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TinyGrab abandons iOS because of new App Store rules (tinygrab.com)
142 points by st3fan on Feb 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

I wonder how this works for apps connecting to APIs that they don't own. For example, if I'm not 37signals and I make a Basecamp app, would it get rejected because I don't have access to their billing API?

Along the same lines, how would this affect an email client that connects to a paid email service? Would be accessing content purchased outside the device?

If Apple really does go so far as to claim that then someone needs to challenge them on it legally, this is going too far. Or maybe we need a $.99 boycot or something, not buying apps.

Speaking of paid email services, there's no way to subscribe to Mobile Me with an in-app purchase. If Apple cared about fairly enforcing the rules, they'd yank iDisk and Find My iPhone until in-app subscription to Mobile Me was added.

A small quibble: the Find My iPhone service is free for all iPhone4 (maybe all?) owners. That is a good point though, although the rule doesn't come into effect until June.

I was just wondering about that.

Company X comes out with a subscription service and provides an API.

Company Y develops an iPhone app using said API. Company Y doesn't charge anything after the price of the app.

Sounds like it's strictly following the rules, though if that app were to be accepted in the appstore, then companies could just publish an API and pay some developer to develop and release the app on their own. Looks like a loop hole doesn't it?

"Luckily for TinyGrab for Mac users we still have TinyGrab.com and Apple haven’t, yet, prevented anyone from downloading apps from the world wide web and installing them on their Macs without the Mac App Store."

Key word: "yet."

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean it isn't true.

Honestly, I don't think blocking paying customers from installing applications and using root permissions effectively is a sound business strategy for the desktop / laptop / OS X market. A macbook pro is fundamentally different from an iphone.

What is the difference that making an iPhone owner unable to install applications? Or why is it allowed on a MacBook?

People expect to have root access to their computers. That has always been the standard and Apple can't change it. People don't generally expect to have root access to their phones. Apple is largely responsible for establishing that standard.

Carrier-locked phones with appstores were the standard long before iPhones came out. See: crappy verizon flip-phones with the BREW store. Fair enough that people might not remember them so well though, because there was literally nothing worth buying on any of them.

This feels more like a good marketing attempt by TinyGrab than the real deal. For starters, just like many other services calling foul, TinyGrab has not removed its app from the app store. Everyone is waiting out the deadline for compliance which seems to indicate that companies are hoping Apple will change course and are more or less playing a game of chicken in the meantime.

Many of the issues they also explain as problems can be resolved in their case. For instance while Apple will have the registration data, they could set up a way for customers to allow access to other devices.

What we're more likely seeing that they have 3 reviews since their version 2 release in December, is that TinyGrab just is not that popular on the iPhone. They could make the changes, but it wouldn't be worth the trouble. So, whether intentionally or not, they've made a blog press release that will get a good deal of attention and probably be more valuable to them then doing nothing and staying on the app store as is.

This feels more like a good marketing attempt by TinyGrab than the real deal.

Are you saying their analysis is wrong and the new terms of the Apple store will permit their app?

This is an honest question, I totally don't understand Apple's development and distribution model.

I think they are correct, Apple could reject their app based on the TOS. Its unclear whether or not they would. I imagine this will be rather murky for a while for all apps of this sort.

What I mean by not the real deal though is that TinyGrab doesn't appear to have much of a presence on iOS devices. Apple could have possibly said, "We need 200 hours of additional programming work from you or we'll reject your app in the future" and they may have bailed. One indicator of this is their complaints of the $99 developer fee. I think most successful companies would welcome a small yearly fee simply because it would reduce the number of low quality competing apps entering their market place. A small yearly fee helps ensure to some degree that the app developer has some serious intentions to create something meaningful.

A lot of the complaining is fully justified. There are other cases like Rhapsody where the company has over 700k subscribers in the US and the CEO has admitted most of these users listen to Rhapsody through an iOS device. That has real implications for them as a subscriber service with small margins. In TinyGrab's case though, they could work around the terms of service and still provide access to their user base. They might have to take a large cut in their subscription fee, or increase their prices, but for a basic screenshot/share service they have options.

