Apple has been accused by one of its former executives of openly allowing China’s WeChat an exemption from the US company’s strict rules around iPhone apps.
Phillip Shoemaker, who was in charge of policing the App Store until 2016, claimed WeChat’s continued presence on iPhones amounted to a “special exception”, and speculated that Apple allowed it because it feared being frozen out of the lucrative Chinese smartphone market.
It comes as Apple endures growing pressure over its governance of the App Store, through which iPhone apps are downloaded, and as the company also faces the prospect of having to remove WeChat from the store as part of Donald Trump’s campaign against Chinese technology companies.
WeChat is China’s most popular app and dominates digital life in the country. While it functions as a basic messaging service in the West, the Chinese version allows users to launch separate “mini apps”, distinct programs that run within the main WeChat app, and are used for shopping, payments and hailing taxis. Apple does not explicitly prohibit this, but “generally” requires mini apps to follow strict rules.
“Apple gives a special exception to WeChat that they grant nobody else in the world. That’s puzzling,” said Mr Shoemaker. “That is like rule number one, you can’t have an app inside of an app. They [WeChat] are the only ones allowed.”
Mr Shoemaker said when he was at Apple he had repeatedly told WeChat’s owner Tencent that the app was not allowed to launch mini apps in this way, but that the company’s stance had appeared to change after he left.
“We know if WeChat’s going on the iPhone in China, the iPhone won’t sell well. It infuriates me to this day because that’s one of the fundamental points that I wrote in the guidelines,” he said.