Thursday, September 16, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

FlickType Sherlock+’d

Tom Maxwell (Hacker News):

But one, seemingly minor product announcement has caused a stir in the developer community: the new full software keyboard that Apple is adding to the Apple Watch.

It was just last month that Kosta Eleftheriou, the developer of FlickType, announced that his swipe-based keyboard for the blind would be pulled off the App Store over objections by Apple. Its reasoning was unclear[…]

A separate version for the Apple Watch would remain, but then Apple pulled that one as well, telling Eleftheriou that keyboards aren’t allowed on the Apple Watch.

Now Apple has announced its own, nearly-identical keyboard for the Apple Watch — and seven years after the smartwatch was introduced, no less.

Kosta Eleftheriou:

So now we know. See you in court, @Apple.

Dave Mark:

I’m mystified by this decision by Apple, especially given the ratcheted up scrutiny they are under. Did they think no one would make the connection? Or did they not care about that, Sherlock business as usual?

This is much worse than a regular Sherlocking. In the past, Apple would just build a popular third-party feature into the operating system. You can argue about whether there’s a more or less fair way to do that, but at the end of the day it makes sense to have a built-in keyboard. What’s different here is that, not only does the third-party app have to compete with the built-in feature, but Apple is also using App Review to harass the developer and block updates for no good reason. Competing with Apple on an unfair playing field is difficult, but it can be done and has been many times. But you can’t compete when they won’t let you ship your app and won’t even explain why they’re rejecting it.

Rui Carmo:

Seeing the Sherlocking of FlickType streamed live to the world, however, was a major downer (I was one of the Watch beta testers, and loved it). Apple really ought to be better than this, and I expect a fair amount of fallout over the next few days.

Joshua Topolsky:

This is really messed up. Apple forced a keyboard designed for the blind off of the App Store... and then announced its own version of it yesterday. COME ON you can do better than this.

Previously:

Update (2021-09-17): William Gallagher:

Kosta Eleftheriou’s lawsuit had already been filed when Apple unveiled QuickPath. Apple says it has told Eleftheriou that following further explanation from him, it now believes that the app’s accessibility keyboard complies with App Store rules.

In other words, it never should have been rejected.

Sean Hollister:

Yes, Eleftheriou filed his suit nearly six full months before the Apple Watch Series 7 announcement.

[…]

But no, Apple didn’t actually reject every Apple Watch keyboard app in 2019 — Eleftheriou believes his app was singled out for this treatment.

[…]

The company basically admits that removing Eleftheriou’s app was a mistake, and claims it quickly corrected the issue.

But Eleftheriou disputes that last point, saying it took a year of appeals and resubmissions to get his keyboard back onto the store. “From [January 2019] on, I was simultaneously discussing a FlickType acquisition with them, while also being rejected,” he tells me. And Apple initially made it look like those appeals failed, too. “The App Review Board evaluated your app and determined that the original rejection feedback is valid. Please note that all appeal results are final,” reads Eleftheriou from a message he received in May 2019.

In the complaint, he alleges it wasn’t until January 2020, a year after the surprise takedown, that his Apple Watch keyboard extension was approved.

[…]

He’s particularly annoyed with how Apple’s own keyboard has an unfair advantage since it doesn’t need to use its own APIs, and how those APIs are lacking features that Apple publicly promised years ago.

5 Comments

Kevin Schumacher

Somebody's lying here. Apple claims that after initial rejection(s?) FlickType was allowed into the App Store in 2019, and that they changed their policy to allow Watch keyboards at some point in 2019 after the Series 4 launched. Eleftheriou says they didn't let him back in until 2020.

Apple also says "it has told Eleftheriou that following further explanation from him, it now believes that the app's accessibility keyboard complies with App Store rules." Unless Eleftheriou is making it up entirely, this would have to have been at some point after the week of silence he described when he announced FlickType being discontinued.

https://appleinsider.com/articles/21/09/15/apple-refutes-flicktype-developers-account-of-app-store-issues

It seems unlikely Apple would say something publicly that is easily proven or disproven with App Store sales records or emails. So I'm curious what's going on here.

(Also, the subhead of the Tom Maxwell article you linked is flat-out incorrect. "Apple recently removed the FlickType keyboard, saying that keyboards aren’t allowed on the Apple Watch." No, they didn't. I'm guessing that's based on Eleftheriou posting the 2019 rejection letter on Twitter, which does say "no Watch keyboards", but the fact that there was no further inquiry into it makes me suspicious of the whole article.)

@Kevin I think Maxwell has the timing wrong, and you’re right that watch keyboards are no longer forbidden. Eleftheriou posted a rejection screenshot this week, but judging by the app version number it’s from a while ago. That makes sense because the app is in the store now.

If you look at Apple’s statement, they say that they changed the rules in 2019, not that the app was back in the store in 2019. I believe Eleftheriou has previously described how even after keyboards were allowed they slow-walked him with a long series of spurious rejections. So there’s not necessarily an inconsistency there.

Yes, if Apple says they changed their mind again sometime after the week of silence, they’re probably telling the truth. Sounds like more of the same, where the process is the punishment.

"Somebody's lying here. Apple claims that after initial rejection(s?) FlickType was allowed into the App Store in 2019, and that they changed their policy to allow Watch keyboards at some point in 2019 after the Series 4 launched. Eleftheriou says they didn't let him back in until 2020."

That doesn't mean that somebody is lying. In fact, this sounds exactly what I would happen to expect based on Apple's announcement: they officially allow keyboard apps into the store to get good PR/make it look like they're not behaving in a monopolistic manner, and then use the review process to bully devs instead.

Wholeheartedly agree. You cant stop a platform adding features. And while a platform shouldn't be Sherlocking everything. There are just things that are deemed normal by user to be default on the platform. The biggest problem here is the use of App Store to stop competition.

"I’m mystified by this decision by Apple, especially given the ratcheted up scrutiny they are under. Did they think no one would make the connection?"

This is the classical mistake of comparing the motives of a corporation with those of a person. Apple didn’t think no one would make the connection. Apple itself didn’t make the connection. Surely, nobody is telling App Review about all the watchOS features in the pipeline.

Not to excuse Apple. They carry the responsibility, because they made App Review a thing. But it’s not the consequence of a mastermind plan to rip off a developer. It’s more that developer interests don’t even register in their decisions.

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