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Apple has copied some of the most popular apps in the App Store (washingtonpost.com)
465 points by rgbrenner on Sept 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 309 comments

Since the App Store launched in July 2008 until Nov 2011, my app, Drum Kit, was one of the top apps in the Music category. It went up to #2 at one point, only behind Smule's Ocarina, and had over 10 million downloads.

The day GarageBand launched, my app went from something like #24 in Music to #64, and downward from there. Fun times!

Interestingly, at an Apple conference sometime in 2010 (either C4 or WWDC), some guy asked me all kinds of detailed questions about the custom audio engine I wrote. Back then the "iPhone SDK" (now iOS SDK) audio APIs had too much latency for a drum app. So I had to write my own in C++ based on Audio Units (a low level C API). A tricky thing I had to do was mix multiple buffers of audio to create the resonance effect drums make when you hit them repeatedly (most prominent in cymbals). Later I found out the person asking me the questions worked at Apple, on the team that made GarageBand. They didn't launch with a blended resonance effect. When you hit a cymbal repeatedly, it would cut off the sound and play the sound again. Ew.

People miss out when they don't try some of the more indie apps. A lot of care goes into making them.

I was a huge fan of your app! We used to play around with it a bit in high school.

To be fair to Apple here (and this was way before my time, so I'm probably mixing stuff up) - Garageband dates to 2004 with the eMagic acquisition and was (iirc) built on top of the Logic Pro audio engine. And back then, you still had to deal with the raw CoreAudio API (if anyone wants an adventure, try finding the documentation for it... you'll have to generate it yourself!) on MacOS. I recently had to dig through the old CoreAudio mailing list and read a book [1] on the API for low latency stuff, and I'm guessing that in terms of their engine there wasn't much needing change (at least architecturally) to port to iOS. I seem to recall the biggest difference between desktop/mobile versions was the featureset and UI, I think the problem you mention was present even in Logic. You had to get hacky with ES24's key/velocity maps to do what you mention.

From working in the pro audio world for awhile, I've found that other folks in the space just love to talk shop about how they do things. Audio devs are nerds like that. Doesn't always mean people are stealing from others.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Core-Audio-Hands-Programming...

I interviewed with Apple for a research and development related position a few years ago and although the process is notoriously shrouded in secrecy and n-levels of NDAs, I noticed the interview began to shift from assessing my technical ability and team fit to prying for information about a very specific set of technologies I'd worked closely with. Those technologies had some odd turns of events with shifts in private IP ownership no one seemed to know about, including leading industry competitors I spoke with.

Perhaps I'm paranoid but it felt like Apple had purchased some of those private technologies and were wasting my time with a bogus interview prying for information about what I knew of the system before the IP mysteriously changed hands, likely because I had more levels of access to something they wanted to commercialize in the future. I haven't seen anything pushed to market yet but I've seen some semi related products creep up recently.

Did you approche Apple or vice versa?

They could also be testing if you're the kind of person who gives away secrets too easily.

Apple isn't interviewing you to spy on you.

Apple's audio APIs have always been terrible and buggy. It's why I wrote ObjectAL [1].

I toyed with redoing everything in audio units for awhile [2], but the prospect of re-implementing OpenAL's features in audio units to build a complete one-stop audio solution was a bit too much for what time I had available ;-)

[1] https://github.com/kstenerud/ObjectAL-for-iPhone

[2] https://github.com/kstenerud/Aural

Garage Band came out in 2004. Apple porting it to iOS and then not including a feature you talked about isn’t an example of Apple “copying” popular apps.

At first I thought your comment was going to be about Apple's Smart Drummer feature in Logic (and I think Garageband?).

Logic Drummer is a killer feature, at least for on-the-grid stuff. Usually the drum parts it generates for me are more inventive and have way more variety than anything I play by hand or program manually.

Sorry to hear about your situation, though.

I've made some (C#) code that applies an ambisonic convoluted reverberation impulse response to an audio stream, but I'm hitting performance walls with Unity & C#. I want to go C++ & Unreal, but every time I try to learn C++ my eyes glaze over and I come down with a bad case of the Stupids.

Is there any "C++ for dummies with a bent for audio processing" material you'd recommend?

I hate to just say it like this, but it’s unlikely that C# is really your bottleneck. It’s more likely the approach or the libraries you are using that are the issue.

Try a clean implementation of that particular logic in pure C# on .NET Core, you should be able to get it working more than adequately fast. I’m saying this as someone that (re)writes applications in C++ and rust to provide pseudo-rt guarantees.

yeah especially with Span<T> it's way easier to create high performance code, while reducing GC pressure. Also depending on the Platform P/Invoke to C/C++ is also a solution that works quite better than on Java's JNI.

>applies an ambisonic convoluted reverberation impulse response to an audio stream

Yikes. If you're doing naive convolution that's O(n^2) in real time.

Try reading up on partitioned convolution techniques via FFT. The current state of the art in FFTs is using FFTW (extremely fast, GPL licensed but a bit tricky to get a commercial license if that is unacceptable) or IPP on x86 (closed source, but works and is fast).

I'd also try looking at Facebook's Two Big Ears code for ambisonic rendering via HRTFs:


I got started by studying the C++ code in the sample app called Touch Fighter in one of the earliest iPhone SDKs. Michael Tyson's blog helped a lot too: http://atastypixel.com/blog/. This is in Swift but really good intro to audio processing on iOS: https://github.com/syedhali/AudioStreamer.

"The audio programming book" by MIT press is amazing, a great book that doesn't cost much. Starts with a fairly large c++ tutorial.

Have you tried using all the value types performance magic (avoid GC, use structs, avoid copying, consider stackalloc, etc)?

I've built something very similar, but in C++, my email address is in my hn profile page...

You'll for sure start to hate your life as soon as you start messing with UE4.

With Apple buying Emagic in 2002, I’m surprised they weren’t able to do a better job. Emagic was the company that originally made Logic, the professional audio application Apple still sells today.

And the EXS24 sampler still looks the same. They've re-skinned every other plugin, but this thing is still straight out of 1999.

That makes me think of the Creaceed indie dev. When they release an app they usually have a short technical description of what they are doing (e.g, image preparation for OCR[1], live collaboration with CRDT and OT[2]).

I guess it's always an exercise to reveal enough to spark interest but not too much to keep the secret sauce.

[1] https://medium.com/@creaceed/the-making-of-prizmo-5-4006558c...

[2] https://medium.com/@creaceed/drawing-together-behind-the-sce...

>The day GarageBand launched, my app went from something like #24 in Music to #64, and downward from there. Fun times!

I don't understand. GarageBand must have provided users with some of the features your users wanted, so they switched. But how is one app responsible for yours to go from #24 to #64? Shouldn't it have gone from #24 to #25 (with GarageBand in front of your app)?

Not all music apps are drum apps. So its drop in downloads allowed other music apps to pass it.

Garageband has existed since 2004 though. They were probably already very far in the port.

Garageband existed well before 2004,but I can't find any references to it. I think emagic (or a predecessor) had it out in the 90s on Atari or Mac, or both. I remember using it in high school, and I remember when Apple re-released it in 2004.

Does anyone have any more info on this? It's surprisingly hard to find.

You might be thinking of Logic or one of it's predecessors for Atari and Mac. I don't see any software that used the name GarageBand before Apple though.

> Logic stemmed from Creator, then Notator, made by C-Lab (the company's forerunner) for the Atari ST platform.


Garageband definitely existed. I remember my music teacher showing me in about 1993/94. It was very simple, and we usually used cubase, but it was a thing. That's why I'm asking! It seems to have disappeared into the music software black hole and I have definite memories of it existing many years before Apple released their version of it. I'm talking well before osx came out! I do tend to think it was a mac program though, as we had Ataris and macs in the music lab and I usually used the Atari with a Roland sound canvas module (can't remember which one) and garageband wasn't something I remember using with any frequency.

Of course Apple copies features—Camera+'s volume button shutter was initially blocked from the App Store then wound up in the first-party Camera app. But I don't buy the premise of the article.

There were dozens of flashlight apps in the store when iPhone OS 2 came out, so the OS can never have a built-in flashlight feature?

That article's examples of "copied" features are also straightforward evolutions of existing ones that have been around for years, but the author doesn't mention that.

Sidecar, ostensibly a clone of Duet Display, builds off of the ability to wirelessly extend the display to an Apple TV since Mavericks (2013). Regarding Clue, the second release of the Health app added reproductive health tracking in iOS 9 (2015). Certainly at the time engineers and product managers would have been thinking about the future direction of these features.

In fact, it strikes me that Apple is _very_slow_ at making obvious improvements, creating opportunities for third-party developers to make plenty of money. Those ad-infested, 100 LoC flashlight apps made cash for 5 years before the feature became part of the OS.

Whether copied or not, I'm extremely skeptical that App Store analytics are influencing OS features. It's never been Apple's style to be analytics-driven.

