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Apple apologizes to WordPress, won’t force the free app to add purchases after all

“We […] apologize for any confusion that we have caused”

By

Sean Hollister

on August 23, 2020 10:49 pm

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

On Friday, the internet erupted in a small way to learn that Apple had successfully forced WordPress to monetize its free app — forcing it to sell premium plans and custom domain names seemingly just so that Apple could get its traditional 30 percent cut.

But one afternoon and evening of surprise and outrage later, Apple is backing off. The company is issuing a rare on-the-record apology, and it says that WordPress will no longer have to add in-app purchases now that all is said and done.

Here’s Apple’s full statement:

We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. Since the developer removed the display of their service payment options from the app, it is now a free stand-alone app and does not have to offer in-app purchases. We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused.

You’ll notice that Apple is positioning this as the developer — WordPress — having done the right thing and removed the “display of their service payment options from the app,” and to my knowledge that is technically true. But as far as I’m aware, that didn’t happen today: it happened weeks or months ago.

While as of yesterday, the WordPress app didn’t sell a single thing and didn’t so much as mention a paid “Wordpress.com” plan unless you followed an unlikely workaround, I was able to track down a fellow journalist this weekend who had a much older version of the app, one with a dedicated “Plans” tab that listed some of the different plans available to premium customers:

It was already a “free stand-alone app,” no?

That said, my source told me there was no ability to purchase any of those plans — and I can confirm the entire “Plans” section had already been removed by the time WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg told us Apple had successfully forced him to add Apple’s in-app purchases (IAP). (Originally, he’d said Apple locked him out of updating the app unless he added Apple IAP within 30 days.)

What’s more, Mullenweg told us that he had previously offered to strip other mentions of the paid plans out of the app (even workarounds like when a user views a preview of their own WordPress webpage and then navigates to WordPress.com), only to have those suggestions rejected by Apple.

So, to the best of my knowledge, this isn’t WordPress caving yet again. Apple simply seems to have decided that trying to extract its cut from a free app — by forcing in-app purchases — isn’t a hill worth dying on today.

Update, 8:52 PM ET: The news apparently came as a surprise to WordPress’s Matt Mullenweg, who has a new Twitter thread here.

Update, August 23rd, 5:40 PM ET: In case you’re wondering, WordPress’s Matt Mullenweg is denying that WordPress itself submitted an update that would have allowed iOS users to purchase premium plans: “There was no link to the plans page, and no direct way to buy plans from inside the app,” he tells The Verge.

Update, 10:49 PM ET: Please see this tweet of mine as well:

Comments

Still, whether it’s a group of overenthusiastic policy-driven reviewers or not, this shouldn’t be happening to the extent it has.

By Sotomura
on 08.22.20 6:01pm

This sounds a lot like an overzealous reviewer that didn’t understand what was going on when WordPress submitted fixes for the issues the first time.

By FriendlyNeighborhoodPoolman
on 08.22.20 6:55pm

Given the spotlight on this issue at the moment it seems odd that they wouldn’t be paying closer attention.
Overzealous reviewing? I can see that being the case.
Alternatively I could also see it being a flex to see what they could get away with. Or to shift the narrative further to the extreme to normalize what they are doing to Epic (and everyone else).
I suppose it doesn’t really matter the reason. This shouldn’t happen. And the fact that the only reason it ended up not happening was at the whim of one company is bad. Apple has too much power here to influence large portions of the tech landscape.
Bad day for Apple apologists. It kind of shatters the argument that the App store policies are being followed predictably and in a fair manner. This was a good way to flush out the fanboys though! If even Apple admitted this was wrong the folks who were defending it probably have to take a long look in the mirror. Or at least we know which commenters to completely ignore because they contribute nothing.

By jonomacd
on 08.24.20 5:00am

You can approach this from 1000 different angles and get 1000 different interpretations. Not everything revolves around Epic and Apple’s public dispute.
Wordpress.com and Apple have for now resolved their dispute, if they want I’m sure they could take the matter to court like Epic has.

