WordPress has claimed that Apple has blocked further updates to its iOS app until in-app purchases (IAP) are added, effectively forcing them to add a revenue source for Apple (who take a 30% cut of all in-app sales) into their app.
WordPress is a free, open-source piece of software that can be used to run websites; and is a commercial company that is partially behind the development of the WordPress software, but also offers domain registrations and managed hosting. WordPress.com also develops its own iOS app (which can be used to manage a website running WordPress from an iOS device), but crucially this app can be used whether you are paying for a WordPress.com account, or using the (free, open-source) software and hosting it yourself. This meant that the iOS app has never offered IAP - these would only have ever been useful to users of WordPress.com accounts, and not those that self-host the software.
However, in a series of tweets, WordPress.com developer Matt Mullenweg revealed that Apple has prevented further updates to the iOS app being released to the App Store until IAP are offered for WordPress.com hosting plans. Apple would take 30% of any plans purchased via this method.
Heads up on why @WordPressiOS updates have been absent... we were locked by App Store. To be able to ship updates and bug fixes again we had to commit to support in-app purchases for .com plans. I know why this is problematic, open to suggestions. Allow others IAP? New name?— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) August 21, 2020
Currently, you cannot purchase anything via the WordPress iOS app (either via an in-app purchase or through another storefront) - it only allows for free websites to be created. Apple is, however, insisting that some plans be available to purchase. An Apple spokesperson has said that in-app purchases are required whenever “allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site”. Yet, it does not seem that the WordPress iOS app currently offers any of these features.
Matt Mullenweg has said that they will relent to Apple’s demands, and will add options to allow for domains and hosting plans to purchased within the app; Apple has agreed to allow the app to receive updates until this feature has been released.
This is yet another saga in the battle against Apple and app developers, which has recently gained further traction with Apple removing the popular battle royale game Fortnite from their App Store, resulting in the game’s developer Epic Games filing a lawsuit against Apple and starting a huge legal battle. It also comes as many others, including newspapers and prominent companies such as Facebook, are beginning to question Apple over their treatment of developers on their platform.
Update: The issue seems to have been corrected by Apple:
I am very grateful that folks at Apple re-reviewed @WordPressiOS and have let us know we do not need to implement in-app purchases to be able to continue to update the app. Bad news travels faster than good, usually, so please consider sharing that they reversed course.— Matt Mullenweg (@photomatt) August 23, 2020