I remember one of my acquaintances on Facebook shared a sad story of how the app they developed was stolen by Apple: it trackedyour iPhone activity.

They went in detail about the “revolutionary” tech behind it: they made you set up a VPN on your phone so that they could track all of your net activity, from that they would estimate your screen time with the apps.

There was a long set of paragraphs on how Apple is taking advantage of independent developers.

I mean - I hate the fact that I can’t change the default browser to Firefox, too. But making the users set your logging VPN under the guise of “making your life healthier by knowing how much time you spend on the phone” is another level.

Setting up a VPN that tracks all of your network activity? That makes me queasy. Why should I trust these people to keep all that valuable network traffic data private for me?

Apple didn't steal this idea. They may have implemented it in a better way given their low-level system access but, in this case, and in my opinion, I'd rather this be something the OS tracks for me for free by a company that doesn't make their money off the sale of my private personal data.

It's a local VPN, all on device. Still a workaround, but data isn't being sent anywhere though.

In their case it wasn't a local VPN.

True, I somehow though we were talking about the digital wellbeing apps that Apple copied and banned.

How can a VPN be local? If there is no vpn server at the other end is it really a VPN?

The phone itself is the VPN Server. Its a trick used for the app to look at some of the network traffic.

Cloudflare's app does the same thing but for DNS, to capture the DNS requests from the phone you need to create a "local vpn", but not all your traffic is going though Cloudflare (yet, they do plan to add a VPN to the app at some point).

EDIT: All Custom DNS settings apps for mobile connections on iPhone (I forget if Android is the same) ate like this. I use nextdns and their app does the same.

Thanks for the explanation

The VPN is local if both the client and the server are local.

Judging by the replies to this, there seems to be some confusion about what’s being referenced. heavenlyblue is describing Apple’s crackdown on Facebook’s Project Atlas from Facebook’s perspective.

Facebook developed a very intrusive app and utilized MDM to allow people to install it, since they couldn’t list it in the App Store. This isn’t the purpose of MDM, of course; when Apple found out, they revoked Facebook’s MDM certificate. Facebook wasn’t happy about this, especially since their internal company apps stopped working on iOS.

I believe heavenlblue is pointing out that Apple’s strict rules and closed ecosystem have their benefits. I’m not sure I understand how that’s relevant to the article, though.

They're describing Screen Time and the third party apps it replaced. Project Atlas also used a VPN, but it was advertised as a paid study.

Yes indeed, they’re likely not talking about Project Atlas, but this story[1]. Also, the OP on that story, framing it as Apple stealing their idea is a bit of a stretch, IMO.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20206686

Not to mention that Apple doesn't even provide monthly data usage per app, unless you reset your stats each time. Come on, Android had that feature since at least Android 4.0, if not earlier than that, and you can specific the day your billing cycle happens.

Some apps like My Data Manager[1] requires the use of an loopback VPN to achieve that.

[1]: https://apps.apple.com/app/my-data-manager-vpn-security/id47...

I think the data usage reset is a side effect of certain carriers not supporting the proper features. My T-Mobile US plan seems to reset itself every month.

But let’s say you want something that tracks your app usage, before Apple had built that into the operating system. There’s no good APIs to do that, certainly for privacy reasons because many app developers are sleazy, but having it not be possible at all is frustrating. The VPN workaround is definitely a hack, but if it accomplishes your goal then I think it’s pretty ingenious to do so.

I love how iOS does many things to respect my privacy, and limits what app developers can do by default. I absolutely love that I can disable camera or location or whatever access on an app by app basis, because by default I don’t trust app developers. But there are some things I really wish I could do with my phone and I have no way to tell my phone to trust an app to do something that is extremely sensitive.

I see what you did there :clap

I don't understand, what did he do there?

That doesn't fit the description.

That's exactly the sort of chicanery that makes me resent having development so accessible. The end justifies the means, whatever they are, with no regard for how those means are supposedly justified and achieved. Keep tech elitist, I say...

the idea that elites behave more morally than non-elites (whatever they are) is so ridiculous I have to assume you're being sarcastic. low bar to entry just means LOTS of stuff happens, not that a larger percentage of bad stuff happens.

the vpn skullduggery referenced by the OP was being done by facebook. you think they couldn't afford to pay an elite coder to do exactly that?

Yes but historically there's been a stronger sense of culture around engineering excellence, more channels for setting errant programmers straight, and they were considerably more accessible than they are now. While I agree with your statements about elites in general, all one has to do is look at how much less dangerous and more trustworthy the internet was circa 20 years ago (relative, I know, I'm not saying it was 100% safe or even 90% safe).

it strikes me that Apple is _very_slow_ at making obvious improvements, creating opportunities for third-party developers to make plenty of money.

You can see this on both macOS and iOS (and especially on the iPad) with Notes, Weather, Stocks, ToDo and other default apps.

Apple put out very basic apps, hoping that third parties would come up with really great replacements. It's been a decade, and while there are some good alternatives, the ecosystem for these basic apps has languished.

So now in a few days or weeks Apple will release its own, updated, versions that will hopefully push the third parties to do an even better job. Or die trying.

This is also nothing new. Connectix essentially functioned as an unwilling experimental lab for Apple OS features for a long time.


And of course Microsoft did it too, and worse.


Nothing in the Wikipedia article shows anything that Connectix developed that Apple copied. I was very much a Mac user and a Connectix customer back then. Everything that could charitably be called “copied” was a natural evolution.

Mode 32: The original Mac OS wasn’t “32 bit clean”. After Apple introduced an OS that required newer Macs, Connectix filled in the gaps for older Macs that Apple dropped support for.

RAM Doubler : Classic MacOS had horrible memory management. This made it much better. This wasn’t really made obsolete until OS X.

Speed Doubler: A better 68K emulator for PPC Macs. Was Apple not suppose to come out with a better emulator - ever? Even when it did, Speed Doubler was still better.

Virtual PC: Apple never came out with a software x86 emulator. At one point it bundled Insignia’s SoftPC. It did come out with a hardware solution called the DOS Compatibility Card.

None of the other products were ever “copied” by Apple.

The Apple of the 90's is a poor example since they actually legit bought out several existing utilities to bundle in the OS (SuperClock, WindowShade, Stickies, Hierarchical Apple Menu). "Sherlocking" developers didn't come until Steve Jobs returned.

That said...

Connectix Desktop Utilities/Connectix Powerbook Utilities had several features that were later added the OS.

> Speed Doubler

The best feature of Speed Doubler for me is Speed Copy, which adds multitasking to file copies (Finder wouldn't get this until MacOS 8, before that a file copy would monopolize the Finder and you couldn't browse your disk or launch any apps)

That is a truly strange "feature" when people without running X or even tmux can cp on one tty and ls on another.

Mac System 7 wasn't so much an operating system as a collection of utility functions (half of which were burned in ROM on each machine). There was no kernel, everything was completely cooperatively multitasked - software ran it's code and then called a function that would jump to the next running process.

It was designed originally to run off a 400K floppy drive within 128K of RAM. "Copying files" originally meant swapping back and forth between two floppies in the single internal drive and the system had to evacuate as much code as possible from that 128K RAM to minimize the number of floppy swaps.

It took Apple a long time to try to bring that early primitive OS to modern standards while keeping software compatibility, and eventually they gave up and bought NeXT

The Lisa, before the Mac, had a proper multitasking OS, but it cost 3 times as much as the already-expensive Mac so it had the luxury of 1 MB(!!) of RAM and a MMU. It was an utter flop.

Wow - never knew that history. I thought they just made the USB camera.

It seems like the article ends up a bit focused on the wrong things here and there.

Of course Apple is going to build features their customers want and those feature are going to line up to some degree with what is available on the app store. This, in itself, is not a problem as any IP theft here should be covered under IP laws.

The real issue is that when Apple does release an app (especially a paid app like Apple Music), that they don't compete fairly. This happens in three ways which are mentioned in the article:

API parity:

>> the in-house version often benefits from functionality that outside developers are prohibited from using. Apple Music, for instance, is the only streaming service that is entitled to take full advantage of Siri. Apple says it plans to change that policy in its new operating system, iOS 13. Apple’s walkie-talkie app, which launched after independent apps had proved the appeal of the concept, is the only one that can operate on Apple Watch.

Information Parity:

>> what makes Apple’s practice different is its access to a trove of data that nobody else has. The App Store, where the original apps were offered and competed for downloads, collects a vast amount of information on which kinds of apps are successful—even monitoring how much time users spend in them. That data is shared widely among leaders at the tech giant and could be used to make strategic decisions on product development

Power imbalance and IP lawsuits:

>> They generally don’t sue Apple because of the difficulty and expense in fighting the tech giant—and the consequences they might face from being dependent on the platform.

