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Apple rejected Flattr… and it’s not the end (flattr.net)
132 points by LinaLauneBaer on May 28, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

> We understand that directing your user outside of your app may not be the user experience you prefer to offer your users. However it is a common experience in a variety of iOS apps.

That doesn't seem like the kind of uncompromising approach to fantastic user experience that has made Apple so successful.

I think Instacast, and maybe Flattr as well, should boycott Apple and instead focus on the Android platforms starting with Google Play and Amazon's Appstore. Otherwise they are helping to perpetuate and even reward this kind of behavior.

Does anyone have the link for Instacast for Android?

Year after year, this 2003 essay by Tim Bray continues to be true:

> I’ve been following some discussions about the future of software applications, and a phrase that came up in my dinner with Robb Beal has been echoing in my mind.What it comes down to is this: if you want to develop software, you can build for the Web and/or Unix and/or OSS platforms; or alternatively, you can be a sharecropper. Your choice, but I think it’s an easy one. Especially since the users out there want you to do the right thing.

> What Robb actually said, in a conversation about Mac software outputs like Ranchero and Watson and his own Spring, was that building for the Apple OS feels like being a sharecropper.


I think his statement of "the users want you to do the right thing" is being a bit generous. Users want whatever app they want on whatever platform they have. They don't want to jailbreak their device to install your app or go to some out of the way (possibly untrustworthy) place to locate it. Centralized, reliable app stores are liked generally by users. That said, as a developer, it is onerous/depressing to have faceless "bureaucrats" decide the fate of your apps acceptance/rejection.

Funny as a developer I don't have the same problem. I intrinsically understand that it is their store hence their rules. So long as I follow their well published and understood guidelines there won't be a problem.

Just like I would get banned from Google if I didn't follow their rules.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

That essay needs updating. It is entirely possible to be a web developer who is a sharecropper these days (see: massive reliance on Facebook integration, Twitter integration, Google APIs, or any other platform that you don't control and couldn't easily replicate).

I agree, developers need to vote with their feet if they want any chance to influence Apple's policies.

I did two years ago. Sold my iMac and switched to Linux. I think it didn't have that much influence on Apple, but I feel good about it, I get my stuff done, and that's what counts.

I don't think that can work.

Maybe for a few exceptional cases like Facebook or Twitter, but 99.99% of developers don't have near that much leverage.

In this case, for example, if Instacast isn't in the AppStore most people will simply choose an alternative "podcatcher" that is.

Honestly, most of the companies who could vote with their feet on this issue need the AppStore a lot more than the AppStore needs them.

While the App store is indeed powerful, it's also severely flawed beyond the approval process.

Discoverability is a huge problem, and honestly, more than 80% of the apps aren't very good. And given that iOS apps are still in the gold rush stage, that percentage of crappy apps is growing by the day.

If a significant number of the developers who vote with their feet are part of the top 20% (for quality), and the boycott becomes more widespread, I think Apple would have to respond.

In the post-Jobs era, who knows if something like this could have an impact.

Apple has acknowledged their issues with discoverability with their purchase of Chomp. And again the issue of the 80% of apps aren't good argument is that your definition of 'good' differs from everyone else.

Especially the massive number of young kids buying apps courtesy of the iPod touch.

They're buying the top 20%, in my opinion.

Keep in mind, 20% of 500k apps is 100k apps. Do you really think there are are that many 4 star apps in the app store?

What would it mean to boycott a company which has already refused to market their app?

It would mean not making the changes to get it in, which Instacast did.

Instacast doesn’t have an Android version but there’s Podkicker Pro with Flattr integration on Android that does pretty much the same.

Except that exactly this approach is going to make Apple more successful if Apple apps are the only ones allowed to have uncompromised UX.

You know, I feel like iOS and Android are recapitulating the Mac and PC wars of the '90s. Not exactly, mind you, but it feels like the same struggle between niche beauty and popular pragmatism. Between a controlled experience with a unifying vision, and plug-and-play user freedom.

