Apple rejected Flattr… and it’s not the end

Hello, HackerNews, TechCrunch and TheNextWeb and everyone else! Flattr is a social micropayment service that allows content creators to tap into their fans and followers for financial support. It’s a Facebook Like button with real meaning ie. money on top. Read more about Flattr or sign up »

Those following us on Twitter already know that last week Apple rejected Instacast, a well-love podcatcher, over its Flattr integration. What does this mean for the future of Flattr inside applications for iPhone and iPad?

First, some history

Instacast introduced Flattr integration back in February (screencast of how it worked until now) and it quickly became a very popular way of flattring podcasts. We saw a definite uptick in daily volume and while Instacast hasn’t revealed the numbers themselves one indication of the power of the integration is to look at podcasts from the 5by5.tv network – without any promotion they clocked up thousands of flattrs largely thanks to Instacast.

On May 6 however Apple suddenly decided to reject an update to Instacast HD citing the following point in their App Store Review Guidelines:

21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

Apple recommended Vemedio (the maker of Instacast) to change the user flow and force the actual flattr to take place in Safari (a web browser). While technically doable it’s a big step back for the user experience, kills the auto-flattr feature and would reduce the number of flattrs happening. Apple itself acknowledges this:

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.

Unfortunately Apple decided not to take into account that Flattr deals with micropayments and as more apps integrate with it the jumping from app into Safari and back again, to do something that should be one-click action, becomes less than optimal.

Pelle, Leif and Linus pondering the options after a call with Vemedio

Long story short

Both Vemedio and ourselves got in touch with Apple describing in detail how Flattr works, what it is (and isn’t), pointing at analogies (Spotify, Readability), and asked them to reconsider the decision.

Finally on May 24th Apple made a final ruling that even after some changes in Instacast Flattr was still not OK inside apps and to not hold up critical bug fixes any longer Vemedio complied, removed Flattr and got Instacast approved.

It’s not over till it’s over

Apple is notoriously secretive about its motives or what would be the compliant and best way of doing things that are sort of new – micropayments to content creators who’s stuff is available via a 3rd party application.

There are several avenues we continue to pursue to clarify further what Apple thinks is OK usage of Flattr inside apps in their AppStore.

* Vemedio will continue a dialog with Apple regarding their Flattr integration.

* We are updating our own iPhone app to test different ways of integration. That’s pretty much the only way to find out what Apple thinks is “right”.

* Martin Hering, the main guy at Vemedio, will also be attending Apple developer conference WWDC in June with the whole Flattr integration as one things on his agenda.

How can you help?

A friendly tweet to Martin will never go amiss, he (and his team) needs to know that he’s fighting a good fight. We’ve already seen tons of support on Twitter, really appreciate that and shows that you found it a super nice feature to have in a podcatcher.

Beyond that just keep flattring the excellent podcasts and their authors, that’s the biggest contribution you can do – as Flattr goes bigger it becomes easier for us to negotiate with different partners finding optimal ways of integrating into a wide variety of software and services.

Not yet on Flattr? Sign up now »

Update: 21:45 London time

Wow, we’re overwhelmed by the response and support, thanks all. There’s some interesting discussion continuing on different angles of this story over at HackerNews thread, TechCrunch “Apple Rejects Apps Integrating Micro-Payments Service Flattr, Company Claims “It’s Not the End”” and TheNextWeb “Duh: Apple doesn’t want Flattr money flowing through its apps if it can’t take a cut

Just one soundbite from the last article:

The rejection has nothing to do with quality or security, which are two things that are very important to Apple. No, this has to do with the fact that using the very disruptive service Flattr, apps can process micro-payments without Apple’s involvement. Basically, Apple isn’t getting a cut of the action.

But as one Flattr user cleverly points out on Twitter:

58 thoughts on “Apple rejected Flattr… and it’s not the end

  1. IMHO Apple did the right thing. Here’s another example: say some malicious application integrated with flattr passes by validation and goes into app store. The application could easily do donations on users behalf without user’s intervention. Doing this through safari/sms guarantees no 3rd party intervention.

