Apple Forced ProtonMail to Add In-App Purchases to Its Free App
Apple has always maintained complete control over the iPhone app ecosystem, but that policy is increasingly coming under scrutiny from regulators and developers. We’ve heard from a few developers who say Apple pushed them to add in-app purchases (IAPs) to their free apps, and a new congressional report features yet another tale of Apple’s IAP strong-arming. Secure email provider ProtonMail says Apple threatened to ban its app from the App Store if it didn’t start paying Apple a cut.
It’s taken a long time to get where we are now — Apple launched the App Store at a time when installing software on mobile devices was tedious and expensive. The era of $0.99 apps changed everything, and Apple raked in cash from each sale. The addition of in-app purchases several years later brought with it stricter rules. Now, developers are not permitted to provide payment options or links to purchase digital goods inside their apps because that would deprive Apple of its 30 percent share.
According to ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen, Apple targeted his company like it has the likes of Hey and WordPress. ProtonMail offers its encrypted email service free for light users, but paid accounts are available for those who need additional domains or storage. For years, Apple was content to allow ProtonMail’s app to exist with no in-app purchases. The paid plans were only sold on the website, which should have been allowed under Apple’s rules.
Yen says that Apple abruptly changed its tune in 2018 after realizing ProtonMail offered paid services. It demanded ProtonMail add in-app purchases to the app or face a ban. “There’s nothing you can say to that,” Yen told The Verge. “They are judge, jury, and executioner on their platform, and you can take it or leave it.” Numerous companies have told reporters under the condition of anonymity that Apple did the same to them.
ProtonMail complied with the demand to ensure its customers would continue to have access to the app, but the 30 percent cut was hard to swallow. To maintain its margins, ProtonMail had to make the IAP plans more expensive. Apple also threatened the company with a ban for attempting to explain this conundrum to its users.
Apple recently updated its rules to clarify that apps can remain in the App Store as “stand-alone companions to a paid web based tool.” However, Yen says his company has decided to keep the IAPs for fear of angering Apple. Since there’s no other way to distribute software on iOS, even a minor disagreement can hit a company’s bottom line. These arbitrary rules are increasingly coming under scrutiny, but Apple isn’t going to open up its walled garden lightly.