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WordPress says Apple blocked its iOS updates for not supporting in-app purchases

Adding to the list of Apple’s strained relationship with developers, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg has said that the WordPress app on iOS hadn’t received updates in a while because Apple had locked them out of the App Store, for not supporting Apple’s mandated in-app purchases mechanism. “To be able to ship updates and bug fixes again we had to commit to support in-app purchases for .com plans,” Mullenweg said in a tweet. WordPress claims to power more than 38% of the web. We have reached out to Apple for comment.

The main issue: The WordPress iOS app allows users to build and manage websites for free, and doesn’t sell anything. WordPress.com sells ‘.com’ domains separately, and that has nothing to do with the iOS app, as it has no option for users to purchase a .com domain from within the app. So essentially, what Apple is forcing the company to do is mandatorily introduce monetisation streams in the app, even though it doesn’t need those at all. Apple will of course earn a 30% commission for every purchase that’s made from within the app, once the IAP system is introduced. Apple also recently became the world’s most valuable publicly traded company.

WordPress will follow Apple’s directions: WordPress’ iOS app was last updated on Friday (August 21), but the update before that had come three weeks ago. However, Apple only allowed the update to roll out, once WordPress caved in to its demands: Mullenweg told the Verge that brand-new in-app purchases for WordPress.com’s paid tiers, which include domain names, will be added to the app within 30 days. He also tweeted: “I am a big believer in the sanctity of licenses. (Open source relies on licenses and copyright.) We agreed to this license when we signed up for (and stayed in) the app store, so going to follow and abide by the rules. Not looking to skirt it, hence doing what they asked us to. (sic)”.

Mullenweg also told the Verge that there technically was a way that an iOS user could know that WordPress has paid tiers (support pages, or by navigating to WordPress’s site from a preview of their own webpage). However, even though WordPress offered to block iOS users from accessing those pages, Apple rejected the offer.

Apple’s actions seem to be against a policy change which is scheduled for sometime “in the summer”. In June, Apple had said that it will no longer delay bug fixes for apps already present on the App Store over guidelines violations.

Mullenweg also warned developers of apps that have similar functionality to WordPress on iOS that don’t offer in-app purchases. “I’m aware there are other apps with similar functionality to @WordPressiOS, and in the same market, that don’t offer in-app purchase. My guess is they will get similar feedback soon so I’d encourage them to start making IAP [in-app purchases] plans,” he tweeted.

Apple vs iOS developers

Over the last few months, a number of developers have spoken out against Apple’s in-app purchase system, and also the arbitrary way in which Apple imposes the policy. Digital Content Next — an association that includes New York Times and Washington Post — asked Apple how member news publishers can “qualify for the arrangement Amazon is receiving for its Amazon Prime Video app in the Apple App Store”, after it was revealed in the US Congressional antitrust hearings that Apple was allowing Amazon to keep 85% of the revenue from subscriptions on Amazon Prime on iOS.

Apple is also caught in the middle of a legal battle with Epic Games, after it removed the developers’ popular app Fortnite following the introduction of an alternate payment system within the app. Google had followed suit too, as Fortnite’s Android app had also introduced a similar system. In return, Epic sued both Apple and Google for allegedly acting as monopolies. In retaliation, Apple threatened Epic with termination of all of its developer accounts — which includes Unreal Engine — and to cut Epic from iOS and Mac development tools by August 28.

Before Epic, Microsoft, subscription email service Hey, and Match Group, the parent of dating app Tinder, have all criticised the 30% commission Apple charges over in-app purchases, while prohibiting developers to redirect users to an alternate payment method outside of the apps.

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