Over the weekend, Matt Mullenweg announced on Twitter that Apple’s App Store had blocked Automattic from shipping updates to WordPress’ official iOS app. Automattic doesn’t sell anything for WordPress.com or Jetpack inside the mobile apps, but the app included external purchasing methods that bypassed Apple’s requirement of selling via in-app purchases.
On the surface it seemed Apple was forcing a free app to add in-app purchases solely to extract its 30% cut of the revenue. The problem was if users drilled down deep enough into web help pages, they could find a window to escape the walled garden. While this seems like an unlikely way that a user would purchase an upgrade, Apple held the app’s updates hostage in order to gain full compliance from Automattic.
“There are a few convoluted ways you can get to our web app from within previews, documentation, etc.,” Mullenweg said in the Twitter conversation. “We offered to block based on user agent server-side, but that was not deemed sufficient.”
In a rare congenial response from Apple, the company apologized and reversed course 24 hours later, but not before Automattic had already acquiesced to adding in-app purchases. In a statement provided to MacRumors, Apple said the issue has been resolved, although it did not specify if this happened weeks ago:
We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. 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 apologize for any confusion that we have caused.
The Official WordPress Apps Need to Be Separate from Automattic’s Commercial Interests
Automattic’s control of WordPress’ official mobile apps has long been a controversial issue in the open source community. Since the company heavily subsidizes the apps’ development, its agenda for the apps goes completely unrivaled. This is why the official apps contain WordPress.com and Jetpack-specific features that are unnecessary for many self-hosted site owners.
Although the apps are open source, historically, they have rarely received contribution from developers outside Automattic due to the complexity of the code. This hasn’t changed. In 2016, when version 5.7 of the apps came out for iOS and Android, it looked like Automattic was pushing forward on building an upgrade path for WordPress.com plans. At that time, features for self-hosted sites began to lag behind significantly. Automattic mobile engineer Maxime Biais said the commitment to support both was equal.
“WordPress.com features are not prioritized over self hosted,” he said. “When we can implement things for both we do it, but when we can’t (like when we don’t have the XMLRPC endpoint) we do it for WordPress.com and usually ask Core
This article was written by Sarah Gooding and originally published on WordPress Tavern.