David Heinemeier Hansson

January 5, 2024

Apple rejects the HEY Calendar from their App Store

There should at least be a standard of double jeopardy when it comes to the app store monopoly regimes. If you’ve managed to overturn a rejection of your service once, they can’t come after you on the same service again later. We could have used that today!

But unfortunately there is no rule of law with the app stores, except that of the jungle, and Apple is the 800 lbs gorilla, ruling as it sees fit. So now HEY is back on trial in their kangaroo court. This time with our new calendar feature, HEY Calendar, which we dared make a separate app in service of users. 

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.

This is a ridiculous charge. The App Store is filled with high-profile applications that require an existing service account and simply presents a login screen when first launched. Here are just four:

Salesforce, JPMorgan, Netflix, and Google Calendar all greet the user with the same gate: Login with your existing account. There are thousands of other apps just like this. Some access enterprise services, like Salesforce. Some access consumer services, like JPMorgan. Some access streaming services, like Netflix. And, finally, some access calendar services that are part of a larger subscription suite you purchase on the web, like Google Calendar. And HEY Calendar!

But none of this even matters. Nowhere in the Apple App Store Guidelines is there a prohibition on apps that require preexisting accounts! The only ruleset that’s relevant to this discussion is that which governs who has to use in-app payments and who can avoid it.

Those were the rules we fought Apple over when HEY originally launched back in 2020. Where we successfully managed to secure a carve-out. This is that carve-out from 3.1.3 (f):


As you can see, Email Services are specifically mentioned because HEY fought this battle once already back in 2020. HEY Calendar is a free companion app to that very same service.

It’s even more frustrating because this one-service-many-apps strategy is exactly the same that Apple has taken with iCloud. That’s one subscription which is powered by a suite of individual apps. You have Mail, you have Calendar, you have Files. All connect to the same cloud service that’s billed for once. Just like HEY.

But Apple has become so emboldened by a decade of free monopoly reign that they don’t even feign a superficial adherence to their own rules. They carve out exceptions left and right to mega corporations they’d rather not anger, then invent entirely new rules that aren’t codified anywhere when it suits them, and finally rebuts every demand for consistency and predictability with “just submit your app and we’ll review”. This is intolerable.

But it’s also highly profitable. Service revenue is the fastest growing part of Apple’s business, and none of that revenue comes easier than taking a 30% cut of the app economy.

So what’s going to happen? I don’t know, but I do know that we’ll keep fighting. We’re never going to roll over and pay Apple 30% in protection money to be left alone. Last time we found a way, and we will again.

Hopefully our example, and the countless others we’ve seen over the years, will finally force competition authorities around the world to act. We have the Digital Markets Act coming in the EU in just a couple of months. That could very well be a game-changer. So too could the lawsuit by the American Department of Justice that was just revealed to be imminent today. 

The last time the DOJ sued Microsoft in the late 90s/early 2000s, it inflicted a serious wound on Redmond’s capacity to capture markets, which gave us the rise of Google, Apple, and others. Hopefully that will happen again and a thousand free-market flowers will bloom once no longer deprived of access to sun, water, and customers.

One can only dream. But one should also fight. You don’t get something for nothing.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.