It’s not every day you see an Apple apology, but Matt Mullenweg of WordPress got one this week after Apple—spectacularly failing to read the room—rejected the free open-source WordPress unless it added Apple’s in-app purchase system, because some web views in the app could lead to the display of premium WordPress hosting plans.
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.
That’s great, but this entire situation shouldn’t have happened. Not only is it predicated on the dumbest of Apple’s App Store rule choices—banning links to a company’s web site if there’s any way to get to a page that might possibly insinuate that there’s a way to give them money that isn’t via in-app purchase—but the act of approaching WordPress and recommending in-app purchases feels an awful lot like a shakedown. (“If you want to stay in the App Store, you might want to start upselling your users right within your app and giving us 30 percent,” Mullenweg might have imagined Apple saying.)
Also troubling: Mullenweg only went public with Apple’s rejection because Apple had, weeks before, told WordPress that Apple’s decision was final and that they’d need to alter their app to add in-app purchases in order to stay in the App Store. It was only after Mullenweg’s original tweet went viral that Apple re-examined the decision, backed down, and apologized.
This shows that the old (Steve Jobs? Phil Schiller?) guideline that “going to the press never helps” may be the most hilariously false thing Apple has ever produced.
But let’s consider the larger issues. What is wrong with the App Store approval system that a major vendor like WordPress would apparently be rejected in a way that would have been entirely final without the intervention of higher-ups? What is broken within the App Store’s culture that leads a developer to walk away feeling like his only option is to add commerce to his free app because of Apple’s apparent hunger to generate more in-app revenue?
And most troubling for the company and its prospects for the future: What does it say about Apple’s reputation in this area that so many of us jumped to the conclusion that Apple was just shaking down another developer in order to make more money?