Moving Out

Abstract

After App for WhatsApp has been one of the world wide top selling apps on the Mac App Store for 15 consecutive months and having received overwhelming customer feedback, Apple suddenly decided to change the interpretation of its guidelines several times within a couple of days regarding the naming of my app.

This finally left me with no other option than to move out of the Mac App Store, which I am doing with the release of ChatMate for WhatsApp 4.0.

The text below is a summarised excerpt of the correspondence with Apple App Review that finally led to the removal of my apps from the App Stores.

[Update May 22nd 2017]: I am glad to announce that the involved parties and me have succeeded in working out a solution to this problem. As a consequence the iPad version of ChatMate for WhatsApp is available on the App Store with immediate effect.

Jump straight to the conclusion.

Full Story

12/09/2015: App for WhatsApp gets first released to the Mac App Store with its first icon version (shown below). The app instantly became an international top selling app and gets fabulous user feedback from day one.

Original App Icon
Original App Icon

May 2016 (6 months later): WhatsApp Inc. decided to create their own Mac app for their service called „WhatsApp Desktop“, which was released via their website. Press articles speculated that their decision was inspired by the success of my app.

08/13/2016: App for WhatsApp 3.6.0 was released featuring a new icon. This was done for two reasons: 1. Customers asked for a more modern icon that would look nice when kept in the dock besides the Apple Messages icon. As everybody knows, Mac users are very fond of the looks of their desktop. 2. WhatsApp Inc., represented by a company called AppDetex, was not satisfied with the original icon and explicitly agreed that they would be fine with the new icon. Apple App Review had no concerns regarding this icon at the time.

App for WhatsApp 3.6.0 Icon
App for WhatsApp 3.6.0 Icon

01/10/2017 06:09AM UTC: App for WhatsApp One for Mac (freemium version of App for WhatsApp) is registered with iTunes Connect.

Later the same day: WhatsApp Inc. releases WhatsApp Desktop on the Mac App Store. In my opinion the app is in violation of 8.3 of the Mac App Review guidelines “Apps that are simply web clippings, content aggregators, or a collection of links, may be rejected”, as it initially is just a wrapper around https://web.whatsapp.com with no extra functionality. Apple is known to reject such apps, when they come from independent developers but it seemed that other rules apply for large cooperations. This was later explicitly confirmed by a representative of Apple towards me on the phone.

01/24/2017: App for WhatsApp One (freemium version) gets rejected for it being an alleged “Copycat” of the WhatsApp Desktop App. This is technically impossible as my own “App for WhatsApp” was in the store months before WhatsApp Desktop was released. Also, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, my original app “App for WhatsApp” Version 3.6.1, which was released into the store on 08/16/2016 (half a year before!) gets rejected by the Review Team because of its name “App for WhatsApp” and the icon. Both were in use for several months to this point without any issues with Apple App Review and no new version of this particular app had been handed in from my side. So the question arises why the App Review Team re-reviewed this version of my app after it had been for sale for 5 month without any changes to it.

02/06/2017: I received a call by a representative of the App Review Team. This person explained that:

  • The name “App for WhatsApp One” for the new freemium version of the app would not be acceptable. The reason given was that on the iOS App Store things had gotten out of control with an “epidemic” of apps that are called “App for …” and therefore Apple had applied new rules on the iOS side that are now also enforced on the Mac App Store. He proposed to use the name “One for WhatsApp”.
  • The icon of the original App for WhatsApp has to be changed due to its similarities with the Apple Messages icon.
  • Keeping the name “App for WhatsApp” for the original app is acceptable for Apple.

02/13/2017: After being rejected for multiple other reasons in the meantime, finally the now called “One for WhatsApp” (freemium version) was accepted by the App Review Team and released into the store.

02/13/2017: The original “App for WhatsApp” version 4.0, which contains a new icon, changes to “in review”. As to the agreement from 02/06/2017 the name of the app remained unchanged.

02/16/2017: App for WhatsApp gets rejected. The reasons given are the name of the App and the icon. In a written feedback I get told that GreatApp for WhatsApp would be acceptable, where GreatApp would have to be replaced by a unique name. After I replied to the App Review Team’s message that leaving the name unchanged was part of the agreement made with the Apple representative on the phone on 02/06/2017 I received a new call by the same person I had talked to on 02/06/2017. This person first insisted that he had not agreed on leaving the name unchanged and when confronted with the fact that I had a recording of the call proving the opposite, he then went to say that “the situation had changed” in the meantime (within 10 days?!). We finally agree that another involvement of the Review Board, a higher level of jurisdiction in the Apple cosmos, is necessary in this case.

