The Pawprint

"Who the hell let Feline start a blog?"



An Upcoming Startup's Take on Hey!

We may not have launched yet, but that doesn't mean we can't have (awful) takes on the high taxes of Apple's App Store, their treatment of developers, and what we could possibly ever hope to do about it.

Before We Begin

All that being said, here are my thoughts on Basecamp’s email bonfire…

So What’s the Deal?

As mobile applications grow in popularity, so does the number of people who notice injustice in how the owners of application stores behave.

I don’t want to spend too much time recapping, a quick search will give you all you need to know on the Hey! controversy, and not just the weird typo in “inbox” in their applications. The TLDR here is that Basecamp, a popular tool for project management, released a new revolutionary email app, attempted to use the “reader app” exception (read on) to bypass Apple’s 30% cut of IAP revenue, and got schmacked 👋🏻 by Phil Schiller.

Google is also a factor in this debate. They kind of do the same thing, but I’d argue not to the same malicious extent as Apple, as their rules are far less stringent, so I will leave them be.

It’s no secret that Apple is highly anti-competitive, if you just look at the rules that surround the Hey! Controversy, the language is straight out of a bloody gulag’s orientation handbook:

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, video, access to professional databases, VoIP, cloud storage, and approved services such as classroom management apps), provided that you agree not to directly or indirectly target iOS users to use a purchasing method other than in-app purchase, and your general communications about other purchasing methods are not designed to discourage use of in-app purchase.
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 multiplatform games, provided those items are also available as in-app purchases within the app. You must not directly or indirectly target iOS users to use a purchasing method other than in-app purchase, and your general communications about other purchasing methods must not discourage use of in-app purchase.

☕️ Who doesn’t love a good cup of anti-competition in the morning?

Not only can you not embed a nice little Stripe checkout form in your mobile app, but you can’t even say that there’s a nice little Stripe checkout form on your website.

Not only that, you have to offer the same IAPs in your app as on your website. No “Oh we don’t offer purchases in our app, you might be able to find them elsewhere though tee-hee! We’ll never tell!”

Of course, Apple has the right to do whatever the heck they want with their App Store, but telling me that I have to offer the same purchasing functionality on my app (which they can control) and my website (which they don’t) is unbelievably monstrous on every single conceptual level.

To be clear, Apple forces you in every way imaginable to give them 30% of your revenue if you have an application you charge for that happens to have any sort of presence on the App Store and don’t fit into the extremely narrow exception lanes.

YouTube takes the easy way out by charging an extra 30% for their purchases to make up for the difference, but how many companies can justify that extra 30% to their users? My guess is not many, or this wouldn’t be as big of an issue as it is.

Regardless, at this point Apple has lost both my good will and trust in you, and it’s a matter of principle that you don’t get my 30%.

The Response

My primary goal with Feline has always been to give people the best possible experience, and treat them fairly regardless of any attribute or characteristic; It’s what the six blocks on our homepage are all about.

If we are unable to offer the highest quality of service, security, performance, or benefits to our users on any given platform, we will not use that platform. It really is that simple.

We do not use Google Analytics or Firebase because of data harvesting, we do not allow sign in with any other social media sites as they do not value user privacy, security, or mental well-being, and heck, one reason (albeit one of the minor ones) we decided to migrate away from React Native is the licensing issue they had a few years back.

You may say that the cost of our IAPs has nothing to do with the quality of our services, but because we only craft our applications with the -highest quality organic all-natural ingredients- best tools for the job, our margins are already extremely slim, especially for a bootstrapped self-funded startup like Feline. To then cut in an extra 30%, for placement on a store that is very-much optional, could force us into a dangerous position that allows us to not offer our products anywhere, never mind the App Store.

If you haven’t read it already, Wil Shipley created a list of other issues that plagues the App Store (though I believe 20% is still far too high.)

Wil Shipley on Twitter

By promoting competitors in a store we already pay to be a part of, by limiting the business models we can implement, by artificially driving the quality of other content the store downwards, and by charging these high rates, Apple has created an environment where the benefits other options may actually outweigh the convenience and “security” provided by the App Store.

We fully understand corporations do not give a damn about you, and while we can’t simply choose to take our ball and go home, we can make smart and informed decisions about the platforms and services we do choose to implement.

Due to the downward trend of Apple’s developer-relations and how it would adversely affect our users, Feline will be migrating to a web-first experience.

Luckily, this ties in nicely with our migration away from React Native (another blog post on that coming soon - isn’t writing fun?)

We will still make every attempt to launch our applications on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, we’d be stupid not to, however I will not sacrifice the quality of our services or force our users to pay more for placement on a store that does not care if we are there or not.

To put it bluntly:

You’re not getting 30% of our revenue, Phil.

We’re considering different ways to adapt our business model, and have yet to settle on one that will let our app into the App Store….

….as well as not cause us to receive a significant hit to our conversions.

What follows are fairly tongue-in-cheek suggestions, but sometimes you can extract the rational from the absurd. If you have any ideas, my Imbox inbox is always open.

Did you see the serious one in there? We’re currently evaluating the technical limitations of PWAs and how it may impact the products we currently have in our pipelines, and we encourage other developers to do the same.

(I’d really like to see Cydia improve though, it’s still very much so a techcie’s game and that can definitely be iterated upon)

While I was proofreading this article, I thought about that Cydia solution seriously for a moment, and thought “Well why the hell cant that happen?”

If jailbreaking and Cydia truly become a threat to the App Store and Apple’s profit margins, they may rethink the 30% extortion of developers on its platform.

Jailbreaking is easily undone by software updates, new phones, or even restarting, but as we’ve seen with the latest releases, if kernel-level exploits are something that can happen, why can’t untethered ones also exist?

If the jailbreaking, and Cydia Store experiences can be streamlined so that my mother can easily use it, why is that not a valid option? It’s something I’d be more than happy to help out with if it leads to change within the iOS developer community.

I’m getting off-track, aren’t I? Oops.

Conclusion

Regardless of how developers decide to respond to this, if they decide to respond at all, this incident should force us to reflect on whether we truly need the App Store to survive.

Unless major changes are made at Apple, we may make the decision to go.

You probably shouldn’t care, but if enough people make the same decision, who knows what can happen.

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