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App Review's sudden introduction of in-app gift rule caught meditation app by surprise

Insight Timer in the App Store

Insight Timer is a popular meditation app that allows students to tip teachers directly. , but an App Review bug that took more than a year to discover forced the developer to implement in-app purchases and pay Apple a 30% fee.

Apple's internal app approval system, App Review, has proven itself to be unreliable time and time again. Despite this, Apple defends itself when it claims that the App Store is safer and better without external app marketplaces.

App Review is back in business, according to a TechCrunch story and a LinkedIn post from Insight Timer CEO Christopher Plowman. After an app update in 2022 added hints to Insight Timer, was approved by App Review, and then approved for 47 additional updates within 12 months, App Review suddenly rejected the app.

The situation is complicated, but it appears that Insight Timer misclassified in-app tips as peer-to-peer payments, per Apple's guidelines. It passed App Review at the time, despite being technically incorrect.

App Review discovered the bug in late 2023 and gave Insight Timer until February to remove the feature or force it to use in-app purchases. Previously, he used Stripe payments and avoided the 30% fee.

It wasn't Apple CEO Tim Cook stepping down from his throne and declaring the Insight Timer tipping option unconstitutional, and it wasn't a sudden rule change. This App Review corrected a mistake that should never have been made in the first place.

Plowman worked with Apple and tried to find a way to solve the problem, but, given the wording of the manual, nothing could be done. Of course, Apple could always change the wording to allow such advice.

Let's look at what exactly the rules say and what went wrong.

Apple's Clutter Guidelines

Two rules in Apple's App Review Guidelines appear to be affect hints in the application. The original report covered the first section, Section 3.2.1(vii), but appears to have overlooked the other section, Section 3.1.3(d).

Apple's app review guidelines are causing confusion for many developers.

Section 3.2.1(vii) states that people can give money to each other without using built-in applications. purchases, such as how the Cash App works. When using this method, 100% of the funds must be transferred to the recipient and must be an additional choice in the application.

However, a gift cannot be tied to the receipt of digital content or services or as part of an in-app purchase. An online meditation class is a service provided to more than one user at a time. Thus, it will fall under the digital service defined by Apple's rules.

What's missing from the original report and LinkedIn post is another guideline defining customized services. If it was not clear that classes are considered services, this is clarified in section 3.1.3(d).

3.1.3(d) Personal Services: If your application allows the purchase of personal services between two people in real time (for example, student teaching, medical consultations, real estate). tours or fitness training), you may use purchase methods other than in-app purchases to collect these payments. One-to-few and one-to-many real-time services should use in-app purchases.

This is where the confusion between App Review and the Insight Timer team occurred. When Apple enabled these gift rules to bypass in-app purchases, the Insight Timer team classified their tipping system as peer-to-peer payment.

A review of the apps back then should have caught the difference, but 47 subsequent app updates and 12 months later, the tipping system was still allowed. The sudden focus on enforcement of these regulations likely occurred with the repeal of anti-steering provisions.

Since App Review is now more mindful of in-app purchase systems related to these rules, it has meant that Insight Timer is being evaluated in a new light. The tipping system was never allowed under Apple's rules, but was allowed after misclassification of payments.

Of course, none of this exonerates Apple. The rules regarding in-app suggestions seem arbitrary, and Apple itself has written the rules it chooses to follow.

The Apple App Store rules exist to ensure that “your app quickly passes the review process”

If for some reason the existing rules today do not reflect Apple's intentions when it wrote them, then the company needs to change them. It doesn't seem right that Apple could step in and demand a portion of the tip.

However, this is not unheard of. If you've ever tipped a developer through the in-app tip jar, 30% of that amount went to Apple.

The situation underscores how Apple's rules regarding in-app purchases seem arbitrary and difficult to manage, and further demonstrates that app review is a problem. If Apple doesn't change something soon, regulation could come under pressure, which would be bad for Apple and its customers.

The rules need to be changed

As Plowman said in his Post on LinkedIn, he hopes that further discussions with Apple can change the company's mind. It's a refreshing take on Epic and Meta's combative response.

“It is important that our disagreement with Apple be expressed respectfully and constructively,” Plowman muses in his post. “We must speak louder, but not belittle. We've spent too much time building an alternative platform that values ​​generosity and compassion over greed and anger to throw it all away now.”

Apple's in-app purchase system and fees have been criticized by developers and regulators for years. If years of legal battles don't convince Apple to give developers more options, perhaps rational debate will.

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