Well, that was a quick turnaround. On Friday, we reported that Apple was holding the WordPress iOS app hostage. It wouldn’t allow any updates until Automattic agreed to add new in-app purchases for its separate domain sales. By the end of the weekend, Apple backpedaled and even apologized.
From beginning to end, it was a strange turn of events. The WordPress iOS app, if you’re unfamiliar, has never had any in-app purchases (IAP). The app solely exists to let users create or modify WordPress based sites. If you don’t own a domain, it creates a free WordPress-associated address.
In a second, unrelated, venture, you can buy domains from WordPress.com to use with your WordPress sites (or any type of website theoretically). According to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and its parent company Automattic, Apple wanted a cut of those sales.
Heads up on why @WordPressiOS 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. I know why this is problematic, open to suggestions. Allow others IAP? New name?
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) August 21, 2020
The company insisted that the WordPress app get an update to include IAPs for domain sales, and hand a 30% cut to Apple. Mullenweg explained that the app didn’t refer to the domain business, or even mention it. At best, it was possible to learn of the paid tiers through the app’s support pages, but Apple wouldn’t settle for simply removing that.
Surprisingly, Mullenweg relented and had promised to add the IAPs for paid tiers. Even more surprisingly, Apple changed its mind and won’t require the update after all.
I am very grateful that folks at Apple re-reviewed @WordPressiOS and have let us know we do not need to implement in-app purchases to be able to continue to update the app. Bad news travels faster than good, usually, so please consider sharing that they reversed course.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) August 23, 2020
In a statement issued to The Verge, the company explains:
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.
Oddly, Apple’s wording suggests that WordPress did something recently to change the equation, but that’s not true. A quick check of older versions of the WordPress iOS app confirms that the app displayed options for paid tiers months ago, but a few weeks ago, that wasn’t the case.
And remember, Mullenweg offered to remove even the buried mention of paid tier plans, but Apple said that wasn’t good enough. The company’s statement for the change of heart doesn’t line up cleanly with the facts at hand. But the apology is a nice touch.
On a related note, Apple and Epic are currently fighting over IAPs. Apple is even threatening to cut off Epic’s developer access altogether, which would have drastic effects on third-party developers who depend on Unreal Engine. The latest bout with WordPress was poor timing at best.