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Dandy Cast 031: Apple’s in the wrong and here’s why...

Sean Anderson
Sean Anderson

This podcast episode was recorded as an accompanying audio version of the Dandy Newsletter that was published on June 30, 2020.

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Show notes

So Basecamp put out a new email app called Hey. It’s pretty nifty and does a decent job at helping you manage your unruly inbox. All was well and good until Apple had to go and stick there nose in a good thing. I mean, come on, Apple. You had a good thing going, but now I guess you’re just the same as any other greedy company that’s ever been.

In the midst of corporate boot-to-neck behavior, inconsistent treatment of larger companies, and some pretty gross press responses was an app that just wanted to do something clever with your email. See, this is why we can’t have nice things...

There’s also a brand spankin’ new blog post waiting for you. It’s called, How You Can Learn More about Yourself by Asking the 5 Whys.

The 5 Whys is a tool you can use to get to the bottom of your most pressing issues. It’s simple, ask yourself “why” to a successive number of statements and get to a deeper problem. If you’ve got a problem that’s leaving you wondering what to do, then give this one a read and learn how to manage your issues with greater clarity.

We’re wrapping things up with what I’m watching, reading, and listening to this week. It’s a great assortment of media that’s worth your time.

Links to stuff that was mentioned:

Basecamp, the company

Basecamp, the service

Hey

EU opens Apple antitrust investigations into App Store and Apple Pay practices - The Verge

youdownloadtheappanditdoesntwork.com

Apple Q2 2020 Results - $58.3 Billion Revenue - MacStories

App Store Review Guidelines: “Reader” apps - Apple

Interview: Apple’s Schiller says position on Hey app is unchanged and no rules changes are imminent - TechCrunch

HEY Email - App Store

WWDC

How You Can Learn More about Yourself by Asking the 5 Whys - Dandy Cat Design

A New Widgety World | Cortex - Relay FM

Dredd - IMDb

Everything Else Has Gone Wrong | Bombay Bicycle Club - YouTube

Grave Peril | Jim Butcher - Goodreads


The full text

The Dandy Newsletter — 06/30/20

If you don’t follow news about technology and Apple as much as I do, or even at all, then you may not be aware of the recent messiness that developed between Apple and Basecamp (the company and not their eponymous service) over their new email app, Hey.

Strap yourself in.

Basecamp developed a brand new email app. Hey is not acting solely as an email service like Google or Microsoft does. It’s mostly an app that manages the email you receive from a dedicated email service. They made a cross-platform app that aims to revolutionize the way we manage our email. Many of its features are pretty dang cool. They have what’s essentially email triage, where you can decide what enters your “Imbox” from the very beginning, focused replies, The Feed that takes all your newsletters and transforms them into a more browsable newsfeed, along with quite a bit more. It’s all done in the name of managing our unruly and overcrowded inboxes in a truly helpful way.

I think apps like these may only be a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem, but that’s a topic for another time (and probably a much lengthier post on Dandy Cat).

So Basecamp has got this new service. It’s great, people love it, and it costs $99 a year to use. Not too bad. You can even get your very own hey.com email address out of it. The issue at the heart of this newsletter is when Apple entered the picture. I’m as big a fan of Apple as they come, but it’s important to call out inconsistencies and wrongdoings when they happen. In this case, Apple’s done wrong.

Currently, the only way to install an app on an iOS or iPadOS device without jailbreaking said device is to get the app through the App Store. In many ways, it makes sense and is very easy to accomplish. That’s by design—Apple wants to make downloading and/or paying for an app as simple as possible for its customers. The other issue here revolves around their In-App Purchase (IAP) system. Users of an app can extend the functionality of it by making a purchase or starting a subscription for those additional features through the app. Again, it’s an easy thing for customers to do. It reduces complexity. However, Apple requires that they get a 30% cut of any purchase made through the App Store or IAP. In the case of a subscription, that cut drops to 15% after the first subscribed year per subscriber. Theoretically, you could offer that additional functionality through a purchase on your own website, thereby circumventing the need to give Apple a 30% cut of your revenue. Many services do that, which is an important point that’ll come up later. However, you cannot advertise the ability to subscribe elsewhere anywhere within your app. In this particular case, Apple is not making subscribing to a service outside of an app an easy thing for customers to do.

There is currently no way around this. If you want to have an app and/or an app subscription on an Apple device, then you must offer it through the App Store. If this smells like an antitrust situation to you, then you’re not alone.

Back to the Hey app. Basecamp didn’t want to lose up to 30% per subscriber because of this App Store rule. They made an app that would not function without a subscription that was purchased through their website. They also made sure not to include any language directing potential users to their website to start a subscription. This appeared to follow all of Apple’s rules, and followed in the same exact footsteps as other companies, such as:

  • Netflix
  • Github
  • Google Docs
  • Fastmail (another email app!)
  • Tesla
  • Wells Fargo
  • WeWork
  • Salesforce
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Stripe
  • App Store Connect (particularly egregious since it’s Apple’s own app)

The Hey app resembles Netflix’s own in so many ways that Apple’s argument loses significant credibility. In fact, it uses language that’s nearly identical to what Netflix uses, as shown here:

A side-by-side comparison of a text screen in the Netflix and Hey apps describing how to sign up for service.

