- WordPress is adding in-app purchases to its previously free iOS app after claiming Apple prevented it from making updates until the change was made, The Verge reported Friday.
- WordPress’ founding developer said in a tweet Friday that Apple cut off developers from making updates to the app unless they started letting users buy domain names within the app — a service the app doesn’t currently include.
- The Verge reported that WordPress agreed, meaning Apple effectively pressured a free app into monetizing itself, allowing it to take a 30% commission on future purchases.
- Apple’s App Store policies, particularly its requirement that app developers use Apple’s payment systems and give the company a 30% cut, has frustrated developers for years — and recently, lawmakers who say it’s monopolistic behavior.
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Apple’s battle with app developers heated up again Friday after WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg claimed that the company locked developers out from making updates until it added in-app purchases to the free iOS app, The Verge reported.
“Heads up on why @WordPress iOS updates have been absent… we were locked by App Store. To be able to ship updates and bug fixes again we had to commit to support in-app purchases for .com plans,” Mullenweg tweeted Friday.
“I know why this is problematic, open to suggestions,” he added.
Mullenweg’s tweet referenced Apple’s policy requiring app developers to utilize the company’s own payment systems for any purchases made on iOS apps, of which Apple then takes a 30% commission.
The policy has drawn the ire of developers for years, but the crackdown on the WordPress app is even more controversial because the app doesn’t currently offer any purchases at all, and there’s not a good reason why it would.
WordPress, the hugely popular website builder that powers around a third of the internet, is open-source, meaning people don’t pay to create websites using it. WordPress.com, on the other hand, is a commercial entity that helps users create sites built on that open-source software, and it makes money by selling domain names and other paid website hosting and management services.
WordPress.com also develops the “WordPress” iOS app (that Apple took action against on Friday), which lets users create and manage WordPress-based sites for free — whether or not they pay WordPress.com for a premium domain name.
But because the app is developed by the commercial entity, Apple decided that WordPress.com needed to offer an option to purchase those premium domain names through the app — a 30% cut of those purchases would then go to Apple.
An Apple spokesperson told Business Insider that, per App Store policies, apps — including WordPress — operating across multiple platforms can let users access a service on their iOS app that they paid for on a different platform (such as a website), but the developers then have to offer the ability to purchase that service in the app, too.
That reasoning has angered the open-source community because the app itself is associated by users with the open-source WordPress project — not the paid services offered by WordPress.com — so they see it as unfair to force the developers to monetize a free app that isn’t designed to make money in the first place.
As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson put it in a tweet: “I am admittedly puzzled as to why Apple is denying me updates to the open source app for my open source web site because one user of that app happens to sell domains.”
—Ben Thompson (@benthompson) August 21, 2020
Mullenweg told The Verge that WordPress has already agreed to comply with Apple’s demands and within 30 days will add in-app purchase options for the paid services offered by WordPress.com. Apple’s spokesperson told Business Insider the company approved WordPress’ latest update while they work on bringing the app into compliance.
Apple’s actions against WordPress come barely a week after Epic Games, the maker of the popular video game “Fortnite,” launched lawsuits against Apple and Google over the same in-app purchase policy (Google also collects 30% on purchases). The lawsuits have rallied several major app developers behind Epic, including Facebook, Spotify, and Match Group (which owns dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Match, and OkCupid).
The legal challenges thrust both Apple and Google back into the antitrust spotlight just weeks after their CEOs were grilled during a congressional hearing by lawmakers who argued the companies were unfairly using their size and market power to stifle competition and asked Apple CEO Tim Cook specific questions about how Apple treats developers.