The fact they are not pursuing those options, or at least publicly saying they won't be, indicates to me they either have a smart PR team that realized the opportunity here or they just are not successful enough on iOS to justify continuing anyways.

Would you have them continue to use their time developing for the iOS platform despite the changes being accepted or rejected is a function of who they get to review their application and how strictly they follow their own rules? Didn't Apple post the guidelines to avoid this exact situation?

And what if they are small? How many companies had a large user-base from the beginning? Also, while small companies may not be of much interest to the readers of HN, they make up a decent chunk of the world's economy.

Honestly, it feels like they are trying to add to the pressure on Apple to drop this ridiculous cash-grab. If in the process they get some free publicity, all the better for them.

I don't disagree. Its a risk, but keep in mind Rhapsody had this same risk just trying to get their app approved initially. They can work around the TOS to get approved as well, thats part of my point. They are just a screenshot and share service.

In terms of them being small, thats fine too. I'm just stating things as I see it. The company is not stopping production because they can't come up with a solution, its that it likely is not worth their time because they are not all that successful on iOS.

In terms of pressure, this really does nothing to Apple. Rhapsody, Netflix, and Kindle are much bigger deals. It will be the big service providers that push the pressure on Apple.

Not to mention the world moving with its feet to Android.

A lot of tech people seem to be in love with the iPhone and the press made it seem like the only smartphone in town for a few years there. But realistically I don't think it's ever had more than a minority market share of high end phones.

Apple has historically been very comfortable with a minority share of the market, but I doubt their stockholders will have infinite patience to sit and watch Android eat up its market share _and_ developer mindshare _and_ all the top-brand content provider deals.

I think Apple shareholders are pretty happy to have 50% profits share with 5% market share.

I may be missing something, but this seems like a mostly unnecessary move by Apple. At least it doesn't need to be so strong. What exactly are they trying to prevent here, developers getting around the 30% cut to Apple, crappy user experience?

For apps where it genuinely makes sense to have an in-app subscription option, developers will most likely add it in anyway. The increased conversion rate will make it worth it in many cases.

Not good enough? Start using app store exposure as a stick & carrot.

Don't want people to load an app and immediately be told to go sign up online? Ban apps that rely on subscriptions.

So, how long until Cydias app-store becomes the de facto app-store for subscription services?

Never. Recall how many millions iOS users are there, and how many of them have ability to jailbreak their devices. Then how many would want to. I do program for iOS and I am not a bit interested in Cydia.

Sure. Until you have to use Cydia to keep Pandora, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and half a dozen others. Then you have a $600 brick that refuses to do half the things you bought it for.

This actually sounds very likely if Apple kicks those four companies out of the app store, as it seems likely they will.

Well maybe not for you but Grooveshark moved to Cydia after it was kicked out of the AppStore...

This sucks... For Tinygrab.

iOS users will find an alternative.

iOS + mac users will leave Tinygrab for a system that still works in iOS

The user loses 5 minutes of sign up time. Tinygrab loses income.

Shame there's no way of sending all users to the Tinygrab site for sign up as that'd negate the 30%. but then apple would moan it's a feature that should be available in the app and you're back to square 1

but then apple would moan it's a feature that should be available in the app and you're back to square 1

Well, Apple's explicitly disallowed this in their rules. You have to provide in-app subscription, and you can't send users to the website to sign up regardless.

I guess I'd better stop waiting for Amazon to provide me with an iPhone app that lets me launch Cluster GPU instances.

We prefer this method of buying software compared to pesky license keys for a couple of reasons. First of all it reduces piracy, you don’t get many people sharing their login details to an online service.

I thought that the version of in-app purchases that's dependent on a back-end server hasn't yet been hacked.

I can't help but wonder if Apple would allow developers to follow the letter of the law, but attempt to circumvent the revenue drain via UI. Which is to say: Provide subscription options through both web and iOS APIs, but specifically advise users that signing up through iOS is damaging to the survival of the service, and strongly encouraging them to use a user-friendly UIWebView to sign up instead. Perhaps even non-monetary rewards could be attached to avoiding the iOS signup process (badges, points, etc.)