You said:

> Whether copied or not, I'm extremely skeptical that App Store analytics are influencing OS features. It's never been Apple's style to be analytics-driven.

Do you have a basis for this? This seems to be contradicted by this quote:

>> That data is shared widely among leaders at the tech giant and could be used to make strategic decisions on product development, said Phillip Shoemaker, who served as Apple’s director of App Store review from 2009 to 2016. “I think Apple gets a lot of inspiration from apps that are on the App Store,” he said.

The app usage analytics that Apple might have access to are spelled out here: https://developer.apple.com/app-store-connect/analytics/ (Edit: and in Settings > Privacy > Analytics.)

I could see sales or engagement metrics being used to inform a broad strategy like, "augmented reality apps like Snapchat and Pokemon Go are catching on, let's make an API so more developers can do this."

But it's clearly not the case that they're just looking at the top X apps and copying them, right? And when did you _ever_ see iTunes run an A/B test? Generally speaking Apple is a very design- and engineering-driven company.

The larger "business" strategic moves, like creating Apple Pay when Venmo and Square Cash exist, or acquiring Beats to compete in music streaming, aren't likely to be well-informed by these high level metrics.

> The app usage analytics that Apple might have access to are spelled out here: https://developer.apple.com/app-store-connect/analytics/

Those are the analytics they make available to the developer of an App, about that App.

I see nothing there that indicates anything about what Apple collects for internal use.

> And when did you _ever_ see iTunes run an A/B test? Generally speaking Apple is a very design- and engineering-driven company.

> The larger "business" strategic moves, like creating Apple Pay when Venmo and Square Cash exist, or acquiring Beats to compete in music streaming, aren't likely to be well-informed by these high level metrics.

Possibly not, but the smaller decisions about how to build that product almost certainly are. Even if they are not externally doing A/B testing, that doesn't mean they aren't using analytics to inform design decisions.

You can view the analytics collected by your iOS device in Settings > Privacy > Analytics. Below each switch there is a link to an explanation of what is collected. (Specifically regarding app usage, not much is explained.)

At a quick glance, I cannot see any information about third-party apps being shared in this data set.

Why would you believe what closed-source software says it does?

This is a great answer. To echo and add: why can't I open maps links in Google Maps or http links in Google Chrome.

Security may be the easy answer, but there's little doubt that there's an imbalance.

> why can't I open maps links in Google Maps

This is what it does on other platforms. Honestly, if you uninstall Maps it should do this on iOS as well instead of asking you to restore the app.

>>API parity

Generally, an API that Apple is developing gets dogfooded by Apple for at least a year before it is released for public use.

Sometimes they decide the API just isn't there yet, like Marzipan, and they put it through another year of revisions and dogfooding before they make it public.

Apple has operated this way forever.

7 years of Music being the exclusive audio app with Siri support is a particularly crappy example.

I'm sure it takes some work on Apple's side to make that work for 3rd parties, but I'm also sure Apple knew that Spotify users (and many other music apps) wanted it and could have done it sooner.

Apple has been adding more domains to the SiriKit API with every iOS update since the API was added in iOS 10.

>Apps adopt SiriKit by building an extension that communicates with Siri, even when your app isn’t running. The extension registers with specific domains and intents that it can handle. For example, a messaging app can register to support the Messages domain, and the intent to send a message.


Originally it only supported VoIP calling, Messaging, Payments, Photos, Workouts, Ride booking, Car commands, CarPlay (automotive vendors only), and Restaurant reservations.

The next iOS version adds SiriKit support for playing music.

So... Apple added support for domains that don't provide them a competitive advantage well before they added support for the domains that do. Is this supposed to make it look better?

Wait, are you trying to claim Apple doesn't have their own entry in any of those domains?

Ever heard of FaceTime or iMessage? How about Apple Cash?

FaceTime and iMessage are features that are used to sell iPhones (and the ecosystem in general), they are not products that exist to directly provide a revenue to Apple.

I am not super familiar with Apple Cash, but my understanding of it is that it also falls more on the Feature side and doesn't exist to provide a revenue stream on its own (hence why there are no fees for debit cards).

iTunes is clearly more of a product as it creates a significant revenue stream for Apple.

It makes sense that Apple cares less about competition with its features as that leads to a better user experience and more iPhone sales while Apple cares more about competition with products as that cuts directly into their income.

Apple could also make those APIs usable by the public and mark them as "Unstable". Or Apple could choose to not release versions of its apps that depend on thos parts API until those parts of the API are released to the public.

Just because Apple has operated this way "forever" doesn't mean that it isn't anti-competitive and deserving of attention from anti-trust regulators.

I'm not of the opinion that Apple should not be able to both operate and compete in a marketplace, but if they are doing both there need to be some rules put in place to prevent anti-competitive behavior.

> Apple could also make those APIs usable by the public and mark them as "Unstable".

No they couldn't. Because those APIs would become frozen and required by nature of large software vendors deploying software that uses them. Functional compatibility of an API which was documented as not finished would have to be maintained across OS releases.

I've seen unintended dependencies have a deprecation plan in macOS that takes years.

For the most radical example, there is still a copy of libssl.0.9.7.dylib. The 0.9.7l version came out in 2006. But it turns out OpenSSL does not provide binary compatibility even amongst patch releases.

This was likely why on Mojave, using "Marzipan" in your own apps required making operating system security changes (from recovery mode, no less).

Fun fact: you can’t link against the system OpenSSL anymore. Probably because people have continued to do this for years after Apple told them not to.

> No they couldn't. Because those APIs would become frozen and required by nature of large software vendors deploying software that uses them. Functional compatibility of an API which was documented as not finished would have to be maintained across OS releases.

Yes, they can. There is nothing stopping Apple from marking an specific APIs as "Unstable" with the understanding they could be removed or modified at anytime.

API becomes a contract, documentation or not. There is blowback when the contract changes. This blowback is what stops unstable API from becoming public. Brreaking change for ApI used by 10k devs? Big blowback.

Wouldn’t this lead to a pretty fragile user experience across versions? I don’t think the parent is saying it’s technically impossible, but Apple isn’t about to open up an API they intend to immediately break, affecting not only devs, but their end users, tarnishing their image of stability (yes, even if it’s a 3rd party). Documenting these shifting APIs would also be a royal PITA.

Yes there is: if it’s there, people will use it and their apps will break if Apple changes the API.

It's technically possible, yes. But there are a lot of other considerations which may not "stop them" from doing it, but can still make it look like a bad idea.

API parity:

The last thing you should want as a developer is to use a half baked API that Apple hasn’t dig fooded first. Apple has slowly opened up Siri and it’s opening it up more in iOS 13 specifically for music. Apple is not going to do an Alexa style voice command line. The intents system while more limited is better for most users and developers.

> The last thing you should want as a developer is to use a half baked API that Apple hasn’t dig fooded first.

That is a massive and sweeping generalization. If developers are being put at a competitive disadvantage by not having access to a feature, I'm pretty sure some of them would love to use an unstable API to stay competitive.

Didn't Spotify complain that there wasn't a public API to store music in the local storage of the Apple watch one year and then not make use of it after the API was made public in the next version of the OS?

Are you asking me? I don't see your point.

Spotify whined about a lack of an API but did nothing when the API was eventually released.

And how does that have relevance to the question of if developers will use APIs marked as unstable?

I ask again, what is your point? Throwing out random facts is not a discussion.

Once Apple introduces an API,Apple has to support it for years even if it’s not the best. See Microsoft’s cluster of bad APIs and a dozen ways to do anything for a degenerative case.

Here Spotify has chosen to not use an API that Apple has marked as stable.

And as such clearly fails to be relevant to the discussion.

There do seem to be a couple of fixes that would go a long way to satisfy anti-trust concerns:

1) Force internal apps (especially paid ones) to use publicly available APIs.

2) Publicly disclose all App Store metrics that aren't strictly limited to security teams within Apple.

3) Insulate the App Store review team and processes from their other business units and setup a independent watch dog to monitor the process and ensure fair enforcement of the rules.

Fixing these three things would leave us with just the industry wide problem of the power-imbalance in IP disputes between companies of disparate size.

There's another common developer issue which these don't rectify.

Apple gets 15-30% of the revenue for subscriptions and purchases through the App Store, whether it is an Apple-published application or a third party application.

IMHO, Spotify's only really solid complaint is that it took so long for Apple to have a third party music intent.

The rest of Spotify's list amount to them signing a contract with Apple having a contract stating that money for digital goods and services taken in-app or through referral by an app to another place (such as opening a registration page in Safari) require the payment to go through Apple, and Apple gets a cut. And Spotify repeatedly tried to cheat Apple out of this agreement. And repeatedly had issues where either the app version was rejected, or a deployed app version was given a deadline before it was pulled.

Yes, and Apple is at a competitive advantage when they charge a fee to Spotify.