By Phantomcloud
on 08.24.20 5:18am

What I am wondering is do you just need an option to buy something in the app? Why not add something totally ridiculous that no one would ever buy. Like grains of sand in a glass tube for $100. You now have an option to purchase it now as in in-app purchase. Anyone dumb enough to buy it and WordPress gets $70 for something that cost under a buck to make, and yes, Apple would get 30 bucks, problem solved. Doubt that would please Apple though, and that is the main issue. This was only done due to the bad press surrounding it in the techy world.

By ginandbacon
on 08.24.20 11:10am

Why are you saying they’re overenthusiastic?

By Ganymede.
on 08.23.20 10:45am

There’s more to this than what WordPress is admitting. Per Apple, wordpress submitted an update that referenced the upgrade for non-free users which wasn’t there in prior versions of the app. That new version (which wasn’t ever released through the store) is what triggered the action by Apple. Where Apple messed up was that they wouldn’t agree to WordPress just removing the mention and were insisting on the IAP being offered.
In short: both parties screwed up, but Apple was the one that let it go this far.

By FriendlyNeighborhoodPoolman
on 08.22.20 6:09pm

I still take issue with the removal even based on that tepid reading. As a developer, I can tell you that most of these apps are built using shared resources nowadays and have connections to things in web world and native world. And on top of that, lots of apps are built with web resources and shipped as “hybrid” apps. The idea of “referencing updates for non-free users” that need to be removed is very strange, considering most documentation hooks reference web material whether you’re native or hybrid, regardless.
To take this to an extreme: are you telling me I need to scrub my app of every mention of something that has to do with money or purchasing something, even when my users (in WordPress’ case) made the accounts in the web version of the software and simply use the app for managing their licensed content? It’s unreasonable with the way software is built.

By Sledgemeyers
on 08.22.20 6:29pm

The idea of “referencing updates for non-free users” that need to be removed is very strange, considering most documentation hooks reference web material whether you’re native or hybrid, regardless.

No it isn’t. It is explicitly not allowed, and WordPress even acknowledged that they were in the wrong with that and attempted to comply with it.

To take this to an extreme: are you telling me I need to scrub my app of every mention of something that has to do with money or purchasing something, even when my users (in WordPress’ case) made the accounts in the web version of the software and simply use the app for managing their licensed content? It’s unreasonable with the way software is built.

Again, no it isn’t. This wasn’t just a mention, this was WordPress advertising upgrade options within the app, but not allowing said upgrades to occur within the app. Both of those things are against the developer guidelines. Per the developer, it wasn’t even that hard to fix since they just had to add in some device specific tags that would hide that content. The problem (which is the only legitimate problem in this whole scenario) was Apple not responding correctly when WordPress offered that. They should have accepted that update since it complied with the rules, and they didn’t.

By FriendlyNeighborhoodPoolman
on 08.22.20 6:52pm

But Apple does that all the time.. but Apple Music, Apple news etc. Guess it’s ok for them? Even if you say there platform there rules still seems pretty unfair.
However I’m surprised so many people agree with Apple’s 30% cut. How is using Apple’s payment services any different to a credit card facility? These charge generally around 5% give or take.
Credit card companies have massive sunk costs, backend infrastructure costs, developed the payment market from scratch as it didn’t exist before.
The only major difference conceptually seems to be that Apple hosts your app. But devs already pay 99 a year for that via the dev licence. So 30% on credit cards ??
Guess competition stops credit cards from doing that.

By IntenseRaiden
on 08.22.20 7:08pm

What are you talking about? Apple allows purchases in ALL of its apps on iOS, just like the rules require.

By FriendlyNeighborhoodPoolman
on 08.22.20 7:28pm

In iOS. Ever tried buying a movie inside the Apple TV App on a Fire Tv? Read the pop up that tells you to buy it via an apple device.

By TheEvilFlint
on 08.23.20 9:31am

Apple doesn’t have to pay the 30% fee which is the entire point. How can you be this dense?

By Darkness0690
on 08.24.20 1:00pm

How is using Apple’s payment services any different to a credit card facility?

It’s widly different as Apple is making the OS, the App Store, the development tools, and the API that allows the purchase to be even possible, and providing the access to a massive (and paying) userbase. I however agree that 30% is too high though. When the App Store was introduced, it felt easy and okay to have a simple rate cover everything for everyone but now there are too many different kind of apps and possible purchases (IAP, subscriptions, etc) to just apply a 30% rate on everything.