Not that I put it past Apple to reject it anyway. Just wondering how far that line could be pushed.

From the Review Guidelines:

11.14 -- Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchasing content to be used in the app, such as a “buy" button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected

I'd say it's safe to assume they'd reject you for even asking users to sign up through Safari, instead.

I knew you could allow subscriptions that signed up on the web, but I had no idea you couldn't even link to it from inside your app. Jeebus.

The page didn't load for me. So here is the cached version.

We love Apple, we really do. Let’s face it, without them TinyGrab just wouldn’t exist and none of us would be reading this right now; for this we’re incredibly indebted to them. The homebrew and independent app development community for OS X is wonderful and vibrant. It’s profitable and turns out amazingly good apps. Until iOS was on the scene I think it’s safe to say that the OS X development community was top dog. OS X users are also the most supportive when it comes to independent apps, unlike their Windows counterparts, they’re actually used to paying for software that doesn’t come in a box.

Right now we’re in a spot of bother. TinyGrab’s the strongest we’ve ever been. We have an incredibly tight and talented team and we’re getting ready to kick ass again, but we’ve just hit a major setback in the form of Apple’s new guidelines for subscriptions in iOS and OS X apps. As many of you know TinyGrab is actually a free app, our revenue model comes from selling premium accounts through our site. TinyGrab was one of the first apps around where you had to have an account in order to use the software. We prefer this method of buying software compared to pesky license keys for a couple of reasons. First of all it reduces piracy, you don’t get many people sharing their login details to an online service. The second reason being that you can take your TinyGrab account with you anywhere. Install the app on as many machines as you want, on as many platforms, all without additional cost. It’s fair on our users and also allows us to introduce a nifty little web based account system.

Apple would now like a slice of our pie, which is fair enough. We’re more than willing to give Apple a cut of the sales that they assist in, but we can’t. They simply won’t let us. Never mind the fact that 30% is a ridiculous amount to ask us to fork over, considering that we already pay $99 a year for the privilege to develop apps for the Mac App Store and a further $99 a year to develop apps for the iOS store. Never mind that Apple also get a cut of any revenue that we generate from selling our apps through their stores, they now want in on our account and subscription service. However by doing this they’ve just prevented and locked us out of ever being able to introduce the TinyGrab app into the Mac App Store, as well as not being able to ship updates to the TinyGrab iPhone app. Here’s why…

Remember that account system we sell via TinyGrab.com? Well if you’re a paying customer it actually unlocks features in the app which are closed off to free users. These are features like FTP uploads. Infringement Number 1: “Apps that unlock or enable additional features or functionality with mechanisms other than the App Store, except as approved in section 11.13, will be rejected” We currently sell our accounts from TinyGrab.com through PayPal. We can’t actually use Apple’s In App Purchasing system because they won’t pass on a user’s data to us, they also prevent you from purchasing goods that exist outside of the app and the app store. So, for example, it prevents you from actually buying a TinyGrab account because the account is a real world purchase and doesn’t lay within the jurisdiction of Apple. Infringement Numbers 2 & 3. “Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected”

“Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected” The move to TinyGrab 2.0 will see accounts that expire after a limited time if you don’t renew your subscription. Infringement Number 4.

“Apps containing “rental” content or services that expire after a limited time will be rejected” And the final infringements are, of course, about the IAP revenue split.

“Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchasing content to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected”

“Apps offering subscriptions must do so using IAP, Apple will share the same 70/30 revenue split with developers for these purchases, as set forth in the Developer Program License Agreement.”

You might think that these are simple issues to fix, but we can’t actually fix them all. We can’t provide a free TinyGrab version in the app store and then sell a version on our site, because you still require an account to login. Apple wants a slice of that pie and we can’t give it to them; in other words they’ve locked us out.

We really want to be part of the app revolution on OS X and iOS but it looks as though that may no longer be able to happen, until Apple fix these issues and welcome us in again. I’m sad to say that as of today we can no longer provide development support to iOS, officially, through the app store. Until Apple loosen up on their restrictions we’re ceasing all active development on TinyGrab for iPhone. Please don’t see this as a punishment, we hate to have to do this to our users, but we’ve been fenced out. Today I’m also having to announce that TinyGrab also won’t be seen in the Mac App Store. Unfortunately we can’t be a part of this wonderful purchasing platform for the same reasons that we can no longer officially support TinyGrab for iPhone.