Look Apple has already been convicted of violating the Sherman act, with what they did with e-books. This behavior is not all that different.

Force internal apps (especially paid ones) to use publicly available APIs.

Does that include apps that use the Secure Enclave?

Sure, they should have to use the Keychain APIs just like everyone else.

And system programs? Should all apps have root access? Should they all be able to make changes that the settings app can make?

Settings, Phone, SMS, and maybe App Store are probably the only iOS system apps that actually deserve to be special.

How about apps that serve to be repositories of sensitive information that is disclosed by consent to other apps, such as Health or Wallet?

It's always bugged me that iOS creates specialized one-off APIs for accessing things like Health and the photo library, instead of a generic, extensible interface that third-party apps could use to create their own shared data stores. Why should I have to depend on Apple to decide that a particular kind of health data should be allowed?

Similarly, Android has a generic "intent" interface you can use to jump out into another app to get data from the user (take a photo, open a file, scan a QR code, etc.), while iOS has a bajillion different UIWhateverViewControllers that cover only the use cases Apple thought of and can only launch system apps.

Similarly, Android has a generic "intent" interface you can use to jump out into another app to get data from the user (take a photo, open a file, scan a QR code, etc.), while iOS has a bajillion different UIWhateverViewControllers that cover only the use cases Apple thought of and can only launch system apps.

Apps has had that since iOS 8. Thats exactly how the share sheet works.

Of course, that only allows for exporting data out of your app. If you want to import data or work with it this doesn’t really help.

You could always create a Shortcut and add it to the share sheet....

Honestly, I think this touches too close to the “default apps” issue that Apple has been quite recalcitrant on, and in my opinion it won’t be fixed until they change their mind on this. They have the technology in place to do this safely, so at this point this has to be a choice they’ve made. However, to address a specific concern about your first point: I do find it convenient to have one central location for all these things, as opposed to a dozen different home automation and health tracking apps or random folders on my filesystem for photos. Apple might be heavy handed in limiting categories here because it keeps data consistent and prevents issues where years of menstrual cycle data was being added under a custom “Periods” category and format that’s incompatible with this year’s “Cycles” measurement.

Is there a reason there can't be a standard system of granting access to apps?

A standard system for granting apps root access - you mean something like Vista’s User Account Control? What could possibly go wrong?

Yup, most operating systems have the ability to grant root access, what is your point?

And it’s been a major catastrophe for the average user for the last 40 years.

I don't see how you can possibly justify that claim as it seems to be to not only be false, but to be extremely far from being true.

I would say that the history of computing over the last 40 years has succeed ONLY because users were able to control their computers, install any software they wanted and grant that software complete control of the computer.

If users had spent the last 40 years only able to do "safe" things with their computers, we would have nowhere near the level of innovation we have today and our economic growth would be stunted.

It is only in the last ~10 years that OS's that don't have the ability to grant root access have seen real success. Even then, communities invariably spring up that find ways to get the ability to grant root access.

Yes, there are very good reasons to be careful about how you design the process of granting root access, but there are also very good reasons to grant that access. I am perfectly fine with the process being arcane, hidden and full of warnings, but it should be doable directly on the device.

And the current situation with iOS is an even bigger catastrophe for society.

I don't think the problem is copying per se... the problem is that Apple is just too big, too powerful, to be good for society.

Apple should be broken up.

Yes because most people really care about root access. Are you really saying that the current state of PCs and Android to a lesser extent with viruses, ransomware, etc is better for the average user?

I download things silly nilly on iOS because I trust the sandbox. I won’t download random crap on my computer.

Apple has less than 20% of the mobile phone market.

How convenient for Apple fans to talk about "profit share" when app stores are discussed and "market share" when antitrust comes up.

I'm saying that the "benevolent dictator" model that Apple is following results in a concentration of power that is ipso facto bad for society and that Apple should be broken up. If Apple must survive in its current form it should be placed under democratic control, not under shareholder control, and should be subject to the checks and balances of a judicial system.

Ultimately, Apple should not be the only party to have a say in what's allowed on its platforms, just like the president is not the only person to have a say in who's allowed into the country.

Guess what? Every console maker gets to decide what is allowed on their platform - it’s been that way since the early 80s. Should they be broken up to?

And “society” doesn’t care about “openness”. Do you really think most iOS users are worried about not being able to get apps outside of the App Store?

Microsoft should be broken up too, yes. But a phone OS is much more powerful than a console platform.

Elizabeth Warren certainly cares about this, thankfully.

A catastrophe for the average user is a catastrophe for society.

Apple has solved that problem and you haven’t articulated what is wrong.

Average users are not the only people that matter, despite what Robert Bork wants you to think.

What is wrong is the concentration of power within a company answerable only to shareholders. Even democratically elected governments need to be heavily scrutinized for abuses of power.

You still haven’t articulated what is wrong.

Corporations are answerable to their customers, their shareholders, and the law.

Your premise that they are only answerable to their shareholders is simply false.

But regardless - you have articulated no catastrophe for society.

All you have stated is an ideology about power itself being bad.

If you break up all the big US companies, there are plenty of big companies outside the US who will happily take their business and power.

I vaguely recall an article from a Chrome plugin developer who was approached by Google with a job offer. His plugin, if I recall correctly, separated the audio from the video in a YT video and allowed the user to continue streaming the audio while the screen was locked. He refused the offer, and his app was abruptly and mysteriously pulled from the Chrome app store. A (conviniently) short time later YT announced YouTube Red. I looked for the article but couldn't find it. Anyone else remember this?

That sounds like a stretch

1. YouTube’s subscription offering was in the works for years before it was announced.

2. The reason that YouTube had to pause music if you closed the app had more to do with the RIAA. Remember the RIAA was pissed that they made pennies from streams compared to the dedicated streaming platforms like Spotify.

If anything it sounds like Google was trying to do that guy a favor - his app would have gotten pulled regardless.

RIAA can be as pissed as they want. Somebody needs to tell them "no" eventually. Copyright is in such an awful state because nobody ever tells them no.

I don’t get your implication. RIAA licensing is for streaming platforms for audio only radio and music video tv. So what’s about the YouTube relationship?

It pauses the music when you stop looking at the app because they can use this to differentiate the paid app from the free one.

Try playing youtube in your mobile browser and note it works as expected.

Sounds like his app bypassed one of the "features" of YouTube Red, and they were giving him a chance to be bought out instead of just shut down. Better PR and a nicer way to go about it, if you're going to play that way. But he declined and so they used their position as owner of the app store to shut him down instead.

I do remember that but I do not remember the exact name of the app. I believe he posted screenshots of the emails between himself and Google as well.

I remembered the same as you, and just had to recall the name. Took a few minutes of googling, but Streamus was the one I remembered at least.

>There were dozens of flashlight apps in the store when iPhone OS 2 came out, so the OS can never have a built-in flashlight feature?

Obviously they can, but the question is if I am a developer and building apps on iPhone and if Apple has a track record of cloning popular/valuable apps, shouldn't Apple expect push back from the developers who invested in the iPhone ecosystem?

Its the same as Google, when companies spend all this time and money building their website/business to comply with Google's ranking algorithms and spend money on multiple Google AdWord campaigns...then, Google takes all the market information you provided them, copy your business/service/product launch a competing business/service/product that instantly outranks you on Google Search, maybe they even give themselves priority at the top of a Google Search (like Google Flights), and for good measure Google starts bidding up your AdWord campaigns.

>Of course Apple copies features—Camera+'s volume button shutter was initially blocked from the App Store then wound up in the first-party Camera app.

Did they copy this particular thing though?

It's quite obvious to me that Apple would have tried that functionality (volume as camera shutter) on its own even back when the camera app was being developed, along with tons of other ideas, which would gradually incorporate into the product...

Whenever we see the old research behind a product implementation at Apple, we see that they had tons of ideas and tried several alternative ways of doing things, some which resurfaced later (e.g. when deemed premature, or when there was no time to add everything), some which were just rejected.

About the same happened to the F.lux (or Flux) app for iOS, which got removed by Apple[0], only to reappear on IOS as Night Shift, built in to IOS by Apple.

[1] https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/apple-removes-flux-app/

This seems to be a trend I've noticed since the beginning of Android and iOS. Developers are quick to release apps that fill in usability gaps across the mobile operating systems or make novel use of hardware/sensors for utility, which then get rolled into future mobile OS releases e.g. mobile internet tethering on rooted devices now "mobile hotspot", blue light blocking screen overlay filter apps now "night shift" in iOS, etc.

Mobile tethering is not new. It was around before the iPhone but I believe back then you had to connect your phone to your computer.

It's also very similar to Google, which added a lot of utilities to Google. Many people built dedicated websites for these things which were made obsolete by it.

