Letters from Steve: iOS Subscription Rules Created for Publishers

An e-mail reportedly from Apple CEO Steve Jobs may be offering some clarity on Apple’s iOS subscription policy — an iOS developer wrote Mr. Jobs expressing concern over whether Apple would be applying those new rules to software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps, and the reply he said he got back from Mr. Jobs said in no uncertain terms that they were intended for the publishing industry.

There has been much ado made over iOS subscriptions in the two weeks since Apple introduced its plan earlier in February. Publishers aren’t happy because Apple won’t give them customer data, and music and book services, as well as SaaS app developers (Box.net, Dropbox, Readability, and others) were concerned that their business model couldn’t accommodate a 30% cut going to Apple.

In a piece examining the story, MacRumors published an e-mail exchange between an unnamed iOS developer and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The developer wrote Mr. Jobs asking for clarity on the situation, saying:

Hello Steve,

As a full time iOS developer, I am concerned (and confused) withe the new App Store guideline regarding “Apps offering subscriptions” (section 11.12).

Most of the iOS apps I have developed, as a contractor for other businesses, have been free apps that had login screens to allow the user access to some amount of private data. and/or service. These businesses have all been well established companies that sell some kind of service to their customers (Software As a Service companies) and the iOS app was merely another “portal” for their users to access their data/services (in many times, in a limited i.e. “mobile” fashion)…. for example; SalesForce. I am concerned that most of these businesses will choose to not develop an iOS app for their customers if the IAP & subscription policy was in place.

Would these type’s of free apps be still be allowed in the App Store or will they now be expected to use IAP?

Mr. Jobs has often responded to letters from fans, critics, developers, and reporters, and many (if not most) of those responses have quickly made it to the Internet. Such was the case this time, according to the unnamed developer, who received this reply from Mr. Jobs:

We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps.

Sent from my iPhone

One would think that Apple will make some sort of official clarification of this policy at some point, but if this letter is from Steve Jobs, it would seem that Dropbox and even the larger enterprise services like SalesForce are not part of Apple’s plans to bring in subscription revenue.

As for Readability, if the company’s app was rejected for violating the subscription policy, it would seem that Apple considers the app a publishing app, and not an SaaS app, so long live the opportunity for debate between pro and anti-Apple partisans.