Luckily for TinyGrab for Mac users we still have TinyGrab.com and Apple haven’t, yet, prevented anyone from downloading apps from the world wide web and installing them on their Macs without the Mac App Store. So we aren’t going anywhere just yet. In fact we’re even trying to get a stable version of TinyGrab 2.0 for Mac out this week. Apple’s new stance on subscriptions and accounts in applications is incredibly disappointing. At the moment we’re working incredibly closely with Intel to get TinyGrab for Windows onto their AppUp store. Intel have been incredibly friendly and helpful, they currently don’t have a subscription model in place but still allow us to have our app on their store and sell TinyGrab accounts through our own site. When they introduce a subscription service we’ll more than happily switch our payment system over in order to give Intel their fair share of any sales we make. I’m incredibly happy to be working with a company that is actively encouraging and working closely with developers in order to get it right. Apple’s new greedy model doesn’t just affect the developers of applications, it also has a horrible adverse effect on end users.

We love all of our supporters and all of our users. Thank you for continuing to use TinyGrab and for being the best community we could ever hope for. We promise to keep developing the best simple and social screenshot sharing service for Mac, Windows and whatever new platforms tickle our fancy.

Chris Leydon

TinyGrab Project Manager.

I agree. With many applications it makes no sense to buy anything 'in app'. The app I was working on (now halted) would require information from an online account, that would not work in reverse. I can understand this thinking behind this for real in app purchasing. But it definitely locks out apps that enhance functionality cross-platform service.

Sad, but many people saw this coming when Apple announced the new terms. It's just another step for Apple being more restrictive. What's next?

I understand the issue with Readability, Kindle, etc, but in this case, I'm having a hard time understanding why they simply can't charge for the app in the App Store. Their first reason is that using online accounts reduces piracy. However, while there is some iOS piracy, it's sufficiently difficult (jailbreaking, etc) that anyone that wants to pay for the app will do so. The second reason is that having an online account allows people to use the app on multiple devices, but the App Store explicitly allows multiple installations of a purchased app on multiple iOS devices, and I suspect that the number of people that want to use the app on multiple platforms (iOS, Android, etc) but wouldn't buy it more than once is quite small. Most people that can afford an iOS device and an Android device can afford to buy a $5 app for each device.

Looks like it's because they use the account to actually store meaningful data online, not just for anti-piracy and to allow cross-device use, and they rely on the signup process to grab account info which the App Store doesn't give them.

I wonder if they are right about having to give 30% to Apple in this case.

From what I read it sounds like you are only supposed to do that when you allow people to actually register / sign up for the service from the iOS app.

If you already have an account and you simply login to use the iOS app as a 'companion' app, there is no Apple greed involved.


If you allow people to subscribe outside the app, you also must add functionality to allow them to subscribe through the app, and subscriptions through the latter mechanism will cost you the 30% Apple Tithe.

A lot of companies just can't afford to have a group of users who cost the same as everyone else but only bring in 70% as much revenue.

> A lot of companies just can't afford to have a group of users who cost the same as everyone else but only bring in 70% as much revenue.

True, but it now seems like those who can are going to be the companies who succeed on iOS. It's sad to say it, but this is another situation where companies will need to adapt or die.

That's one possible outcome. Another possible outcome is the one in which iOS, now lacking access to Kindle, Netflix, Evernote, and anything else that made it the least bit useful and interesting, gets kicked to the curb in favor of something that actually supports a lot of consumers' interests.

Frankly, the latter is a hell of a lot more likely looking from where I'm sitting.

This seems like a particularly insane time for Apple to risk losing subscription apps like Netflix, Evernote, Kindle, etc. What with Android sells now far out-pacing iPhone sales and WP7 making a fair attempt at getting lets under itself.

IMHO, they could have pulled this off a year or 2 ago because developers had nowhere else credible to turn. Now, they do.