How is this okay for Netflix and not for Hey?

The prevailing trend with all the companies listed above is that they’re rather large and have their own considerable power. If Apple started pushing Netflix around like they were doing to Basecamp, then Netflix could just remove its app from the App Store. This would not be in Apple’s favor as many people would feel compelled to ditch their iPhone and get a device that’ll actually let them watch Netflix. Or Netflix will choose to use Apple’s IAP system but demand a much smaller revenue cut be taken from them. It’s not confirmed, but the general belief is that larger companies are giving up a cut that’s far lower than the 30% that’s required of everyone else.

So where are we at this point in the story? Well, Basecamp doesn’t want to give up its hard-earned income and Apple doesn’t want to lose out on any money it could possibly make. Gotta keep that Services revenue climbing, you know? Apple decided to prevent the Hey app from appearing on its App Store unless Basecamp either: offers an IAP option for its subscription or includes some sort of free functionality. What Apple didn’t want was an app on their store that would not function as advertised until a subscription was paid for. This is an entirely ludicrous position because that list of apps above don’t offer full functionality unless they’re paid for elsewhere.

There’s a serious case of Apple playing favorites here, or just deciding they can bully a company into complying because they aren’t as big as, say, Netflix. I’ve seen too many people defending Apple in following their own guidelines, which may technically be true, but make no mention of the hypocrisy that comes with how they treat other companies. (I have also seen many people make the hypocrisy point, but I want to see more of it.) How is Netflix allowed to have an app that’s completely useless unless, and only if, you subscribe on Netflix’s site and not through IAP? According to Apple, it’s because Netflix is a “reader app,” meaning they “may allow a user to access previously purchased content or content subscriptions.” Sounds a lot like how Hey works to me, but I’m not an expert on this matter.

Much fuss is being made about how Hey isn’t a reader app when Netflix is, but the truly damning issue isn’t about what is or isn’t a reader app. It’s about how Netflix (and others like it), being a huge and powerful company, is allowed special treatment when another company’s app, that’s imitating Netflix’s own in many ways, is actually being held to Apple’s guidelines.

In an interview on TechCrunch, Apple’s own Phil Schiller says,

You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store.

If I didn’t already have a subscription to Netflix, then their app wouldn’t work at all for me. It’s exactly the type of app experience that Apple says they don’t want to have, and yet the Netflix app is surely in no danger of being forced to use Apple’s IAP system lest they be pulled from the App Store.

I don’t think Apple should change their guidelines; it’s up to the company to define them. However, I do think they’re 100% wrong in not applying them consistently across all of the apps on their store. Either everyone toes the line or everyone gets to dictate their preferred revenue cut.

To wrap all this up: the Hey app is now on the App Store. They managed to do this by implementing what amounts to a free tier. People can still subscribe to the full, paid version of Hey on its website, but now, to paraphrase Phil Schiller, you download the app and it does work. It does so by offering free, randomized email addresses that expire after fourteen days. Basecamp can collect all the money it can earn and Apple was able to quiet this story down before WWDC. Ironic that this conference is about celebrating developers like Basecamp.

Unfortunately, this inconsistency issue is still an issue. Apple still holds all the bargaining chips here and won’t want to give them up. Unless a company as big as Netflix doesn’t want to give Apple the cut they’re requiring, it will have to comply or face irrelevancy. Despite the spotlight on Apple, nothing has really changed.

And now for something completely different

There’s a new blog post waiting for you. Hip-hip-hooray! 🎉

It’s called: How You Can Learn More about Yourself by Asking the 5 Whys.

In our quest to figure out ourselves, our thoughts, and our actions, we often get caught up in the confusing messiness of life. That confusing messiness is tough to break through and causes us to miss answers that may actually be right in front of our own eyes. I’ve been stuck in those situations and it sucks.

Have you ever heard of the 5 Why’s? Well, now you have! I learned about this exercise recently when I was looking for ways to learn more about my real life goals. Not only has it helped bring clarity into my life and decisions, it’s also helped motivate me in my journey toward those goals.

I think more people should know about the 5 Why’s and that’s why I’m happy to write about it this week. You can learn more right now by clicking or tapping through the link above. This week, make it your mission to start asking yourself “why” a whole lot more. Give it a read today!

If you ever want to throw some suggestions my way, then send me a reply to this email. They’re always wonderful to receive.

Seriously friend, I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time cats, stay informed, stay safe, and stand up for what’s right. Black lives matter.

Podcast

Sean Anderson

Lover of productivity tips, Apple devices, and vegan ice cream. Mostly, I'm busy petting cats 🐱 and dogs 🐶


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