By Paul_M
on 08.24.20 3:50am

Apple’s own stuff goes through an IAP though when you sign up for something.

By Lomifeh
on 08.24.20 8:02am

who the hell actually thinks any app store is anything like credit card fees? stop comparing them, holy shit. do you even have a credit card? you do know the money they make is from the 20-25% interest when people use it right?

By iblastoff
on 08.24.20 10:35am

> These charge generally around 5% give or take.
Can confirm that even this is high. Most Retail payment processing (credit card / Debit card terminals) is .5% to 2%.
even if we want to give Apple some benefit of the doubt that there’s additional costs of hosting the apps in the store. 5% would be profitable and reasonable. Even 10% would be high but likely acceptable.
what is no longer acceptible is 30% while apple also gets to gatekeep who gets to develop for their platform.
What I would love to see is more EPic’s. More WordPresses. More App developers to just tell Apple to fuck off and stop developing for them.
How well is the iPhone going to do if there’s no more Fortnite? probably fine. What about no more Fortnite, Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Finance and banking apps go elsewhere? etc.
want a great example of what happens to a platform when developers decide its no longer worth their cost to develop for? Look at what happened with BB10. Which was arguably the most secure and stable OS of the time. All of that meant absolutely nothing if nobody was willing to develop for it.

By Sprawlie
on 08.24.20 3:49pm

I know it’s not allowed. Let me make that clear: I understand Apple is in the right to shut down WordPress based on the terms they’ve set. I actually agree with your comment. Hooooowever…
I’m just saying that I think the rule itself is strange in a world where me, as a developer, is building an app that a) is likely referencing online documentation that could have that information in it for my web and mobile app and b) could be build using a hybrid web technology that could bundle that paid web app info into my mobile app.
Ironically, that doesn’t appear to be what WordPress is doing. I’m simply saying the rule is extremely strange considering those two things. Because, in WordPress’ case, they didn’t even have the actual ability to trigger those purchases in the mobile app. They only had references to them. And in a world where WordPress users are licensing their paid content and buying those options in the web app prior to managing the content in the mobile app… I find it strange that they need to remove those references to purchases.
This isn’t a double-standard on Apple’s part, they were right to remove the app based on their terms. I think they need to reconsider those terms though since the usage of the WordPress app is split between both worlds.

By Sledgemeyers
on 08.22.20 7:21pm

I see what you’re saying now. I don’t disagree with you at all. Apple did a lot wrong here, but WordPress was also at fault. Apple needs to do a lot of work making their guidelines more clear, as it seems that would solve 99% of the problems.

By FriendlyNeighborhoodPoolman
on 08.22.20 7:27pm

Updated and adjusted guidelines focused on mutual benefits, as “one hand washes the other”.

By lucian.m
on 08.22.20 7:44pm

Apple needs to get rid of such nonsense guidelines which harm developers and users and the only benefiting party is Apple. Either they will do it on their own terms or get forced to it.

By ChiefPotato
on 08.23.20 11:19am

No it isn’t. It is explicitly not allowed

Obedient little supplicant right here.

By Alar’s Ashes
on 08.23.20 11:32am

No it isn’t. It is explicitly not allowed

Is it? Where? There is nothing in the App Store Review Guidelines that “explicitly” says that.
In the Audible app I can view audiobooks that are available to purchase but I can’t purchase them through the app, I have to go to the website. This is allowed because there are no links to the Audible website in the app. I don’t understand why what WordPress did was any different to this.

By CraigB
on 08.24.20 5:57am

Because despite Apple’s asurances they keep repeating to the media and congress. Apple does have different sets of rules depending on the supplier. they absolutely treat an Amazon completely different than Audible.
it all depends on what Apple can monetize and how many pennies and percentage points they can milk out of companies that don’t have the clout to fight back

By Sprawlie
on 08.24.20 3:52pm

I’ve heard that even in app comment systems are not allowed that could let users direct people to information on how to purchase subs to some service on a website. Apple wants to make sure users are cut out of any possible information that could alert people there were alternative ways to get other content not already inside the app.

By Alar’s Ashes
on 08.23.20 11:31am

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