I think Apple is counting on platform fragmentation to win here. Apple may be thinking that with WebOS, WP7, and Android, these big companies will probably get their biggest profits from Apple if Apple continues to be the biggest shareholder within the mobile platforms.

Unless I'm drastically misunderstanding the numbers, Apple already isn't the biggest shareholder in mobile platforms (http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/09/gartner-android-os-sales-tr...)

That's why I think this strategy is suicide for Apple. They can reach more users on Android without having to pay a 30% toll.

You're assuming Apple is stationary here. At the moment, app availability is still much better for iOS.

If that changes, they can soften their policies.

That depends on your marginal cost of supporting an incremental user. For most Internet services, that marginal cost approaches zero. 30% sounds like a lot of commission versus real world purchases but when gross margin is close to 100% on an incremental subscriber, it's not nearly as egregious an ask.

To make what I'm saying more concrete: For a physical object, it's not uncommon for the cost of the item to be 90% of its price. So the seller makes 10%, and a "reasonable" 3% commission on sales price = 30% of the profit.

Whereas for a totally virtual service there's a large fixed cost to set it up (programming, servers, etc) but relatively little "per user" cost. Cost per unit approaches zero, marginal profit approaches 100% of price, and 30% of price is approximately 30% of the marginal profit from selling an extra unit.

> ... relatively little "per user" cost.

This makes a lot of assumptions about the business model of developers. For a BaseCamp-like product, it is mostly true, support costs notwithstanding. But a video- or music-streaming service that pays out to content providers on a per-item basis has much more in common with a brick-and-mortar retailer when it comes to profit margins.

I'm not saying it's great for every online business, just that it's also not right to see 30% and assume that's a wildly inappropriate rate.

It's also not entirely impossible that Apple realizes that the music/book/video streaming services are one of the few virtual products with material per-user costs, and adding this kind of surcharge will drive more users to their iTunes services.

I haven't been able to find it -- does that requirement require that the price be the same for both methods? That is, can you charge in-app users $10 and non-app users $7 so the net is the same?

That's covered by guideline 11.13, which reads: "Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions."

Many only shops will show a price that you pay, plus whatever it costs to get a credit card transaction.

You could do the same here, since it doesn't say "at the same price or less including all fees".

But then again Apple would properly just alter the rules.

Yes, it's a requirement.

I would be interested to know this as well...

"Whatever you tax, you get less of." -- Alan Greenspan

What Apple is doing could easily be compared to a tax. I don't see how anyone could expect to not see a significant number of apps and developers leaving the app store when presented with a 30% loss of revenue from the customers it generates.

That assumes they'd make 70% as much when re-using those resources to build for other platforms.

If you make 30% less per customer selling on the iPhone, but you sell more than 50% more copies versus whatever else you'd do with that effort (Android, W7, RIM), it doesn't make sense to leave from a revenue standpoint. Android is great but I don't get the sense that many paid apps are doing volume there comparable to the Apple store.

I think what it really comes down to is profit margins. Over the years I've heard many times that a company with a 30% profit margin is a very profitable company. Apple is destroying any incentive for companies, operating at or below a 30% profit margin, to make their products available via the app store.

If a company is operating on a 30% profit margin, then apple is not taking away 30% of what that company is making off of that user, they are taking away 100% of what that company is making off of that user. At that point, the company is better off moving their developer resources towards creating additional functionality for other platforms to up sell current customers on.

You already have great services jumping ship like pandora and last.fm. I use pandora everyday, and if I can't get pandora on an iPhone, that is a purchase killer for me. These content providers are typically operating on a 10% profit margin, so I think they would actually lose money by servicing iphone users.

I do think development for the iPhone will continue for many of these companies for the time being, since as I understand it you can still install apps on the iPhone from outside the app store. But if this changes, I think many of them will cease to develop for it, since it would be economic suicide.

Please forgive me if I misused any eco terms above. After all Jim, I'm a programmer not an economist!

is this even legal? imagine Microsoft asking 30% of sales for Windows based apps ...

Of course it's legal. It's greedy, petty, consumer and developer hostile, and generally sucks.

