Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
WordPress, the iOS app, lets you build and manage a website right from your iPhone or iPad, for free.
Now, WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg is accusing Apple of cutting off the ability to update that app — until or unless he adds in-app purchases so the most valuable company in the world can extract its 30 percent cut of the money.
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
Here’s the thing: the WordPress app on iOS doesn’t sell anything. I just checked, and so did Stratechery’s Ben Thompson. The app simply lets you make a website for free. There isn’t even an option to buy a unique dot-com or even dot-blog domain name from the iPhone and iPad app — it simply assigns you a free WordPress domain name and 3GB of space.
To be clear, the app doesn’t sell anything, and why would it? It’s an open source project. Apple is requiring the addition of functionality that has no plausible reason to exist.
— Ben Thompson (@benthompson) August 21, 2020
Apple admitted to The Verge that it’s involved, reminding us that in-app purchases are required whenever apps “allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site.” But again, the WordPress app doesn’t sell anything itself, and it sounds like you can’t do anything special with anything you’ve purchased from WordPress.com (beyond uploading additional files or selecting website themes) from the app, either.
While Mullenweg says there technically was a roundabout way for an iOS to find out that WordPress has paid tiers (they could find it buried in support pages, or by navigating to WordPress’s site from a preview of their own webpage), he says that Apple rejected his offer to block iOS users from seeing the offending pages.
Mullenweg tells The Verge he’s not going to fight it anymore, though — he will add brand-new in-app purchases for WordPress.com’s paid tiers, which include domain names, within 30 days. Apple has agreed to allow Automattic to update the app while it waits. (The last update was issued yesterday.)
In other words, Apple won: the richest company in the world just successfully forced an app developer to monetize an app so it could make more money. It’s just the latest example of Apple’s fervent attempts to guard its cash cow resulting in a decision that doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t live up to Apple’s ethos (real or imagined) of putting the customer experience ahead of all else.
Mullenweg, of course, is only one of those speaking out publicly about the Apple tax and the company’s uneven enforcement of its rules. Yesterday, a group of major news publishers banded together to ask why Amazon, and not them, should get a sweetheart deal that allows the giant e-tailer to pay 15 percent instead of 30 percent for Prime Video. And all of this, of course, is happening in the shadow of Epic Games’ gigantic fight against Apple, one that Apple responded to this very afternoon, complete with a cache of emails from Epic’s own Tim Sweeney. You might want to give these links a look:
Interestingly, Mullenweg tells us his tweet was really for the WordPress community, not necessarily to rile up anger against the Apple tax; he says he anticipates pushback from the community when they suddenly see WordPress asking them if they’d like to purchase a .com upgrade.
Update, 6:44 PM ET: Added comment and confirmation from WordPress’s Mullenweg that the company has already caved; it has agreed to add in-app purchases within 30 days.
Update, 7:50 PM ET: Added that WordPress will specifically be adding in-app purchases for its paid plans (which include domain names), not simply its domain name purchases.
Update, 9:11 PM ET: Added Apple comment, and more details from Mullenweg about what Apple rejected.