One major difference is that iOS enjoys an advantage in apps that Mac never had in software. I think that could change, though. There is a positive feedback loop in which the most popular platform attracts developers and hence has the most software and so people buy that platform. I don't perceive that system to be in a stable state at the moment, much like it wasn't in, say, '88. People routinely develop for both platforms. And who knows, perhaps that will be the steady state answer this time; we're a lot better at abstraction than we used to be. But I think it's possible that Android could become popular enough (and perhaps Apple drive enough developers away), that the whole thing could pass a tipping point.

What I'm saying is, I don't think the beauty of the apps is the most powerful force in play here. I think the existence of apps is a lot more powerful. At least, that's what I think happened last time beauty fought pragmatism.

Starting with Windows 95, Windows had an objective advantage over Macintosh. The operating system supported preemptive multitasking, the hardware was considerably more powerful, and the software base was huge.

With iOS vs. Android, from the consumer's perspective, the differences are really subtle. The major issue at hand with developer freedom is hidden from view for most people.

You mean like the app store? Or iCal? Nothing is blemish free.

My big unanswered question going into the article was "What the crud is Flattr and why should I care." Starting your posts off with a brief introduction of who you are is often a good idea.

Flattr is a micropayment system. You pay them a monthly subscription, then Like(tm) a bunch of stuff on the internet. They split up whatever portion of your monthly sub that they don't keep among the places you tag. Apple presumably flagged the app which integrated Flattr due to their well-known policies about in-app payments.

> Starting your posts off with a brief introduction of who you are is often a good idea.

IF most of your readers don't know what you are doing. I think this was written for their community (not HN), so most of them know what Flattr is about.

Also, they have "About Flattr" in the footer - not very prominently placed, but still find-able.

It isn't just Flattr: I encounter this issue regularly when being linked to startup blogs. Having one sentence or one link on every page that succinctly describes what you do just seems like a good idea. The web is made for linking, and not everybody will walk through the front door.

Good point, added to the beginning of the post.

Also please add a link to your homepage somewhere in the blog's header. Too many company blogs omit this most important link!

In this case, where donations would happen with one tap, I think it is sensible for Apple to require breaking the UX so as to avoid unintended donations by the users, or malicious implementation by the developers.

I'm not very big on Apple practices, but I have to agree with you here. This seems like the sort of tool that can be used to do some really shady things. Which, in and of itself, is not a problem. The thing is, when money 'goes missing' from user accounts, they tend to blame either Apple or the App company as opposed to themselves for not paying attention to what they were doing. Apple has been burned in the media by things like that before. IE - Kids racking up thousands of dollars of purchases because mom authorized one, and then let the kid go play on her ipad.

In this case, this seems reasonable. Unless I'm missing something, this is not the sort of thing you want being easy for novice users.

I think you missed the point that you set a fixed amount of money to use each month. There's no way flattr will use more than the chosen monthly amount.

Principle is the same. So Flattr only enables shady access to $30 a month, which mom wanted to use at a day spa say. Only little suzy saw the "like" thing and said, "Hey... I like this paperdolls app/site (whatever)!"

I mean, mom may have even been happy allocating some money to educational things, but not virtual Barbies. Your statement is basically saying, "Well Flattr only enables shady people to steal a set amount every month."

Explain to me, exactly, step-by-step. How forcing little suzy to click 2 times by having to use safari, instead of 1 click inside the app. Would stop the problem you're mentioning.

You're confusing two completely separate things. One is preventing fraud (what you think apple is doing). The other is force a possible fraud to take 2 seconds longer (what they actually are accomplishing). They have the same amount of control to prevent fraud within the app as within safari. If they want to prevent fraud, they could ban fraudulent apps. Not just add unnecessary roadblocks to apps that just happen to not be paying them app store share for donations.

So everyone could play by the honor system until someone does something slimy, at which point Apple finds themselves with no ability to rectify the situation beyond ripping out a scammy app and angering any legitimate users. What's the upside here for Apple again?

You seem to think that 1 click is no different from 2 clicks.

I draw your attention to Amazon's one click patent and the huge influence it has had on their success. 1 click can be reactive. 2 clicks almost always requires you to think about your decision.

Explain to me, exactly, step-by-step. How forcing little suzy to click 2 times by having to use safari, instead of 1 click inside the app. Would stop the problem you're mentioning.

You'd make an awesome politician: Can't answer the question? No problem! Ask yourself a different question and proceeed to answer that one instead!

