Apple approves Hey bug fix update after Basecamp agrees to tweak app at center of store policy spat

Update: Basecamp has confirmed Apple has given the greenlight to a version of its app which does not include an in-app purchase option for its paid email service, Hey, but does offer a free temporary email address — meaning there’s a degree of functionality for non-paying iOS users at the point of download from the App Store.

“I’m so incredibly relieved!” tweeted CTO David Heinemeier Hansson after Apple’s App Store review team approved the compromise.

Our original report on this saga follows below… 

A high-profile spat between Apple and Basecamp over the latter’s hosted email service, Hey, has ended in a temporary truce — just hours before the iOS maker’s annual developer shindig, WWDC, kicks off.

In a blog post today Basecamp confirmed a pending bug fix update was approved late Friday — quoting an email Apple sent it, which anticipates “a path forward,” after Basecamp said it would “try some of the many ‘other things'” Apple’s Phil Schiller had suggested were possible in an interview with TechCrunch (such as offering a free or paid version with basic email reading features).

Quick recap: Basecamp launched Hey, a reorganized spin on email, last week — but the team’s public launch joy soon turned sour after Apple rejected an update to the iOS version of the app, despite initially approving the software. Apple told Basecamp the app contravened its App Store policies because it didn’t offer enough functionality for iOS users. Basecamp, meanwhile, told Apple it’s an evil monopolist (we paraphrase) — letting a storm of angry tweets fly.

A core part of the issue is that the Hey app does not offer a way for iOS users to sign up for the paid email service via Apple’s platform — because Basecamp objects to Apple’s 30% platform cut of subscription sign-ups.

Apple, meanwhile, objects to iOS apps that don’t offer users enough utility — thereby arguing Hey contravenes its policies.

We covered the back and forth here and here — including talking to Schiller who explained the problem (from Apple’s perspective) as: “You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store.”

At first Basecamp’s CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, doubled down on the fight, invoking accusations of antitrust; a very front of mind concern for most of big tech — and a specific concern for Apple, with the European Union opening a formal investigation of its App Store practices just last week.

He also tweeted some other examples of OS apps, which he said don’t do anything unless the user has already paid to subscribe outside the iOS walled garden. While high-profile Apple watchers also waded in to opine that, well, it’s the App Store’s own policies that really need an update … All of which made for a very messy publicity headache for Apple ahead of its flagship annual developer event.

But now the immediate PR crisis has been averted.

While Basecamp has consistently vowed it will never pay what it dubs Apple’s “tax,” it did leave itself room to explore other ways to resolve the fight. (And, well, the more cynical among you may observe that the app brouhaha did draw more eyeballs to the launch of Hey than the app might otherwise have received … )

Basecamp’s planned “fix” for App Store policy requirements — which would still avoid it having to give up a chunk of subscription revenue to Apple — is to offer a new free option of the Hey iOS app that lets users sign-up directly in-app “for a free, temporary, randomized email address that works for 14 days.”

“Think of it like a temporary SIM card you buy when traveling. Or for when you don’t want to give out your real email address, like a short-term ‘for sale’ listing, like Craigslist does it,” Basecamp writes pretty enthusiastically in its blog post.

This update is contained in v1.0.3 of the Hey iOS app — now with App Store reviewers. So the whole saga could just fire up again if Apple decides the tweak doesn’t pass master.

For now, though, Apple has managed to quell the possibility of any more angry tweet storms from this particular corner of its dev community taking the shine off of WWDC.