Tuesday, August 18, 2020

AppAdvice Removed From the App Store (in 2015)

Mahmoud Hafez:

Today I found out an email I wrote to @tim_cook in 2015 was part of the congressional record in the antitrust hearings earlier this month. My email was about App Review gaining too much power (back in 2015!)


Apple removed our popular iOS app which at the time was visited by 750k devices each day. Our app was an app recommendation app that curated the App Store into lists of best apps to download. In late 2014 it was removed from the App Store without warning.


The reason they listed was not their true motivations.

Mahmoud Hafez (Hacker News):

I subsequently spoke to Phillip Shoemaker, who confirmed that Apple executives ordered the elimination of apps that drove downloads to the App Store. He said “Your app drove download volume. Apple doesn’t want any outside sources to drive ratings. So yeah, we got rid of all app recommendation apps.” He said he thought it was unfair, but this was something Apple set out to do, and even as Senior Director of App Store (person directly in charge of App Review), he could not stop it.

The other thing that was hard to understand, is we used to have a great relationship with Apple. We were not flying under the radar. Since the App Store first launched in 2008, we used to be invited to all Apple events to see the new product launches, we met with the iTunes team to discuss upcoming initiates for the App Store, our apps were featured on the devices inside of many demo units into Apple Stores. It felt like a complete 180, and until this day I never got a formal conversation on what they actually objected to, beyond being pointed to a vague rule which was applied arbitrarily. They became a brick wall in terms of communication, and this is why I resorted to emailing Tim Cook.

How can this be, when Tim Cook told Congress that the rules are “transparent” and Apple wants to “get every app we can on the store, not keep them off”?

The letter (PDF):

When we saw some apps get removed, it made us more steadfast in our mission. Because we believed the fact that we were not bothered is because we were doing it the "right1 way. We were really serving the user and the App Store. Not selling fake "recommendations" as deceptive ads. We literally turned down millions of dollars in revenues, as developers repeatedly asked to pay per install to be featured in our app (outside of tradition advertising).


I always thought I knew what these guidelines were trying to protect. People gaming the App Store charts and users being tricked into believing bad apps were the best. But we are not doing that. I can’t even make up a reason why I think Apple would not want our app on the Store. It’s a great app with [redacted] 5 star reviews and countless thank you emails from our users.

I fear App Review is getting too powerful. It’s no longer about keeping iDevices safe or protecting the user’s best interest. It’s now about something else which I don’t understand. I am not alone in this observation and it honestly makes developing on the platform scary.


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