Tweetbot and Twitterrific are asking customers to refuse refunds in a rare App Store exception

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Twitter officially banned third-party clients last month, bringing a sudden end to popular apps, including Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and others. Now, in an unusual turn of events, two developers this week updated their closed apps with new functionality: They ask their subscribers not to receive a refund by clicking a new “I don’t need a refund” button in their app. non-functional apps. And in the case of Tapbots’ Tweetbot app, users can choose to switch their subscription to the company’s latest app – the Mastodon client Ivory – instead. The options allow subscribers sympathetic to the plight of these indie developers to offer support by not asking for their money back.

It’s an unprecedented situation to say the least, and one of most subscription-based iOS apps should never have to face it.

In most other scenarios, a company’s decision to end API access, as Twitter did, would have been telegraphed well in advance. This would allow the companies that depend on the API functionality to communicate with their customers about the change and prepare for taking the next steps. However, the third-party Twitter clients had no warning.

Twitter didn’t communicate ahead of the API changes or even admit what it had done as backlash from users and developers grew. After initially ignoring the complaints, the company later tweeted that it was merely “enforcing longstanding API rules.” But those rules weren’t documented in the developer’s terms until after API access was taken away. Which “long-standing” rules Twitter was referring to is still unclear. (Maybe it was that time, 12 years ago, when the company told developers to stop trying to compete by building clients? Who knows!)

While Twitter may never have fully embraced the idea that there are apps out there that offer alternative experiences, it ultimately decided to leave these particular third-party apps alone, even as it cracked down on other API usage. Twitter, it seemed, grudgingly acknowledged the apps’ long history of contributing positively to the ecosystem. Plus, they supported some of Twitter’s most dedicated users.

While the apps’ respective user bases were small compared to Twitter’s official app, they were large enough to support the indie developers’ businesses. Like most subscription apps, they also monetized through monthly and yearly subscriptions on the App Store. That means that when Twitter pulled the plug, the companies were in the unfortunate position of having their projected revenues halted almost immediately. And in the case of annual subscribers who paid upfront for a year’s service, they should soon have to pay cash back.

Both apps — Tweetbot by Tapbots and Twitterrific by The Iconfactory — rolled out app updates on Monday, according to their App Store pages. And now both apps have similar wording around the requests they’ve made to their subscribers.

For example, in Tweetbot, there are a handful of options to choose from. The top option lets paying customers click a button to transfer their subscription to the company’s new app, Ivory. A second option reads “I’m happy with what I got from Tweetbot and don’t need a refund,” and offers a big blue “I don’t need a refund” button to click. A third option ensures that customers who do want a prorated refund do nothing – the refund will be automated through Apple, which is the usual way of doing things.

Image Credits: screenshot via Brent Simmons on Mastodon (Opens in a new window)

Meanwhile, Twitterrific’s post is almost the same, but doesn’t offer a subscription transfer option. Unlike Tapbots, the company didn’t build a Mastodon client that would make sense as a new destination for subscribers’ money. Like Tweetbot, Twitterrific also offers an option that reads “I’m happy with what I got from Twitterrific and don’t want a refund at this time,” with a blue button below to click for those who agree. Customers who want their refund prorated will be re-informed that Apple will refund them.

In addition, Twitterrific provides links at the bottom of the screen to other Iconfactory apps and, unsurprisingly, to its Mastodon account.

What’s interesting is that neither company was able to comment officially on their updates, indicating that Apple probably made a special exception to the usual App Store rules here. (We were directed to contact Apple PR for comment, but have not heard back.)

There aren’t many other situations where apps should be allowed to ask for what are essentially donations through subscription payments for non-functional apps. But given the high-profile nature of what happened to Twitter, it makes sense that Apple allowed these apps to make such requests.

Of course, this unique situation requires subscribers to download the apps again — or update them if they’re still installed — then click the button to stop the otherwise automatic prorated refund. This is not ideal. These companies have done nothing wrong and will now have to dig into their own pockets anyway to pay out many refunds because a number of customers don’t know how to reopen these apps in the first place.

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