Apple Temporarily Blocks WordPress Updates in App Store for Being a Free App

WordPress is the latest brand to be kicked out of the app store. Apple contends that it must sell something via the app so it can get a 30% cut.

As so many of you know, WordPress is a free CMS (Content Management System). You can build websites via WordPress. If you have a customized skin, you have an entire website ready to go. WordPress is, of course, free to download and use. You can either get a self-hosted alternative or, if you are like us, you can simply install it on your own server. It’s a free and open source project, so all one really needs is the dedication to produce content.

So, imagine the surprise WordPress had when Apple decided to block all of the projects updates in the app store. Apple says that the app doesn’t give 30% of revenue to Apple. The problem is, WordPress is free, so 30% of nothing is still nothing. That apparently didn’t matter and Apple demanded that WordPress implement in-app purchases anyway so that Apple can get a 30% cut. From the Verge:

Now, WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg is accusing Apple of cutting off the ability to update that app — until or unless he adds in-app purchases so the most valuable company in the world can extract its 30 percent cut of the money.

Here’s the thing: the WordPress app on iOS doesn’t sell anything. I just checked, and so did Stratechery’s Ben Thompson. The app simply lets you make a website for free. There isn’t even an option to buy a unique dot-com or even dot-blog domain name from the iPhone and iPad app — it simply assigns you a free WordPress domain name and 3GB of space.

Apple admitted to The Verge that it’s involved, reminding us that in-app purchases are required whenever apps “allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site.” But again, the WordPress app doesn’t sell anything itself, and it sounds like you can’t do anything special with anything you’ve purchased from WordPress.com (beyond uploading additional files or selecting website themes) from the app, either.

While Mullenweg says there technically was a roundabout way for an iOS user to find out that WordPress has paid tiers (they could find it buried in support pages, or by navigating to WordPress’s site from a preview of their own webpage), he says that Apple rejected his offer to block iOS users from seeing the offending pages.

Mullenweg tells The Verge he’s not going to fight it anymore, though — he will add brand-new in-app purchases for WordPress.com’s paid tiers, which include domain names, within 30 days. Apple has agreed to allow Automattic to update the app while it waits. (The last update was issued yesterday.)

In other words, Apple won: the richest company in the world just successfully forced an app developer to monetize an app so it could make more money. It’s just the latest example of Apple’s fervent attempts to guard its cash cow resulting in a decision that doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t live up to Apple’s ethos (real or imagined) of putting the customer experience ahead of all else.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an app get kicked out of the app store. Earlier this month, Apple kicked Fortnite out of the app store. In response, Epic, the makers of the game, filed a lawsuit against Apple contending that their actions is an anti-trust issue.

What this latest incident shows is a pattern of behavior that doesn’t exactly show Apple in a positive light. While the issue has technically been resolved for now, it’s certainly not something to be dismissed either.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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