first place. The argument against it during the phone call was, that "RSS reader" is not in the examples in the bracket "(eg. VOIP, Cloud Storage, Email Services, Web Hosting)". To me that does not read like an exhaustive list, but examples. Otherwise I would write it like: "Only VOIP, Cloud Storage.., so 0.001% of apps are allowed…" That would be clear to me. The only difference of a RSS Services and Email Services to me is what you fetch 🤷‍♂️ So to me those review descisions are rather random and intransparent, because there is also no further explanation. It goes basically like - well, we think is it this. Ok but I think it is that. Ok but we still think it is this ∞.

So why not just implement IAPs to the app? Short answer: I don't get it, so I won't do it. Not so short answer: I would take part in something what in my opinion is a rip off. There are utility apps that do a little more than a flashlight that take 10$ a week as a subscription, have a top rank in the search results and guess who gets 30% of it? 🍏 Our app was for existing users, I also asked if it would make a difference to be not even listed on the store, but it apparently does not. If I give Paypal a cut, it is because they handle the payment part - for what would I give Apple the cut? Well if you look at the proposal Apple made for the Dutch App store, to take only 27% instead of 30% when using another payment provider, to me it does not add up. What is the 27% for if not getting customers through the store? You already have to pay a fee to even be on the store.

It also would add complexity to the app just to be present on one platform. The aim was to provide an app for existing users, and it baffles me that this is not easily possible. I also did the math - for small amounts like 5$/month it does not make a big difference between Paypal fees and App store fees, but for yearly subscriptions which are 48$ it would be 7.20$ (small business, $15.40 regular) fee for Apple, and 2$ for Paypal.

So dear users, I hope you can understand a little bit more why there is no iOS app anymore. It never really arrived before I had to pull the plug again.

I hope that somehow this whole platform situation improves in the near future. There seems to be a lot of movement with legislations across the globe, so maybe I can just re-release the app when things settle and it will magically just work in iOS 23+ 🤩