I think the problem is not that appel steal ideas, I think the problem is that Appels "home" apps have a unfair marked advantage over the concurrence:

1. They don't have to comply with the app guidelines (uh, I mean sometimes vaguely formulated rules).

  - They don't have to go through the verifying process which sometimes does reject apps for questionable reasons (I'm not saying that they do it intentional but it happens anyway).

  - They can do thinks which other apps can't.

  - They can access API's which other apps can't or at last only can if you are some very large company or else wise got into a joint venture with apple (e.g. the NFC APIs, at last in the past).

    - This sometimes means that some apps have to use other APIs as a work around potentially violating app guidelines leading to apple taking actions against them.
3. They easily get prominently featured in the app store.

4. They might get features in apple phone advertisements.

With other works they get a unfair advantage against there competition. The only reason this is legal in Europe is that the monopoly omissions doesn't treat the "apps for iOS" marked as a marked (but instead as a part of the "apps" marked, which IMHO is wrong).

Don't misunderstand I'm speaking about apps made by apple, not system features like flashlight or screen color.

The think is a lot of the thinks can be gained to some degree by 3rd party apps with money, the problem is that the just price of getting this makes it impossible to compete with apple.

This doesn't even include the situations where apple seemed to have miss-used the review process to hinder some apps to create a better starting point for their apps (and it's not just apple, there are also questionable thinks happening to e.g. 3rd party non profit navigation apps on android). On the other hand there are some many apps that literally might be just random fallout and it's close to impossible to judge without doing a proper study.

What I would which is a requirement for:

- Apply some monetary value apple has to pay for the advantage they give to they apps (sure they would pay it to them self, still this means they have to pay tax etc. on it and it shows up in the books).

- Clear guidelines and transparent processes (especially wrt. google actually).

- Limit how app stores can misuse their power, hold them responsible if they do. (e.g. wasn't there a thing where pebble couldn't properly advertise some features because it was conflicting with apples own producsts?)

- Limit how phone provides can "lock away" certain features they use them self (e.g. NFC). I'm ok with some over-the-top warnings if you want to use a app adding a feature which might be misused to track you, as long as the warning is only shown at installation. I'm also okay with some payed API access as long as the price is affordable by a small startup.

- Or alternatively just require support for "properly" having a alternate app store (not the "allow 3rd party apps" bs android has.

I’m sympathetic to my fellow product developers. As a user, I’m glad Apple adds features to iOS without charging for updates, and does so using a consistent and legible privacy/security model. Unlike on macOS, every “sherlocked” iOS app costs Apple App Store revenue, so they’re working against incentives to make a feature first-party. That suggests the decisions are at least motivated by a belief in doing right by users.

Still, I’d like developers to be compensated for being put out of business.

> As a user, I’m glad Apple adds features to iOS without charging for updates...

A minor nitpick: on the accounting side, Apple does set aside part of the price of devices to provide software updates and features (imagined and not yet imagined at the time of sale) for a few years, deferring full revenue recognition on sold devices until then. So the cost of updates and addding software features has already been charged upfront to the buyer.

This sounds more like a scheme to reduce their tax obligations (something Apple is very good at).

I forget the name of it, but there is a regulation that requires them to do that. You used to have to pay a small fee for iOS updates (I think just for the iPod Touch) - they got around it for the iPhone by doing this trick to have it considered a "subscription device".

The EU has grumbled about platform owners also being publishers so hopefully they intervene at some point.

Look at how well-behaved Microsoft the iOS publisher is, compared to where and when they have dominated as both platform and publisher.

I think we will all be better off when the iOS app store has a mandate not to compete. Same with Twitter on their platform, Amazon with theirs, Facebook, Google etc.

I’m inclined to agree with you about Apple Music and Spotify. Most of the Sherlocked apps become core features of iOS and watchOS, so I don’t know if a publisher/platform split would make a difference. These third party apps would need to be protected by a mandatory OS feature freeze, which seems unlikely.

Microsoft’s iOS apps also use good ideas from smaller third party apps, especially Outlook and OneNote. Since Apple made macOS and iWork free, and done the same on iOS, with no ulterior goal to eventually sell higher priced office software or operating systems, it isn’t analogous to Windows and Office, though customers should certainly maintain demand for that not to change.

Was Office on Windows not well-behaved or something?

Many years ago when Windows represented close to 100% of computing, before smartphones as we know them, Microsoft deliberately killed off competing browsers by bundling IE for free and coupling it so deeply with Windows you couldn't even uninstall it for the longest time. Just by being able to bundle their own software they had a huge competitive edge because to use anything else meant downloading browsers on dial-up internet, and they leveraged that to destroy all other browsers' market share.


     The first browser war ended with Internet Explorer 
     having no remaining serious competition for its market 
     share. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation 
     in web browsers; until 2006 there was only one new 
     version of Internet Explorer since version 6.0 had been 
     released in 2001.
It wasn't until Firefox that browser competition emerged again then some years later Chrome followed. IE was so prolific iirc both Firefox and Chrome had extensions that would actually use IE6 or IE7 to power a tab so you could access sites with IE-only technology or support. After antitrust cases in the US and EU the software bundled with Windows didn't really grow in variety again, and we got browser selection choices and stuff forced upon Microsoft.

Today on iOS and Android where MS is only a publisher they compete on the merits of their software instead of unfairly leveraging the platform. We also see Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Amazon pretty wantonly leveraging their platforms against the people using them to displace them with official alternatives. I don't really feel like Google is or has been as predatory but might just be out of my purview.

And yet... Every smartphone on the market bundles a browser and none of them make it possible to disable or remove the browser from the rest of the OS today.

History has proven Microsoft's argument - a web browser is a core part of the modern operating system.

We can look back and see Microsoft was right to build a web browser, but more importantly we can see how abusing their platform was detrimental to us all.

On iOS you can use "parental controls" (Settings > General > Restrictions) to disable Safari. It removes Safari's icon from iOS's app launcher / home screen.

Just like add and remove features did in Windows of the era. However, the bundled Webkit components like system web view are not uninstalled, the icon for the front end is merely hidden

Only if you have on rose colored glasses. It was a point of nerd pride if your operating system could handle constant Netscape crashes well - Macs couldn’t.

Not really working against incentives when such features and free apps make people more willing to buy iPhones. It's just trading short term revenue for much longer term success.

Skimming through, I found this:

> Copying technology has gotten tech giants in trouble before. Two decades ago, the Justice Department and 20 states sued Microsoft, whose operating system Windows was dominant at the time, after Microsoft copied the Netscape Web browser and made its own version, Internet Explorer, the default option in Windows. Microsoft settled the case.

That’s not exactly why they were sued. It was because they made it hard to uninstall IE and hard to install other browsers.

There are a lot of parallels between what Microsoft did with IE and what Apple is doing with basically the whole App Store. Apple will either eliminate competition with their apps or use their position as the iOS creator to make their own apps better integrated (namely Apple Music). Apple also makes it impossible to install any software except what they've signed in the App Store.

Seems to me to basically be the same case.

The crucial difference is the monopoly which Windows had but iOS doesn’t.

Apple has a monopoly on iOS app stores. That's the antitrust being addressed.

iOS has monopoly power.

Additionally Apple has complete control of it's platform.

But apple doesn't make it harder for you to install a competing application on your device, or hides those features from users.

How can I install Firefox with the Gecko browser engine on iOS? :-)

If you have an iPhone then you don't have a choice in which OS you use.

You have a choice of not buying an iPhone - like 80%+ of the market.

But iPhones aren't the same as android phones. You can't run android software on an iPhone and vice versa.

How much software besides first party apps is iOS only?

Also, most of the popular non game apps are both cross platform and subscription services that can run on either.

Or which app store.

"Dominant market position" is the relevant term and considering that there are basically only two mobile OSs and iOS has a 70% share by money this "crucial difference" is non-existent.

How is the App Store any different than the Nintendo eShop, Xbox, or PS stores? I can’t install any app I want or tinker. On my PC I’m free to install apps any way I want.

What are the parallels? It's not like Microsoft ever made it impossible to install Netscape or a competing office suite. They got regulatory scrutiny because they were the hugely dominant OS in ways iOS isn't.

They did make it costly for OEMs to install competing browsers: https://www.justice.gov/atr/file/704881/download

Abusing their market position (only viable desktop OS) to promote IE and attempt to get a stranglehold on the web is a significant part of what got them in trouble.

Excellent book covers the situation in more detail: https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Windows-Fumbled-Future-Micro...

You could straight up download Netscape on your Windows box. The question isn't 'in what ways was Microsoft bad'. I think it's reasonably established Microsoft was bad. The question is, how is this parallel to what Apple does today. To me, naively at least, it seems like 'not parallel at all'. Where am I getting this wrong?

> You could straight up download Netscape on your Windows box.

I couldn't imagine tying up the phone line that long. Think of the expenses.

Well, every other magazine had a cd-rom with applications such as netscape for that purpose.

Or borrow from a friend.

Having to source the application yourself is hardly equivalent to the app being banned from the app store...