02/17/2017: In an inquiry to the App Review Board, I explained the whole development of the case. I highlighted that the app is highly praised by customers, that it is way more powerful than the official WhatsApp Desktop App, that I kept my promises with regards to the agreement from 02/06/2017 and that now I’m expecting Apple to keep their promises, too. Also I explained my concerns regarding the timing that this issue arose, only days after WhatsApp Inc. decided to release their app via the Mac App Store.

02/24/2017: Because I had not heard back in the meantime I wrote a direct eMail to the person who I had talked to on the phone two times and asked about the ongoing of the case. In that eMail I also highlighted the fact that while this discussion about the Mac version of my app was going on, I had no problems getting updates to both iOS versions of my app through the review. We remember that the reason given for the “re-evaluation” of the name of my Mac App was that this is a new rule coming from the iOS App Store that is now applied on the Mac App Store. In my opinion that proves that this statement was also not true. I explicitly wrote that I would consider it a very cheap trick if they decided to target the iOS versions of my app too because of me making that point.

02/27/2017: A different representative of the App Review Team called me and told me that Apple has “reevaluated the situation” again and came to the conclusion that the name “App for WhatsApp” could mislead customers into thinking that the app could be made by WhatsApp Inc. This now also includes the iOS versions of my app that had just passed App Review days ago. In my personal opinion that made it very clear that there is nothing that is too dirty or too cheap for Apple at this point in order to deflect from my accusation that the whole issue was only raised by Apple in order to help WhatsApp Inc in marketing their app on the Mac App Store. The Apple representative explained that all the apps had to be renamed in the GreatApp for WhatsApp scheme but explicitly stated that “One for WhatsApp” was still a perfectly valid name.
I explained that I don’t see any danger of misleading customers as the source of the app is clearly identified by FIVE references to me on the Mac App Store page of the app (see screenshot below).
Still, I proposed to rename the app as ChatApp for WhatsApp. The person did obviously not like that name but assured he would check back with people in higher positions at Apple that are empowered to make decisions, which he is not.

App for WhatsApp in Mac App Store
App for WhatsApp in Mac App Store

03/06/2017 The second Apple representative called me again and explained to me that after another “re-evaluation” Apple would not accept ANY reference to WhatsApp in the name of an app. This includes the name “One for WhatsApp”, which was proposed to me as a valid app name by an Apple representative just one month earlier. Also this completely contradicted AGAIN what was told and written to me several times during the ongoing of this case. He explained that Apple now requires me to provide documentary evidence of my rights to use the term “WhatsApp”.
I explained that I believe that using the term “WhatsApp” in a descriptive way like in “App for WhatsApp” or “ChatApp for WhatsApp” in conjunction with a clear identification of the source of the App, which is guaranteed by using “Bastian Roessler” as the developer name is perfectly legal. This is in my opinion a so called “fair use of a mark” (like in “Case for iPhone”, “Tire for BMW”, “Coffee for Nespresso”, …). This doctrine of fair use exists in most jurisdictions, including US and EU. The Apple representative ignored these arguments and so I wrote another appeal to the App Review Board, where I explained the legal situation. Also I highlighted that obviously the Apple Legal Team shares my view as it is them who put together the GreatApp for AnyService guideline that was sent and explained to me by Apple several times. Additionally I explained that my lawyers and me are in talks with the lawyers of WhatsApp/Facebook in order to find a amicable solution. These talks are stalled by WhatsApp’s lawyers only stating that they are evaluating the proposal that was made by me, since Dec 2016. I asked Apple to not foreclose these talks as long as it is not me who stalls the process of finding a solution.
Finally I explained to them that, in my opinion, it is very obvious that they are trying to degrade the visibility and attractiveness of my app in order to help WhatsApp Inc in marketing their feature-wise inferior product. To make this point very clear I attached the following screenshot of the Mac App Store, which raises the question why my app is alleged of misleading customers while the others seem to be just fine. The only difference between my app and the others is that none of the other apps is competing with an official app on the Mac App Store. The screenshot also nicely highlights the obvious first sight differences regarding name, developer name and icon between “App for WhatsApp” and the official “WhatsApp Desktop” app by WhatsApp Inc when shown next to each other on the Mac App Store (see lists on the right hand side).

