Apple OKs email app at center of fight ahead of Monday's conference

Basecamp said in its blog post that a new version of its app submitted on Monday provides a free option inside the iOS app that includes a temporary email address.
Image: Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during the 2018 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) at the San Jose Convention Center on June 4, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

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By Kif Leswing, CNBC

Apple approved a software update to a paid email app after its makers complained that the rules for Apple’s App Store were unfair, spurring a round of developer anger ahead of Apple’s annual software conference that kicks off Monday.

Basecamp, the makers of Hey email, said on Monday in a blog post that a minor update to its app was approved on Friday night. Basecamp previously said that Apple threatened to remove its new service from the App Store, which is the only way for most people to install Basecamp’s software on an iPhone.

“A sincere thanks to Apple for their change of heart,” Basecamp CEO Jason Fried wrote in the post.

Last week, updated versions of Hey were rejected over a dispute about whether Basecamp needed to use Apple’s in-app purchase method to give iPhone users an option to subscribe to the service, of which Apple takes a 30% cut in the first year.

Senior Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller, who runs the App Store, responded to the Hey app controversy in an interview in TechCrunch where he said Apple’s primary objection to the Hey email app was that, when users download it, users can’t do anything unless they already have a Hey subscription. That’s why Apple felt that, under its store policies, Basecamp needed to offer an in-app purchase to subscribe to the service.

Basecamp said in its blog post that a new version of its app submitted on Monday provides a free option inside the iOS app that includes a temporary email address, so that the app works when users first open it. To use the service after 14 days, users still need a Hey subscription, which is still not offered through Apple in-app purchases. That version of the app hasn’t been approved yet.

An Apple representative wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The Hey app update rejection was one of a number of developments last week that drew attention to App Store rules, which some developers say hurt consumers and software makers. Government officials in the U.S. and Europe are also closely scrutinizing Apple’s app store for anti-competitive behavior.

The tension is timely. Apple’s annual software development conference, WWDC, starts on Monday and will take the form of a series of videos and Cisco WebEx calls because of the coronavirus pandemic.