Apple revives old fight with Hey after rejecting new calendar app

An illustration of the App Store logo.

The new year was supposed to begin with a brand spanking new calendar app. But roughly 72 hours after the premium email service Hey announced its latest feature — an integrated calendar — co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson received some unwelcome news from Apple: it was rejecting a standalone iOS app for Hey Calendar, because non-paying users couldn’t do anything when they opened the app up.

New users can’t sign up for Hey Calendar directly on the app — Basecamp, which makes Hey, makes users first sign up through a browser. Apple’s App Store rules require most paid services to offer users the ability to pay and sign up through the app, ensuring the company gets up to a 30 percent cut. The controversial rule has a ton of gray areas and carve-outs (i.e. reader apps like Spotify and Kindle get an exception) and is the subject of antitrust fights in multiple countries. 

But as Hansson detailed on X and in a subsequent blog post, he found Apple’s rejection insulting for another reason. Close to four years ago, the company rejected Hey’s original iOS app for its email service for the exact same reason. “Apple just called to let us know they’re rejecting the HEY Calendar app from the App Store (in current form). Same bullying tactics as last time: Push delicate rejections to a call with a first-name-only person who’ll softly inform you it’s your wallet or your kneecaps,” wrote Hansson in a post on X.

The outcome of the 2020 fight actually worked out in Hey’s favor. After days of back and forth between Apple’s App Store Review Board and Basecamp, the Hey team agreed to a rather creative solution suggested by Apple exec Phil Schiller. Hey would offer a free option for the iOS app, allowing new users to sign up directly. But the company had a slight twist — users who signed up via the iOS app got a free, temporary randomized email address that worked for 14 days — after which they had to pay to upgrade. Currently, Hey email users can only pay for an account through the browser. 

Following the saga with Hey, Apple made a carve-out to its App Store rules that stated that free companion apps to certain types of paid web services were not required to have an in-app payment mechanism. But, as Hansson mentions on X, a calendar app wasn’t mentioned in the list of services that Apple now makes an exception for, which includes VOIP, cloud storage, web hosting — and of course — email.

“After spending 19 days to review our submission, causing us to miss a long-planned January 2nd launch date, Apple rejected our stand-alone free companion app ‘because it doesn’t do anything’. That is because users are required to login with an existing account to use the functionality,” wrote Hansson in the blog post. 

As Hansson details in an X post, Hey plans to fight Apple’s decision — though he didn’t specify what route they will be taking. The Verge has reached out to both Hey and Apple for comment.

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