But they're allowed to set the rules for playing in their app store, just like schools are allowed to set rules about wearing your uniform correctly all the way home, parents can ground their children for complaining about their shitty parenting at another person's home, a company can make a contract which allows them to fire you if you get drunk and disorderly in public, and any other situation where an arrogant entity assumes it's own interests are FAR in advance of yours AND has the ability to take rights from you.

EDIT 201102221305 GMT+10 I should learn never to comment when anyone is discussing Apple. It's too tempting for people to downvote when their pet company is criticized, even if you're answering a question at the same time.

>just like schools are allowed to set rules about wearing your uniform correctly all the way home.

They can set whatever rules they like, but can they enforce them? I don't know if the school can enforce the uniform rule, though I imagine it would depend on whether it is a private or a public school.

I don't agree with Apple's move but as far as I know Nintendo gets as percentage of Wii Games/charges for using the Wii Branding, etc.

It depends.

Apple is attempting to leverage its position in one market (hardware) to coerce another market (mobile applications). Under the historical antitrust analysis, this would have been a per se antitrust violation to even attempt this.

Now, however, antitrust laws are no longer enforce. During the Bush administration,the DOJ's antitrust department was effectively gutted, and antitrust was moved close to the bottom of the DOJ's list of priorities.

Obama hasn't changed the DOJ's antitrust priorities since he took office, so any enforcement of antitrust laws will have to come from the states. Basically, that means New York's Attorney General, since California's not going to kill one of its tax cash cows.

i'm counting at least on EU to throw a legal hammer on it someday. iOS is a platform/operating system and i see much danger in this. Can you picture TV networks asking for commissions on sales related to advertisement? Developers already have to pay (annual fee?) for deploying their applications on the appstore

California is running out of money, so maybe they need some nice large anti-trust fines.

There is no cache of the post, so if you can, please repost their announcement in the thread.

The rule has been in the T&C since launch of the AppStore. Apple didn't provide a mechanism for in app purchase of subscriptions, and so was lax in enforcing it. But it isn't like this is news to anyone who read the T&C.

I saw a similar comment in the other thread about this. Regardless of whether or not it was noted earlier, it is behavior that many people consider unacceptable.

Many App developers are being forced to change their practices, and find the new rules too burdensome to continue.

Many App developers are being forced to change their practices, and find the new rules too burdensome to continue.

Which is the best solution to this problem. Please let this be the first use of the remote kill functionality. I have an iPad. While I would be a little sad to see big players like Netflix and Amazon pull their apps, I will be delighted with the uproar when the general public finds out about this. Unless the companies cave to Apple, this will make the Objective-C debacle look like small change.

Are you saying there is a chance that if somebody like Amazon pulls the kindle app from the store, Apple will remote delete already installed versions?

Huh, crashes every single time in Chrome (dev)

Works perfectly fine in canary, though.

Looks like Steve Jobs, or someone pretending to be him, has weighed in with a comment on that page:

Steve Jobs Says: February 21st, 2011 at 7:53 pm Hey Guys Work your numbers a little bit and then tell me what you think you are actually losing out on. 30% or 70% towards your bottom-line.

I don't think it's worthwhile to point out every time somebody pretends to be Steve Jobs on the Internet. There's no good reason to even consider the possibility that Steve Jobs is commenting on this company's blog. Steve Jobs is not known to comment on blogs.

Is it just me or does this comment not make sense?

Uh, why is this getting downvoted? It's a purely informational post. Is it not considered relevant if the Steve weighed in?

Seems there's a bit of a pattern in these threads of downvoting based on disagreement with the ESP-perceived viewpoint of the poster. Not cool.

I'm guessing the downvotes are because it's vanishingly unlikely that Steve Jobs posted a blog comment.

One person downvoted you, or at least you were at 0 when I wrote this. If the collective thinks that your post is valuable, it will be upvoted, and will eventually balance out those who think that it is not valuable.

(Disclaimer: I upvoted your original post to 1, while downvoting the post in which you complained about being downvoted to 0, as complaining about being downvoted is explicitly against the guidelines - and you could have edited your original post, instead of responding to yourself.)

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