App for WhatsApp misleads customers?
App for WhatsApp misleads customers?

03/08/2017 I received a short written feedback by the App Review Board explaining that “App for WhatsApp” and “ChatApp for WhatsApp” are not considered valid. No word on “One for WhatsApp” and “Mate for WhatsApp”, that I also had asked to verify. They obviously didn’t want to explicitly accept anything anymore at that point. Also Apple directed me towards the WhatsApp Website, specifically the WhatsApp Brand Guidelines and there specifically to the “Prohibited Uses Section”. Seems like now it is not only the Apple App Review Guidelines that apps have to comply with in order to be accepted into the App Store. WhatsApp is also allowed to contribute some rules. For me it is new information that Apple applies rules from 3rd parties in the App Review process. This is in my opinion even more spectacular when seeing that this particular 3rd party had just released a product that competes with mine.

03/09/2017 I asked for a clarification on continue using “One for WhatsApp” and “Mate for WhatsApp”, as my apps were threatened with removal from the store within one weeks time, but the only answer I got is that “the original rejection feedback” is still valid. Considering the ever changing feedback by Apple during the ongoing of this case, this statement did not clarify things at all.

03/10/2017 Again, I asked for a clarification regarding “One for WhatsApp” or “Mate for WhatsApp” but I did not receive an answer.

03/15/2017 Without any further clarification or notice all of my apps for the WhatsApp service, including “One for WhatsApp” and the iOS versions of my app, get removed from sale by Apple. At that time the paid Mac version of App for WhatsApp was in the top selling charts in many countries world wide with 4.5/5 star average user ratings for 15 months straight.

[Update] 05/22/2017 I was able to work out a solution with the parties involved. As a consequence the iPad version of ChatMate for WhatsApp is available on the App Store with immediate effect.

My Conclusion

When it became obvious that the success of the paid App for WhatsApp would not end even though WhatsApp had released their official app on the Mac App Store for free, Apple began inventing several new interpretations of their guidelines, that would lead to a drastically decreased visibility of my app.

I find it highly troublesome that Apple pushes campaigns like “Everyone can code”, selling a “digital dream” (in analogy to the “American Dream”) to people. But when you have that idea and you work hard to make your customers happy eventually the “big guys” will come out and try to first take over your business and then kill yours. My case has shown that no matter how much money they have made with your product in the meantime, Apple is not the one who supports you but the one that helps the big cooperation in that case!

Customers in the Apple cosmos are familiar with accessory apps and the “App for …” naming scheme for many years and with many thousands of apps that always have been in the Apple App Stores and are still there today. Even for the WhatsApp service!

There is no doubt that there are developers who try to trick customers into believing their apps are genuine products by representing themselves in the App Store as “What Sapp” for example. This is not acceptable and I support Apple’s and WhatsApp’s efforts in order to get those people out of the store. They are not only hurting Apple’s and WhatsApp’s business with their trashy, ad-overloaded apps but also mine!

I have shown the will to find a solution with WhatsApp Inc many times by changing my app’s icon and proposing all sorts of solutions. Much to my regret WhatsApp and its representatives until today did not show any effort in entering a constructive discussion. I can not understand why that is, as my apps make our shared customers very happy and my apps are not designed to take even a single customer from WhatsApp. If anything, my apps make it more comfortable to use the WhatsApp service, which is what I thought WhatsApp’s ultimate goal.

My apps have always been high quality products with focus on optimum usability, features, optics and customer support. That is why customer feedback has been awesome with an average of 4.5/5 stars from more than 15.000 ratings. In fact my Mac App always had much better user ratings and many more features than the official WhatsApp Desktop App. This recipe is the reason for my app’s success and not me misleading customers.

Still, it is important to understand that with customers being used to accessory apps being called “App for …” in the App Stores it would be impossible to market the app without mentioning WhatsApp in the title. This is why I have decided to move out of the App Store as long as Apple and/or WhatsApp does not change its course.

[Update May 22nd 2017]: I am glad to announce that the involved parties and me have succeeded in working out a solution to this problem. As a consequence the iPad version of ChatMate for WhatsApp is available on the App Store with immediate effect.

Thank you for your understanding and for further supporting the App and me!