Thinking Different About The App Store Review Process

Getting through the Apple App Store review process feels like offering a sacrifice to the gods. Here’s a potential solution that allows Apple to make money without the cosa nostra business practices.

I’ve been following the release of, the new email service from the people who make Basecamp: Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, Sam Stephenson and many others.

For those who haven’t, the launch of a comprehensive new email service accompanied with all the necessary web clients, desktop applications and mobile apps has been a masterclass in how to launch software BUT even the best don’t get it easy.

There’s some drama.

The top line is that the Hey team submitted their app to the Apple App Store’s review process last week. The app was accepted and released to the public. Then, when they tried to release some updates this week, the updates were blocked by Apple, citing a failure to follow their guidelines. Specifically, Apple picked this moment to start enforcing a guideline that insists that apps on iOS must include an option for customers to be able to sign up within Apple’s payment eco-system for any paid subscription services.

Apple say that this is to make life easier for users but a cynic might point out that taking a 15–30% cut of that income will be a factor in the decision.

And this is the point where it escalates quickly.

# “Seemingly arbitrary” is not a new look for the App Store reviewers

The full story, with comments from both sides, was written by David Pierce. Check that out for the blow-by-blow account.

And a stream of consciousness from David Heinemeier Hansson is playing out on his twitter feed.

I know the feeling. I was hit with exactly the same guidline violation (the old 3.1.1) earlier this year. We managed to appease the gods and, with a bit of discussion, ours got through. I’m now dreading releasing an update though!

Suffice to say that there are plenty of examples of other companies running exactly the same business model. In the case of Netflix, who somehow don’t seem to have to pay their tribute, it uses the same mealy-mouthed language to dodge the subject in their iOS app. (It’s almost like the Hey team copied them!!)

By the way, Amazon also seemed to be able to negotiate away their fees. Surely some mistake?

# So what’s the solution?

Apple say that they need to insist that everyone must use their payment infrastructure because they need to make some money from the App Store. “That’s how Apple supports and pays for its work on the platform”, so says the app store reviewer according to the comments in the Protocol article.

When I read that, it nagged away at me and I realised why. As an Apple developer account holder, I pay my annual subscription of $99 presumably to support and pay for its work on the platform.

If the income from developer account fees isn’t enough to cover their costs, why don’t Apple increase the cost of the developer account fee?

I know, it’s a crazy idea: operate a business based on working out what your costs are and then charge enough money to cover those costs and make money on top.

This concept certainly won’t be lost on Heinemeier Hansson and Fried.

In the case of the developers, a $99 USD annual fee (or even a $299 enterprise level fee) is immaterial. Hell, they have a waiting list of 60k users ready to sign up for a $99 a year service. And they are charging $999 for premium email addresses.

They’re not shy but what they are is totally upfront. You can’t argue—either buy it or don’t, no hard feelings.

# Wait, what?!

I know it’s not popular to suggest increasing prices but my point speaks to the idea that we need to get away from pretending that digital is cheap and easy. It’s not!

It costs money to build an app store. It costs money to employ and train app reviewers. What Apple are aiming to do (in the main) is provide great apps for their customers. They have a high bar and they spend millions on trying to achieve that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money on top along the way too.

What is wrong, in my opinion, is pretending that it is cheap and easy. What’s wrong is charging developer account fees that must be too little to support the reality of what they need to provide AND THEN subsidising that by strong-arming people into sharing their income with you in a seemingly arbitrary way.

Yes, strive to create something great and make money.

Yes, charge 30% fees on in-app purchases made through your infrastructure. You never know, perhaps the team at might decide that they want to offer sign up in iOS because it’s a great experience and they can choose to pay accordingly.

BUT don’t cherry pick who gets leant on to pay up and who gets a free pass.

Apple, you’ve had 36 years of prompting us to “Think Different”. How about you “Act Consistent”?