iPhone dev knocks Apple over vague new sub rules

TinyGrab's developer says getting clarification about in-app subscription rules like "hitting a brick wall."

An iPhone developer today said trying to get information from Apple about its new subscription model is like "hitting a brick wall," and remains unsure whether his app will have to toe the new line.

Yesterday, Chris Leydon, who develops TinyGrab , a screenshot- and photo-sharing service, announced that he was stopping work on an update to the iOS app that already exists in the App Store because of Apple's new subscription rules.

Today, he backed away from that position, instead pinning hope on an unconfirmed e-mail attributed to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who allegedly said that the new subscription rules applied only to apps that delivered content, not "software-as-a-service," or SaaS apps.

"I know, it's a bit dodgy," Leydon said in an interview Tuesday, referring to the purported message from Jobs. MacRumors first reported on the Jobs message.

According to Leydon's Sunday blog, TinyGrab on iOS would run afoul of Apple's new restrictions that require developers to add in-app subscription payment because it currently sells premium subscriptions that unlock features and provide users more storage for their images.

TinyGrab on the iPhone does that now with an outside-the-app payment system that relies on PayPal. The app itself is free, but an annual premium subscription is 10 ($16.22).

"Users have to have an account, and TinyGrab won't run without one," said Leydon today. "But an in-app subscription doesn't pass along [customer information such as] an e-mail address. We need this information to tie a subscription to a TinyGrab account. We need to know which user has subscribed to TinyGrab in order to deliver their purchase to them, something that is not seemingly possible with the current system."

Leydon's asked Apple for more information, but has only received replies that reference sections of the iOS developers agreement, which spells out what is not allowed.

"It's like hitting a brick wall," Leydon said of his attempts to get Apple to clarify the rules, and whether they apply to TinyGrab. "It's an incredibly gray area. And that's infuriating."

Apple did not immediately reply to Computerworld's questions about whether SaaS apps had to follow the subscription rules, and specifically whether those rules applied to TinyGrab.

For the moment, Leydon is willing to take the e-mail credited to Jobs as Apple's official position, and will continue to work on the next iOS version of TinyGrab in the hope that it will be approved for the App Store -- even though it won't include an in-app subscription option.

"Maybe we can carry on," said Leydon. "Hopefully, we'll be able to quote [Jobs' e-mail]."

Apple unveiled its new in-app subscription model last week, and immediately was criticized for deciding that it deserves a 30 per cent take of all sub payments, and for other rules that forbid developers from linking to an outside-the-app site or charging more for in-app purchases.

Leydon isn't the only iOS developer who has complained recently about the new rules. Last week, music subscription service Rhapsody called Apple's demand for 30 per cent of all subscription revenues "economically untenable."

And on Monday, Rich Ziade, the creator of Readability, went public with the news that Apple had cited the new subscription rules when it rejected his iPhone app.

Readability, however, delivers content: It strips advertisements from Web content -- without the permission of content makers -- then republishes the material in an ad-free format. Readability says it funnels 70 per cent of its revenues to the writers and publishers of the content it grabs.

Unlike Rhapsody and Ziade, Leydon doesn't have a problem with Apple taking its 30 per cent slice.

"If they want a cut of sales, we can live with that," said Leydon. PayPal, he said, currently charges a 10 per cent fee for payments it processes for TinyGrab. "I wouldn't call the 30 per cent [Apple wants] nice, but in the grand scheme of things, it's a necessary evil."

Leydon rejects the idea forwarded by some that Apple will suffer if some developers decide to bail on iOS.

"Developers don't make the devices [successful]," Leydon argued. "Apple sells sex, and though some developers may kick and moan, the iPhone sold well long before apps appeared."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

Read more about mobile apps and services in Computerworld's Mobile Apps and Services Topic Center.

Tags AppleMobile Apps and ServiceslegalMacintosh

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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