Flattr is not used to pay for a day spa, or to pay for anything. It is used for small donations, e.g. for podcasts, videos, blog posts etc.

The user knowingly sets the money aside for things he could access for free.

1. User needs to connect their Instacast with Flattr via OAuth.

2. Monthly budget cycle means that even if it comes to unauthorized usage the loss is something that Flattr can easily cover.

3. Any user complaints will quickly surface the possible scammer and since payouts are not immediate it’s easy to freeze accounts.

So far Flattr has a track record of 0 scamming, phishing or fraud, knock on wood.

I think you should look at how flattr works.

You set a fixed amount of money each month which then gets slit up between all things you choose to support that month.

You could still have the jump button on a game hooked up to flattr your app, taking more of the users monies.

It's a valid point.

IIRC the app developers already get part of the 10% fee flattr takes as they are somehow the referer of the "flattr-clicks". And if the app developer unknowningly flattrs the app for the user, the user could immediately see that on his flattr dashboard and inform flattr about the scammer.

It's also larger than that, Apple's involvement isn't just a cash grap for a 30% slice.

It's because Apple want both visibility, and the power to refund customers who make legitimate complaints. Currently anything purchased inside an app can be refunded by Apple: music, videos, software, anything. The user's account password is needed whenever they wish to buy something.

The moment that is externalised Apple have no visibility or control over the payments, how they are made and what frequency they are occurring. They could inadvertently be publishing an app that tricks users into donating money, or money that goes to inappropriate use.

By requiring the user to switch to the browser where they'll need to either enter their CC details or account credentials is a nice way for both Apple to distance itself, and for consumers to understand that it's external to the app store ecosystem.

Also, what happens when donations turn into plums? Apple may see the donations concept as a trojan horse, which it most likely is.

I agree, but I think there is a valuable distinction between making all purchases pop up a basic modal dialog that requires a second tap (the standard Apple in-app purchase flow) and requiring donations to load either a UIWebView which requires time to load a page that requests confirmation or to operate via SMS, which requires fully exiting the application to go to the Messages app. One is minimally intrusive, the other not so much.

If I read correctly, Apple will not allow the donation UI to be shown modally through an UIWebView, but instead requires that the donation be made through the Safari app.

"We understand that directing your user outside of your app may not be the user experience you prefer to offer your users. However it is a common experience in a variety of iOS apps."

So... it's crappy for everyone across the board. Take comfort in that!

Except for apps that pay 30% to Apple. That's a key distinction.

Here is a copy (as PDF) of the article in case you can't access the site:


I think we can safely say Apple has dropped their party manners and shown the knives.

Unfortunately android is the only possible competitor I see, and the carriers have pretty much guaranteed that android won't be any freer for users or developers.

I'll wait this one out to see if the issue snowballs. Either way, this could turn out to be a positive PR tactic. God luck to the flattr team.

I think we DDoS'd them.

considered brokep from the pirate bay is heavily involved in flattr, i'm a little bit disappointed the site went down

That is the exact thing that crossed my mind. brokep Peter Sunde is not only heavily involved, he is the founder.

He did show up to nurse the crashed server back to life :)


I hope they planned for this. Hinging an entire business on the decision of a 3rd party is Russian roulette.

Flattr is fundamentally a web company, competing with Google's +1 button and Facebook's Like button more than than Paypal donations, even if users are spending real money. This is just a potential new arena for Flattr, and not their core business.

They already have a relatively successful business. This rejection just removes one of their possible revenue streams and nothing more.

Unlucky you have been curtailed by Apple for now but sure you can rework your model to fit within what is allowable. Keep persevering as you seem to have built a useful application.

Thanks, as said in the post - we’ll keep at it as the only way to find out what’s cool with Apple and what’s not is to submit stuff to them and hope to have a constructive dialog.

OT design suggestion: when you have a corporate blog, have a prominent link somewhere on the top that goes to your main site.

Rejected by Apple and the 'Paypal suxx' on their desk. Tough luck

Would the app have been approved if Apple was given 30% of the proceeds? I am guessing yes.

Would the app have been approved if they had followed Apple's guidelines? I am guessing yes.

Isn't that the same thing?

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