Bundled third party applications with the OS is, and has always been, a nightmare.

That part you’re getting wrong is that the anti-trust scrutiny comes _just_ from being hugely successful. That wasn’t enough - it was about how Microsoft achieved that success with Windows and how they were using that success in the OS market to unfairly influence the browser market.

What I’m saying is that Microsoft didn’t get scrutiny for bundling a browser with windows (they got scrutiny for a bunch of other business practices related to that) which is the part of the story that does parallel what Apple does. Bundling useful feature in the OS, which happens to hurt competing solutions, isn’t new and isn’t a problem. The problem lies in their other business practices. Saying Microsoft didn’t make it impossible to install other browsers is wrong, because for a major participant in the market (OEMs) it was in fact impossible to install competing browsers without paying a price that made the end product not viable in the market.

90s Microsoft and today’s Apple situation don’t really parallel, but they don’t not parallel for the reasons you brought up. You’re still ultimately right, but the justification was based on a misunderstanding (or miscommunication) of the history that I think muddies the waters.

>edit: more background: just being a monopoly isn’t illegal if you get there and stay there legitimately. Anticompetitive behavior is the illegal part. https://www.classlawgroup.com/antitrust/unlawful-practices/m...

I'm not sure I said any of the things you're explaining to me and I'm doubly unsure why you're explaining them to me given that you appear to agree there isn't much of a parallel.

>It's not like Microsoft ever made it impossible to install Netscape or a competing office suite.

OEMs were market participants who bought windows (aka customers) for the purpose of reselling and we’re prevented from exercising the usual freedoms in how they configured that software (“made it impossible to install Netscape”). Impossible is maybe a stretch but Microsoft was waving a very big stick at anyone who dared defy them.

> They got regulatory scrutiny because they were the hugely dominant OS in ways iOS isn't.

They got regulatory scrutiny not because they were big but because of their bad behavior. Modern Google got that same scrutiny long before they achieved anything resembling Windows’ dominance. Microsoft avoided scrutiny for a long portion of its rise while it wasn’t blatantly engaging in anticompetitive practices.

It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. It’s about having a solid understanding of the history that helps understand the present. Taking shortcuts like ‘Microsoft was investigated because they were really big’ is misleading when there were deeper more nuanced reasons for the investigation. Saying they didn’t make it impossible to install competing browsers may be technically correct, but it paints a very incomplete picture when in fact Microsoft was vigorously trying to make sure that no one would be exposed to any browser other than IE and no other operating system than Windows.

There is one interesting parallel to the Microsoft case I’d like to highlight: Microsoft was required to document all of their APIs and protocols within 3 months of release. Apple using proprietary APIs to e.g. give Apple Music unique features is clearly anticompetitive and Microsoft got in trouble at least partially for similar behavior.


Please, this isn’t a personal attack just trying to share interesting information :)


Wait, no. You're the one who's typing giant walls of text at me that I didn't ask you for and aren't at odds with anything I said. Also, you're the one who's running with the assumption I apparently know nothing about the Microsoft case. I don't think it's a personal attack but I do think it's weird and inexplicable and it's even more weird that now you're apparently pleading with me to what? Keep typing huge walls of text at me? Let's call it a day here.

At the time Netscape's revenue came almost largely from corporate customers who paid for Netscape's client and server software products. Microsoft offered to give these companies a discount on their Windows licenses if they agreed to cut ties with Netscape, thereby severely limiting Netscape's revenue.

Shortly thereafter the Netscape client software was the spun off to mozilla.org, and the rest of the company was sold to AOL.

Why Microsoft was sued was just the tip of the iceberg. Microsoft did a lot of anticompetitive and illegal stuff but it's very hard to prosecute. They used predatory and dirty tactics as much as it could. Apple is novice in comparison.

VC companies had to specially prepare startups for Microsoft. If MS requested a demo, they might just watch the demo and launch their copy of software little later. They might hire top developers without requirement to work to just slow you down. They told OEM's what to do with competing software. If that didn't work they started “embrace, extend, and extinguish" strategy.

They destroyed DR-DOS, killed Word Perfect etc. They even attacked big boys. MS used price discrimination against IBM and blackmailed Intel to drop Native Signal Processing instruction set that threatened them.

> I have decided that we should not publish these [Windows 95 user interface] extensions. We should wait until we have a way to do a high level of integration that will be harder for likes of Notes, WordPerfect to achieve, and which will give Office a real advantage.... We can't compete with Lotus and WordPerfect/Novell without this.”

—Bill Gates, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/longterm/micro...

> They used predatory and dirty tactics as much as it could. Apple is novice in comparison.

Apple is a novice? Not really. Microsoft plays dirty, Apple doesn't even play. They're basically a tyrant on their domain.

For how much people bitch about Microsoft, I'm happy Apple didn't win in the end, on either desktop or mobile.

It is impossible to uninstall the iOS apps, right?

As of iOS 10, it became possible to hide many first-party apps. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204221

In iOS 12 this evolved to actually removing them from internal storage. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208094

I believe you could “actually” delete apps a bit earlier than iOS 12.

A few reasons ago, you became able to “delete” default apps. IIRC that was initially cosmetic, but I think maybe they are actually deleted now?

Sure but you can’t redirect. For example Apple let’s you uninstall Mail but most other apps, especially those made by Apple, will just fail on an email link if Apple mail isn’t installed instead of letting the user open with Gmail, Outlook, etc.

Personally this is one of the appeals of the Apple ecosystem, there’s aspects to the walled garden I think as a end user are useful but I can see why plenty of users and app developers chafe against this.

This is an example of what I call "Feature vs. Product."

A classic example is Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat was never something that stood on its own, as everything that made it unique would easily be duplicatable by Instagram, down to the tiniest feature. Theoretically, the network of users would be the unique value but it was nowhere near Facebook's size, and thus would not be able to truly compete. All it took was Instagram copying most every good feature to dominate the space.

In the article's case, each of the apps (Clue, Duet, DoApp, Voxer) were creating something that, while valuable to users at the time, was simply an addition to the existing functionality and in no way was a valuable product outside the context of the phone or iOS itself. Effectively, they were features wrapped in an app that in no way stood on their own.

If you want to make a successful app in the App Store, make something with value to a user that can stand alone.

I don't disagree, but I think Apple to could this a lot better than they do.

Imagine this alternate universe for a moment, app developers assign Apple, as part of their developer status, a non-expiring option to license in perpetuity their application for one million dollars by Apple Inc.

Apple adds an "application acquisition fee" of $50 on the sale of every iOS device. At the end of each quarter, Apple distributes a fractional share of the acquisition fee amongst all of the developers for whom it has opted to take their application. Those payouts continue until Apple has paid out $1M to the developer.

From the developer's perspective, if their App gets consumed by Apple they now get an infusion of capital to spend the time on the next big thing, so having Apple decide to incorporate their 'feature' into the Apple 'product' is a win.

From Apple's perspective its a win because they have a bunch of developers working for "free" trying to produce the next big thing, and only after the market has said "Hey, this is something worth paying for." Does Apple incur a forward liability which comes out of future revenue, not cash on hand, and without a specific due date. So easy to manage on an earnings call and when planning cash flow.

By "sharing the wealth" in that way, Apple can make better partners out of their developers than they currently do.

I definitely agree they can handle some things better. After all - why not try and buy out those little app makers to add more great talent? There’s a ton of PR/brand/goodwill to build there and it’s a total lost opportunity.

And interesting idea— I’m going to mull that one over!

You don't think Apple does this?

Oh, they certainly do this; but they could also do it vastly better than they currently do.

And yet lots of people still use Snapchat, myself included. I have zero need for Instagram, on the other hand, since I am not into sharing photos publicly.

I use Snapchat for chatting, bitmojis, and simple photos/videos with one person. There's nothing superfluous to annoy me.

Yep - plenty of people will prefer one platform over the other, such as yourself. But in the end the only thing that really stands to differentiate them is the network, not the app, as either one can duplicate the other’s functionality at the drop of a hat.

You would think that having a successful product with a strong user base would be enough but it seems tough to work w/Apple when you are reliant on their platform and they have a competing product as Spotify (which compete's with Apple's iTunes) can attest.

Spotify recently launched Time to Play Fair and their FAQs are quite a read: https://www.timetoplayfair.com/frequently-asked-questions/

How's a company supposed to stay relevant against such odds?

If you’re making something people use because Apple doesn’t make it then you don’t pass the test, and there’s zero reason Apple shouldn’t do it themselves, especially if they can do it better.

To stay relevant, don’t expect to plug gaps in Apple’s product offerings if you don’t want them to one day render you irrelevant.

Spotify isn’t one of the examples I’m pointing at either, but it is still relevant as they aren’t doing something Apple can’t do better (in Apple’s mind). I’m not going to weigh in on preferential treatment vs Spotify here as that’s a whole different kettle of fish though :)

Part of the reason Apple may do it better is because they handicap developers' access to iOS. That's not competing on merit.

