Apple issues rare apology in latest App Store controversy, as fight with Fortnite continues

Apple forced WordPress to include purchases so it could receive a 30 percent cut, the same issue it is in a lawsuit with Epic Games over

Adam Smith@adamndsmith
Monday 24 August 2020 11:00
Epic Games troll Apple with 1984 mock advert #freefortnite

Apple has apologised and U-turned over forcing WordPress to premium plans into its iOS app.

The controversy came amid an ongoing fight between Apple and Fortnite developers Epic, over a similar issue. Developers have argued that Apple is unfairly dictating the rules of puchases within its apps, from which it takes a cut.

The new argument began on Friday, when Apple cut off the ability for WordPress to update its applications on iPhones and iPads.

“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?”, developer Matt Mullenweg tweeted.

WordPress’s iPhone and iPad apps did not sell products; WordPress’ website does allow users to purchase custom domain names and website packages, but these were not available in the app.

Apple said that in-app purchases are required when apps “allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site”, but WordPress did not offer that.

Over the weekend, however, Apple backed down. In a statement, it said that the “issue with the WordPress app has been resolved". It issued a rare apology for any "confusion" caused by the fallout.

“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 apologise for any confusion that we have caused,” the company continued.

Mullenweg tweeted that he was surprised Apple revoked its previous decision. “My understanding was the previous decision was final, and we had already made many of the arguments people suggested privately over the several weeks the app was locked.”

As The Verge notes, Apple’s statement makes it appear that WordPress made a recent change to comply with its rules. However, it seems that change was made weeks or even months ago.

While an older version of the WordPress app did mention plans available to premium customers, these were not available to buy at the time when Apple forced WordPress to implement in-app purchases.

Moreover, Mullenweg said that his offer to strip out any mention of paid plans was rejected by Apple, even though that is seemingly the change that convinced them to retract their decision.

This news comes at a time when Apple is currently battling Epic Games over in-app purchases in the video game Fortnite. Epic Games filed antitrust lawsuits in US federal courts against Apple and Google, as those companies receive a 30 percent cut of all in-app purchases, as per their policies.

Epic Games argues that is unfair, as Apple and Google dominate the smartphone and tablet ecosystem and can thereby force developers to comply with demands or lose access to all mobile users.

Apple has also shown it is already willing to adapt such policies; Amazon Prime Video only had to pay 15 percent for each in-app purchase, as part of a deal to get the app on the Apple TV.

Fortnite was subsequently removed from Apple's AppStore and the Google Play Store when it added a way to make in-app purchases directly via Epic Games, circumventing Apple and Google’s cut.

In a statement, Apple said Fortnite was removed because Epic had launched the payment feature with the “express intent of violating the App Store guidelines” after having had apps in the store for a decade.

“The fact that [Epic's] business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users,” Apple said.

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