Apple is changing parts of its app review process after the Hey controversy

Screenshot of the app store icon.

Apple visited its developer website to announce a series of new developer initiatives, services and tools today. Most of what the company listed are evolutions from the standard offerings it promotes at its ongoing developer conference, but a line item appears to be a direct response to the recent controversy over the App Store guidelines raised by Dropbox, over which we wrote extensively last week. .

Going forward, the Cupertino company says it will no longer delay bug fixes for guidelines violations, except when there are legal concerns. Apple also says it will offer new channels for developers to challenge their judgments.

Apple was attacked after rejecting a bug fix update in the Hey email app, which is made by Basecamp. Apple told the app’s developers that the app would have to incorporate Apple’s own system for in-app purchases or risk of being removed from the list. Apple also claimed that it should have rejected the app to begin with, but only noticed the issue by reviewing the bug fix submission.

Basecamp’s CTO turned to Twitter with a passionate thread accusing Apple of criminal behavior for insisting on a cut in app revenue. The tweet thread sparked a lot of discussion, not only about taking Apple’s app revenue, but also about the company’s failure to be transparent and consistent with App Store guidelines.

Here are Apple’s words on the developer’s website today:

Additionally, there are two changes to the app review process and they will be implemented this summer. First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an application violates a given guideline in the App Store Review Guidelines, but they will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself. Second, for apps that are already in the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed for guidelines violations, except for those related to legal issues. Instead, developers will be able to address the issue in their next presentation.

Developers will surely be glad to hear the change regarding updates made up of bug fixes. The rest of Apple’s statement seems to suggest that the company is opening new avenues for discussion with developers about the App Store review guidelines and the specific judgments Apple makes based on them.

However, its appearance is unclear. Equally uncertain is whether it will lead to real changes in policy or enforcement. There will likely be more details as the changes unfold later in the summer, but for now, Apple is only telling developers it is listening.

Last week Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller gave an interview to TechCrunch in which he defended Apple’s guidelines and said there would be no change in actual policies in response to complaints about the Hey situation. However, Apple approved the Hey app after all, after Basecamp introduced a version of the app that followed Apple’s guidelines in a minimal way. The dispute is likely to continue.

The other new initiatives, services and tools that Apple mentioned today in their article include an explanation of Clips and Widgets, API access and new or expanded frameworks like ARKit, a new StoreKit tool to help developers plan for monetization, details on Xcode redesign, new capabilities in SwiftUI, extended features for Catalyst and information on new privacy requirements.