On Friday, the internet erupted in a small way to learn that Apple had successfully forced WordPress to monetize its free app — forcing it to sell premium plans and custom domain names seemingly just so that Apple could get its traditional 30 percent cut.
But one afternoon and evening of surprise and outrage later, Apple is backing off. The company is issuing a rare on-the-record apology, and it says that WordPress will no longer have to add in-app purchases now that all is said and done.
Here’s Apple’s full statement:
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.
You’ll notice that Apple is positioning this as the developer — WordPress — having done the right thing and removed the “display of their service payment options from the app,” and to my knowledge that is technically true. But as far as I’m aware, that didn’t happen today: it happened weeks or months ago.
While as of yesterday, the WordPress app didn’t sell a single thing and didn’t so much as mention a paid “Wordpress.com” plan unless you followed an unlikely workaround, I was able to track down a fellow journalist this weekend who had a much older version of the app, one with a dedicated “Plans” tab that listed some of the different plans available to premium customers:
That said, my source told me there was no ability to purchase any of those plans — and I can confirm the entire “Plans” section had already been removed by the time WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg told us Apple had successfully forced him to add Apple’s in-app purchases (IAP). (Originally, he’d said Apple locked him out of updating the app unless he added Apple IAP within 30 days.)
What’s more, Mullenweg told us that he had previously offered to strip other mentions of the paid plans out of the app (even workarounds like when a user views a preview of their own WordPress webpage and then navigates to WordPress.com), only to have those suggestions rejected by Apple.
So, to the best of my knowledge, this isn’t WordPress caving yet again. Apple simply seems to have decided that trying to extract its cut from a free app — by forcing in-app purchases — isn’t a hill worth dying on today.
Update, 8:52 PM ET: The news apparently came as a surprise to WordPress’s Matt Mullenweg, who has a new Twitter thread here.
I did not expect the previous tweet to get attention outside the WP community. My understanding was the previous decision was final, and we had already made many of the arguments people suggested privately over the several weeks the app was locked.
— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) August 23, 2020
Update, August 23rd, 5:40 PM ET: In case you’re wondering, WordPress’s Matt Mullenweg is denying that WordPress itself submitted an update that would have allowed iOS users to purchase premium plans: “There was no link to the plans page, and no direct way to buy plans from inside the app,” he tells The Verge.
Update, 10:49 PM ET: Please see this tweet of mine as well:
Update: I’ve been digging into the idea that WordPress actually intended to add in-app purchases all along, and the answer is a resounding “maybe”.
This single GitHub entry has most of the answer: https://t.co/2gFbsU6Q4J
In 2016, it was on the roadmap.
By 2019, it wasn’t.
— Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) August 24, 2020