Sure but that means that from the user's perspective the app is probably going to be better/more seamless in some way. I'm fine with Apple making their own versions of popular apps if they are hamstrung in some meaningful way by access to low level iphone stuff.

Yes, obviously, of course Apple's app is more seamless as a result. That is entirely the point. They are only able to beat other developers in this area because they don't let developers even compete with them. Saying their app is better, so it's all okay, misses the point that other developers never have the opportunity to show if they could equal or surpass what Apple does. It's like if Ford went to every other car manufacturer and sabotaged their brakes. Sure, Ford's cars are better! They can brake! Who wouldn't choose that over a car that can't stop? But it's not competition.

You talk about Snapchat like it went out of business.. it’s a publicly traded company worth $22 billion.

Nah, it’s not out of business, but the point about there not being much of a fundamental differentiation from Instagram that gives it unique value stands.

That may change over time as these things aren’t set in stone of course.

And it’s losing money.....

Anyone have any examples of the opposite? Where a feature did actually stand as a product?

I’d say an attempt was made by Microsoft to render the web browser a feature of Windows. That didn’t pan out in the long run as (a) a web browser was a horrid file browser, and (b) IE just wasn’t that good.

Because they tried to make it a feature, it lost ground in terms of functionality and performance and users preferred a different option with a better experience.

That brings me to another point - you can make a feature into a product by creating a fundamentally better experience. It isn’t easy though and you can find the tide shift against you long run.

Anyone who says "IE wasn't that good" wasn't making active use of the current browsers at the time for browsing and web development. IE had a better feature set, better development tools, and was generally just more pleasant to use than current Netscape at the time. Stuff like XHR appeared in IE first.

Of course IE eventually rotted, but it's silly to claim that low quality was actually the case or that low quality was the result of it being bundled with the OS.

It's not as if we had auto-installed monthly or weekly browser updates back then - if you were using Netscape 4 the odds were you didn't update it very often at all. If anything the odds were better that grandma's PC would get a Windows security update/service pack with IE fixes/improvements installed than a critical Netscape update.

IMO the point at which IE truly started falling behind was around when Firefox came onto the scene, and once Chrome was a thing its fate was sealed. Before that point I don't think you could realistically argue that it "wasn't that good" because there was no superior alternative out there and it got the job done.

Shipping a web view as an OS component is also a good idea in general, as demonstrated by the fact that all the major commercial OS vendors are doing it. Many apps rely on webviews and in the past major software was using IE to render HTML content (Steam, for one example)

Firefox became popular because IE was already pretty bad and infested with malware (anyone else remember “Cool Web Search?)

At that point in time literally nothing would have stopped bad actors from shipping malicious Firefox extensions. IE only had that problem because it was popular.

IE3/4 was pretty good. It wasn't until IE5 that it started to stagnate and rot.


Steve Jobs even called it a “feature,” saying iCloud would put it out of business.

And over time Dropbox ended up creating unique features and a value that stands on its own.

In this case, the Apple ecosystem limited Apple’s thinking and both Box and Dropbox were able to move to create unique value. And frankly, good for them.

Did it? Pretty much everyone I talk to hates “the new Dropbox” and just wants a folder that syncs.

Jup! And what's with the pricing? The next best tier is 2 TB? Why isn't there an option, with say 100gb, 3-4 bucks a month and not annoyingly trying to sell me some stuff when I'm just using 25% of my space.

I would buy it in an instant.. but for 10 dollars a month so that I use 2% of that space? Sorry, then I will look somewhere else..

Yeah, once iCloud Drive gets shared folders, I know a lot of people who’ll be very happy to ditch Dropbox and it’s new “features”.

Well, it’s not “valuable” enough to make Dropbox profitable and for the same price you can get Office 365 with 6TB of storage and the complete office suite.

The main reason Dropbox exists (along with WhatsApp) is that Apple is unwilling to support its "unique" ecosystem features (iCloud, iMessage) on other platforms (they only make it a "feature" of their own platform to increase its perceived value and attract users). So if you want cross-platform, you have to use 3rd party stuff (Dropbox, WhatsApp).

I’m surprised f.lux isn’t mentioned here, if I remember correctly not only Apple copied its functionality but it also prevented the app from being published on the App Store https://justgetflux.com/ios.html

> …but also prevented the app from being published on the App Store…

The only thing Apple did to "prevent" f.lux from being published on the App Store was to not offer any public APIs that could be used to implement it. This wasn't some sort of deliberate decision to get in the way of f.lux; there was simply no clear use case for an API to allow an app to change the behavior of the screen on a global basis.

> there was simply no clear use case for an API to allow an app to change the behavior of the screen on a global basis.

A usecase is f.lux's functionality. There is definitely a clear use case. The decision to expose the API could have other factors to it, but lack of use case doesn't seem to be it.

An API use case for a single app is pretty hard to justify, especially when it's coupled with other concerns like "but wouldn't this require the app to stay running in the background" or "but what happens if two apps both try to do this".

How about an app for helping with colorblindness?

There are already accessibility settings for this.

> there was simply no clear use case for an API to allow an app to change the behavior of the screen on a global basis.

Except to implement color shifting for nighttime use, which they implemented themselves in a later version. That's a pretty tough justification to pull off.

There's a pretty big difference between allowing the system to alter the display settings in a specific, well-defined way, and making that available to any app in a more general form.

As I said I’m not sure if IIRC but isn’t that the case that there was a functioning version of f.lux that got submitted to the App Store and rejected? It’s been a few years and I wasn’t able to find news articles from that time but I thought it was a case of “the app works but they won’t let us publish it” rather then “Apple bad because they won’t give us an API that we can use”.

No. Per the web site linked by the parent post:

"To make f.lux work on iOS, we've had to go outside the bounds of what apps are normally allowed to do. Currently, iOS does not allow developers to access the Private APIs we need to make f.lux work on iOS."

Actually they did publish a functioning app, on their own site. Which was taken down after Apple contacted them.


Thank you, yes from reading that statement you’re definitely right.

The use of private APIs is a key indication of anticompetitive behavior in software platforms.

"no clear use case"

Indeed, the use case was translucent.

Flux literally cheered because that’s all they wanted in the first place, to be baked into the os. So many people jailbroke just for that feature alone.

What's the right model for this? It seems like this is a problem platforms always run into. Early on, you need a third-party tool for some esoteric task. If that task becomes commonplace, people start to expect it from the platform. And how do you do it in a way that doesn't burn the developer community.

In 1998, it might have made sense that I had to use a third-party tool to burn CDs with Windows, but by 2001, Windows XP shipped with this capability. And this wasn't some large, IE-scale strategic play--it was table stakes for an OS back then.

Treat features like bugs and offer a bounty if you decide to implement something a user did already. It could be part of the terms that the user has to accept in order to be on the store. If it's a feature that lots of people implemented (eg the flashlight) split the money between them.

IIRC many of the period tracking apps sold their user's data. Seems like a good reason for Apple to introduce a version which uses the OS level features to keep data synced and in the user's hands.

Apple also got a lot of flak for not including a menstrual cycle tracker in their Health app. It was a popular sign of Silicon Valley’s male bias for a while. To wit:

> Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Apple’s first diversity report did show that the company is mostly white and male. So it’s likely that menstrual cycles just aren’t a concern for a majority of the company’s employees. But that shouldn't be an excuse.


> But considering that plenty of other, extremely popular apps for menstrual tracking already exist (Clue and Period Tracker are two stand-outs), all we have to say is, thanks for finally including women in your world, Apple. Welcome to ours.


> That Apple overlooked period tracking as a key function that roughly half the population would expect to see included in a comprehensive health tracking app is not entirely a surprise.

> Apple today is a company where only 30 percent of its employees are female, and only 20 percent of those in engineering positions are female.


This last one comes from The Washington Post, perhaps demonstrating that sometimes you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t:

> Apple notoriously ignored women's health issues as it developed previous versions of Health


I'll take the bait.

I don't get this. As an Android user, Google routinely leaves out features I'd like in their apps. I just use an alternative app. Sometimes it's very annoying because I want all the things on the same platform. But again, usually there's an alternative app I can use. Why not just use a different app? I mean, I get wanting everything in one app, but these quotes are a lot less "I wish my favorite app had this useful feature" and a lot more on the outrage side, which makes no sense considering the amount of features useful to 100% of the population that Apple continues to leave out.

>Apple notoriously ignored women's health issues as it developed previous versions of Health

Issues? Plural? Beyond menstruation tracking, what else is missing? Or is this just another example of story padding?

I guess I just don't understand why this is any different from any other missing feature from any app. Why is it apples responsibility to provide this feature?

I could argue it's their responsibility because one of Apple's focuses as a company is health/health care.

