Apple to App Store developers: Here's how you can now challenge our decisions

Facing scrutiny by European competition regulators, Apple now lets developers challenge its App Store guidelines.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Apple is offering more avenues for contesting its App Store review decisions by allowing developers to challenge the guidelines themselves. And it says it won't block bug fixes over guideline violations.  

The company's App Store review processes have been in the spotlight after it blocked an update to Hey, a new email app from developer Basecamp because Hey lacked an in-app purchase option for signing up to its $99-a-year service. 

Instead, Basecamp wanted subscriptions to be processed through its own website, avoiding the 30% revenue share Apple would receive on the subscription's first year and a 15% cut every year afterwards if it was handled by Apple's in-app payments.

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Apple yesterday decided to approve the previously blocked bug fix for Hey, even though it still didn't have in-app purchases. 

Along with approving the Hey update, Apple also announced two key changes to the App Store app-review process for developers. 

Apple said it would no longer delay bug fixes for already-approved apps over guideline violations, except for those related to legal issues. This move is designed to let developers address any issue in their next submission. 

Developers will now also have a mechanism for challenging App Store Review Guidelines, rather than only being able to appeal Apple's decisions about whether an app violates a guideline. 

Basecamp in the meantime has redesigned Hey approximately in line with a suggestion by Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing. 

Schiller said Hey could "offer a free or paid version of the app with basic email reading features on the App Store, then separately offered an upgraded email service that worked with the Hey app on iOS on its own website".

Hey's next update makes it a free iOS app that lets users sign up within the app to a "free, temporary, randomized @hey.com email address that works for 14 days". 

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Whether that change actually meets Apple's guidelines remains to be seen. Apple is currently reviewing the new update for the app, according to Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson.

"We firmly believe we did what @pschiller asked us to do, but Apple still holds all the power. All we can do now is pray that feverishly working the Father's Day weekend is enough to appease Apple," he wrote. 

The timing of Basecamp's dispute with Apple is bad for the iPhone-maker. The European Commission last week opened an investigation into whether Apple's App Store policies violate European competition law. The commission is looking at how developers are required to use Apple's in-app purchases following a complaint by Spotify.  

Microsoft president Brad Smith also thinks it's time for competition regulators in the US and Europe to look more closely at app store business practices.

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