Email continues to be the lifeblood of Internet communication, no matter how many times some have tried to kill it or “upgrade” it. Google tried the latter route with the now-defunct Inbox but it was pretty much just a new skin over an old email system. Basecamp, most popular for its Internet-based project management suite, is taking another stab at it with HEY but while the premise is definitely interesting, its sudden conflict with Apple’s App Store policies could end up marring its launch.
HEY isn’t an email client on top of Gmail, Yahoo, or whatever, Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson make it painfully clear. It’s a new email service, complete with server backend and clients for desktops and mobile that is designed to renovate and modernize email without really killing it. It’s a bold claim, especially in an age where Google has almost all but won that space.
In fact, HEY’s list of features almost makes it sound like the anti-Gmail. Emails coming from never-before-seen addresses are automatically filtered into a holding area while those that you’ve decided to let through are categorized into different bins. All without resorting to a heavy dependence on AI, putting users in direct control of the decision-making process.
More importantly, HEY isn’t free, costing a flat $99 per year, which is how Basecamp says it intends on supporting the service without having to resort to privacy shenanigans. That, however, has curiously put it at odds with Apple who has now rejected a bug fix update to the HEY iOS app after initially approving it. Apple’s reason? It violated an App Store policy about only using Apple’s payment system if the app lets people buy stuff from it.
The problem is that HEY doesn’t actually let users “buy” anything from the app, as the only way to sign up for an account is through HEY’s website. Apple explains that it only allows such “sign-in only” apps for business apps like Basecamp but not for consumer apps, even when apps like Netflix and Slack don’t offer subscription options on their iOS apps either. Heinemeier Hansson, a vocal critic of Big Tech, is prepared to fight tooth and nail rather than agree to pay Apple’s App Store tax but it remains to be seen how much damage that will do to the newly-born email product.