As a Pebble watch user who moved to an Apple Watch (after Pebble got bought out by Fitbit in 2017), I was amazed they didn't have any sleep tracking functionality. It's not a make or break feature, but as someone with a history of sleeping issue's, I really valued Pebble's tracking feature. If Apple is going to continue pushing Apple devices as the place to go for tracking and managing your health information, they will be seen as responsible for adding features users want.

What bait? I just quoted what other people said. Once upon a time, the Washington Post thought that Apple was notorious for ignoring women’s health issues because they didn’t include a cycle tracker. Now it thinks Apple is anti-competitive for including one. Like I said, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

Not bait by you, but rather the bait in the way those articles are written.

My mistake. I jumped to a bad conclusion. Your statement made sense in context.

>Apple today is a company where only 30 percent of its employees are female, and only 20 percent of those in engineering positions are female.

It's not like product decisions at most tech companies are made by engineers, and they're especially not made by engineers at a large one like Apple.

Who wants to bet that the split for those who were responsible for making the product decision regarding Health and menstrual cycle tracking approached 50/50? I'd also bet that the idea was repeatedly brought up (by people including male engineers) and then shot down (by non-engineers) for various reasons.

So Apple wants to curate an app store and demand a 30% cut, but they don't keep trash apps like you describe from sharing data. Then they get to play good guy and make their own app?

How is that not absolutely abusive? They abuse users by effectively lying about the quality of apps in the store, they abuse app creators by changing the rules to suit their whims, and they abuse their position as a monopolist over iPhone software to keep any real competition from sticking around.

The guiding principle in the Apple world goes something like this: If your entire app is really just a feature that should exist in a 1st party app, Apple will probably implement it eventually.

The iPhone comes with a 1st party email app, but many people prefer 3rd party apps. Same for calculators, weather apps, podcast players, music players, password managers, calendar apps, etc. In another comment in this thread, I linked to several articles that were critical of Apple for not including a menstrual cycle tracker in their Health app. Some 3rd party apps filled the gap for a while, but it seems like it was really a feature that lots of people wanted in the 1st party app. You can call it abusive if you want, but others might say that Apple was answering the needs of its customers. If the 3rd party apps provide better functionality (as they often do... see the examples I listed above), people will continue using them.

Apple does this in other areas, too. In 2017, for example, they encouraged/pressured video-streaming apps to integrate with their new "TV" app which, at the time, they claimed was just an aggregator for all your streaming services.

Part of that integration involved reporting which shows were watched when to Apple. And now, they're using the data they collected from third-party services to decide which shows to produce for their own offering.

By 2017, everyone in the industry knew that they were working on a streaming media service and even after the announcement, Disney and other companies are still adding support.

Is that something proven or a speculation? Judging from the shows they are producing I have hard time believing that.

This is not a new thing really, it's quite tricky for Apple as probably every idea they come up with internally someone else has already had in some form, so I don't see how they can avoid it, though they could try to be graceful if they completely replicate a tool, and offer to buy it out.

Back in the day I produced a little shareware utility which was a speaking clock for Mac OS. Apple took notice and I was invited to SF by someone at Apple, but had other commitments at the time and couldn't go at the time. They asked for partial source code (I think after a bug I reported to them) and I sent it over, and that was the last I heard about it.

Soon after they introduced the feature in the OS and it is still there to this day in Clock settings - Announce the time on the hour. I was actually pleased about that, as I never made significant money from the utility anyway - I'm not really sure if they were inspired by the tool but always suspected they were.

Of course Apple copied apps from the App Store. As a developer you should expect that, and the solution is pretty easy, just look at Shazaam.

Pick an app that's sufficiently difficult to copy, at which point they'll try to buy you if they find the app sufficiently important to the platform. And if not, they probably won't spend the capital to try to dethrone you. If you make an app that say... changes alerts based on location, I'd probably expect it's just a matter of time until they copy your app.

1. Make a platform so locked down that basic features are lacking. 2. Prevent users from easily writing and executing scripts to add functionality, like Greasemonkey. 3. Sell apps that cover missing features. 4. Improve your original operating system, rendering paid apps useless.

I’d like to see Apple let AppleScript be executed on the Apple Phone. I’d like to have more control over my device, like an Android. Maybe someday...

If you want to have more control over your device I do not see why you would buy one which you know does not allow this type of control. This is, after all, the tool the market offers to take care of this type of problem: competition. Use it.

I'm not sure I understand the point of your (2). If it means that you can't add functionality, then how can that functionality be added via an app in (3)? And if the functionality could be added via a script in (2), then would there even exist a market for the app in (3)? It seems like your sequence really should be:

(1) Make a platform that doesn't do everything.

(2) Sell apps to cover missing features.

(3) Improve your original operating system, rendering paid apps useless.

And that'll always work, at least until your operating system does do everything.

> Prevent users from easily writing and executing scripts to add functionality, like Greasemonkey.


That’s what Shortcuts is for.

Everything is a remix. Every app has copied some parts of its functionality from elsewhere, and the world is better for it.

If Apple could only add features to iOS that isn’t covered by an app store app, there would be almost nothing new they could add.

Sure, it is annoying for the devs who get sherlocked, but most such apps are pretty obvious in the first place.

And this is not a new phenomenon. Given Apple’s focus on health these last many years, it’s hardly a surprise that they’re adding period tracking. If the period-tracking-app didn’t see this coming, they really need to hire someone with a little bit of foresight.

Yeah, anyone remember Konfabulator? Apple's been at this for a while.

This is an old wives tale. Apple first had a keyboard shortcut to get to widgets in 1986 with the Apple //gs.

To be more precisely Apple copies ideas not only from Apple Store but from any startups.

One of the most notable one is Sidecar introduced in iPadOS 13. This is basically a dual-screen feature paired with a macbook, which some startups like Duet and Astropad have been doing for years.

Sure, but it isn't like Apple moved into this market all of a sudden. They've had the capability to use Airplay to wirelessly create a second display, as well as built-in OS support for drawing tablet displays for ages.

Nor is it like it was some genuinely new idea. Nor did Apple copy their technology, or violate some partnership agreement or noncompete/nondisclosure. Nor is Apple violating some patent. Nor does Apple treat it as a product or a revenue source or even a lead in to a new software revenue source - it is an improvement to the platform.

If they sold product targeting Linux systems that did this, someone built the wireless functionality into Wayland to do this and distros bundled the updated releases, would those distros now be somehow acting "unfairly"?

So I don't quite know what "system of fairness" would be here - a platform shouldn't evolve existing features if someone has a paid solution, even if that solution only partially solves the problem or does so in an inferior way?

I paid for Duet and am excited to never have to use it again. It's caused tons of weird display and graphics driver issues and from the small amount of sidecar I've used in the beta, I can tell it's a lot better.

Like all platform owners, Apple gradually commoditizes its complements. The most extreme end of this behaviour is when they release a free app or feature that wipes everyone else out (or drives them into tiny niches).

iTunes was a famous example: It instantly obsoleted indie music apps on the Macintosh.

We had a good time discussing this fifteen years ago(!) when Cabel Sasser, cofounder of Panic Software, wrote about the demise of Audion at the hands of iTunes:


My own take on this is to think of building apps and services on top of a platform as sharecropping:


This doesn’t mean I countenance Apple’s behaviour. Far from it. It simply means I think of it as inevitable that platform vendors will court indie developers and partners when they need them to grow the platform, then turn on them when the vendor thinks it needs to commoditize their work.

Twitter and its indie clients is another example.

I think it would be ok for Apple to create apps that fill a particular, yet to be explored niche, or to create foundational quality and functionality standard for a given area.

Sort of 'Apple-basics'.

However it is very anti competitive, and monopolistic to target mid/upper tier product segments, against your market participants.

It would be like NASDAQ running their own brokerage business.

Hasn't this always been a risk for third-party developers - that the platform owner might incorporate popular third-party features to the main platform? I vaguely remember Microsoft Word used to have a third-party addon for a spell checker, then made it built-in - and got sued by the third-party developer. I think they lost though...

It has been going on forever. As lower levels of the OS get commoditized, OS providers have to provide more functionality if they want to continue making money.

Back in the day, people would buy graphics libraries to draw lines on the screen, buy utilities such as ZIP or defragmentation utilities, and each program had its own logic for printing, with each of them, at setup time, asking questions such as “what should I sent to you printer to get bold text?”, “how many characters on a line does your printer support?”, and “should I wait a bit longer between lines to make sure your printer is ready to accept new input?”

Now, of course, Apple doesn’t need to make money on their OS, but I think they are forced to move ‘up’ to compete with Microsoft.

> I vaguely remember Microsoft Word used to have a third-party addon for a spell checker

I remember I coded a spell checker for WordPerfect 5.1 after I used Word and wanted to have the same.

Sadly the 40MB hard disk where it was died many years ago.

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