Twitter officially banned third-party clients last month, bringing a sudden end to popular apps like Tweetbot, Twitterific, and others. Well, in an unusual turn of events, two developers this week updated their shut down apps with new features: asking their subscribers to decline a refund by clicking a new “I don’t need a refund” button in the newly non-working apps. And in the case of Tapbots’ Tweetbot app, users can switch their subscription to the company’s latest app — its Maston client Ivory — instead. The new options allow subscribers who sympathize with the plight of these indie developers to offer support by not asking for their money.
It’s an unprecedented situation, to say the least, that most subscription-based iOS apps would never face.
In most other scenarios, a company’s decision to end API access, as Twitter has done, would have been telegraphed well in advance. This would allow businesses that depend on API functionality to communicate with their customers about the change and prepare for next steps. However, the third-party Twitter clients had no warning.
Twitter didn’t communicate ahead of time about its API changes, and didn’t even admit what it had been doing as user and developer backlash mounted. Finally, the company tweeted that it was just “enforcing its longstanding API rules.” However, these rules were not documented in the Developer Terms until after API access was removed. It’s still unclear which “longstanding” rules Twitter was referring to. (Maybe it was back then 12 years ago when the company told developers to stop competing in building customers? Who knows!)
While Twitter may never have fully embraced the idea that there were apps that offered alternative experiences, it ultimately chose to leave these particular third-party apps alone, even as it has cracked down on other API usages. Twitter, it seemed, grudgingly acknowledged the apps long history of making positive contributions to the ecosystem. They also supported some of Twitter’s most dedicated users.
Although the apps’ respective user bases were small compared to Twitter’s official app, they were large enough to support the independent developers’ business. Like most subscription apps, they have also been monetized through monthly and yearly subscriptions on the App Store. That said, when Twitter pulled the plug, companies were in the unfortunate position of having their anticipated earnings halted almost immediately. And in the case of annual subscribers who paid for a year’s service upfront, they’d soon have to make out-of-pocket refunds.
Both apps — Tapbots’ Tweetbot and IconFactory’s Twitterific — rolled out app updates on Monday, according to their app store pages. And now both apps share similar wording regarding the requests they make to their subscribers.
In Tweetbot, for example, there are a handful of options to choose from. The top option allows paying customers to click a button to transfer their subscription to the company’s new app, Ivory. A second option reads “I’m happy with the result of Tweetbot and don’t need a refund” and has a big, blue “I don’t need a refund” button that can be clicked. A third option directs customers who want a prorated refund to do nothing — the refund will be automated by Apple, which is standard practice.
Meanwhile, Twitterific’s message is almost the same, but it doesn’t offer an option to transfer subscriptions. Unlike Tapbots, the company hasn’t built a mastodon client that would make sense as a new destination for subscriber funds. Like Tweetbot, Twitterific also offers an option that says “I’m happy with what I received from Twitterific and don’t want a refund at this time,” with a blue button at the bottom for those who agree to click. Customers who want their prorated refund are again informed that Apple will refund them.
Additionally, at the bottom of the screen, Twitterific provides links to other IconFactory apps and, unsurprisingly, his Mastodon account.
Interestingly, neither company has been able to officially comment on the situation, suggesting that Apple likely made a special exception to its usual App Store rules here. (We were directed to reach out to Apple PR for comment, but we received no response.)
There aren’t too many other situations where apps would actually be allowed to request donations in the form of subscription payments for non-working apps. But given the notoriety of what happened to Twitter, it makes sense that Apple would allow those apps to make such requests.
Of course, this unique situation requires subscribers to re-download or update the apps if they’re still installed, and then click the button to prevent the otherwise automatic prorated refund, which isn’t ideal. These companies did nothing wrong and are now having to dig into their own pockets to pay out the refunds as many customers are unaware that they are even supposed to reopen these apps.