Insight Timer CEO upset over Apple's abrupt implementation of app store rules [updated]

Julie Clover

Apple has upset another app developer with its arbitrary enforcement of App Store rules. Insight Timer CEO Christopher Plowman took to LinkedIn this week and spoke with TechCrunch to complain about his disappointing experience with the ‌App Store‌ review team.

Insight Timer is a subscription-based meditation app. Clients pay $60 a year for access to guided meditations, yoga classes and other teacher-led courses. In addition to the subscription fee, Insight Timer accepts tips for teachers, which is where the controversy lies.

In 2022, Insight Timer began allowing app users to give their teachers digital donations or tips. , and these donations were initially exempt from Apple's 30 percent fee on digital goods according to the Apple ‌App Store‌ rules. Apple approved 47 Insight Timer updates with the tipping feature, but late last year Apple's review team decided that those payments were not considered tips but rather purchases of digital goods, causing the ‌App Store‌ fee for in-app purchase.

App Store Rule 3.2.1 vii states that apps may allow users to give gifts to others without using in-app purchases, provided that the gift is an optional choice and 100 percent of the funds go to the recipient of the gift. This was the case with the Insight Timer as it did not take a tip, but the individual wording became murky, as well as the addition to this rule, which states that the gift is “associated with or related to any moment in life.” time with digital content” requires in-app purchases.

Apple took issue with Insight Timer's acceptance of tips for live events and meditations, deciding that the money was earmarked for digital content. Plowman disagreed with Apple's assessment and spent months negotiating. Apple has agreed to allow links to tips on teacher profile pages for which the 30 percent fee is waived, but donations from live events and meditations do not count as tips. Apple's reasoning is that an individual donation is a monetary gift, and a workshop or class involving at least two people is digital content for which a fee is charged.

Plowman suggested that the meditation experience and yoga are no more digital than an Airbnb rental or an Uber ride, and Apple does not charge a commission on such purchases.

Just like homeowners don't have to pay Apple 30% of their Airbnb income (imagine the outrage), teachers also don't have to pay Apple 30% of their donation income. Many Insight Timer teachers are doctors, nurses, and teachers who return home from their day jobs to work on Insight Timer in the evenings to generate important extra income. They spend their personal time recording audio responses to class questions, responding to user feedback, hosting live events, writing music, creating guided meditations, and facilitating discussion groups. There is nothing “digital” about this experience, no matter how distorted the definition is. The more teachers work, the more they earn. The correlation is clear, and the term “digital content” simply doesn't apply.

Of the $60 subscription fee customers pay, Apple collects 15 to 30 percent. The remainder is split between Insight Timer and teachers participating on the platform, with each receiving a 50 percent share. Insight Timer had $20 million in subscription revenue in 2023.

Apple required Insight Timer to be ‌App Store‌ rules for submitting further application updates with a deadline in February. This week, Insight Timer complied with that requirement by introducing an update that removes the tipping feature except for teacher profiles. Plowman says that while he's disappointed, he believes Apple is willing to listen and that the company can be persuaded to change. He asks people to share his story, but in a constructive way.

Update: Apple says that while it initially approved the tipping feature attached to a user's profile, tipping for live broadcasts and digital content was not enabled until August 2023. This is when it indicates that the Insight Timer update was rejected. During its time with Insight Timer, Apple approved 17 updates to the application, and in November 2023, Insight Timer was informed that the problem should be fixed by February 2024.

According to Apple, the latest Insight Timer update with the requested changes has been approved and no further action is required.

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