  2. What if instead of actually flattring podcasts, clicking the flattr button from your phone just kept track of things you want to flattr? So instead of donating money when you click the flattr button on your phone, it makes a list of ‘bookmarks’ accessible in your flattr account. Then, whenever users wanted (perhaps with a monthly email reminder?) they could go to their flattr account and click one button to flattr all the things they actually wanted to flattr from their phone.

    You could even set it up so that there’s a separate preference choice on the Flattr website that would automatically flattr all the things you sent to your ‘to be flattr-ed’ list from your phone.

    If apple doesn’t have problems with bookmarking services, they could be ok with something like this, right?

    Of course, I have no idea how difficult a system like this would be to implement…

  3. Eimantas – before you could start flattring via Instacast you needed to connect your accounts, a step that requires you to log into your Flattr account. Since it’s a very distinct step it’s unlikely that people will do it in apps that are shady.

    2nd security layer is of course the fact that they can check their Flattr accounts to see what they’re flattring and report shady business to us. We can catch the scammy accounts and close them down before any money passes hands.

    Sarcazona – good ideas, we’ll certainly see what the best ways to do this are. Keep those suggestions coming!

  4. Thought it was Instapaper that Marco Arment said was rejected, not Instacast.

    Too many Insta’s to keep track of.

  5. Apple is different. Their contract is with the end user (their customer). The end-user experience is more important than developers and content providers in Apples world. And the end-user should feel safe.

    Consider that many large publishers today build crappy HTML5-apps not because of the 30% but because Apple refuse to give them access to subscribers personal information – information publishers usually make money off by selling to third parties.

    So running around screaming about censorship or other does help much.

    Note that third-party ad-networks are allowed. Flattr is not much different.

  6. Take a look at how Starbucks handles their app payment processing. (You can use the starbucks app to process payments at the register of most starbucks by scanning a barcode.)

    The app does not appear to use in-app purchases handled by Apple and essentially discounts your purchase against your real or pseudo starbucks card, which you can reload in app, or through their website. It appears all payment processing happens through starbucks itself.

    Perhaps their method will be adaptable to your ends, particularly if the payments already reside in your system (as with starbucks) and it’s only about allocation.

  7. @sarcozona Nice idea. The only thing is that flattr already *is* a “bookmarking” service. A single click does not transfer any money but “bookmarks” your wish to support that entity financially at the end of the month.

    So your suggestion is to bookmark what you want to bookmark a share on your monthly budget. If apple will accept this, it shows that they did not understand at all how flattr works.

    In any case, this is a bad move by apple and I really hope they will reconsider this decision.

  8. It seems that with rejections such as this one, it is not so much about the particular case here that is the problem, but the next one that becomes possible if this one is accepted. The precedent problem is in the future when others doing something more objectionable point to Flattr, saying “They’re doing it, why can’t we?”

    The other thing to consider is from Apple’s point of view, this would appear to be an in-app purchase or subscription-type-thing, which would fall under their 30% rule. Flattr would certainly not want to pay the 30% that would be required under the rules, so Apple is doing you a favor.

    It’s inconvenient and a little nasty, but everyone wins in the end if the customer/user is at the center of the experience.

  9. Hi guys!

    John from Nokia DevRel here. We’d love to have you on our platforms, and we are much nicer to work with…just sayin ;)

  10. Apple is pretty clear about no other IAP systems in apps, no donations via IAP etc. Either you were lazy and didn’t read the rules or figured you could talk Apple into letting you not follow them.

    You got spanked, get over it and move on.

  11. @Luca It may be possible that YOU are the lazy one that didn’t read. Flattr wouldn’t be using any actual in app payment. All the payment is done through the service on their website once a month. All you’d be doing in the apps is marking who you want money sent to at the end of the month through your completely pre-arranged monthly payment to Flattr.

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