In January 2019, Kosta Eleftheriou had every reason to believe that Apple was making a deal, his lawsuit claims. Apple’s head of keyboards loved his FlickType keyboard app for the Apple Watch, which overflowed with how few mistakes it made. “Apple should buy this from you,” the man exclaimed, saying “it could be an important feature of the watch.” He demonstrated it to the Apple Watch team on January 24, when a senior engineer allegedly also jumped.
That night, Eleftheriou received a message from Apple, but not the one he had expected. Over the course of an afternoon, the company had apparently decided that Apple Watch keyboards were against the rules. Specifically, the app is a keyboard for the Apple Watch. For this reason, your app will be removed from sale in the App Store at this time, ”Apple wrote.
This Tuesday, Apple unveiled its own swipe keyboard app along with the new Apple Watch Series 7.
Eleftheriou had been locked up.
He is far from the first. Apple has a long history of searching for its own app developers for inspiration, copying their ideas, and integrating them for free into its own operating systems. (It’s called “Sherlocking” because Apple famously copied a lot of features from the third-party Watson app to its Sherlock desktop search tool in 2002; here are some recent examples.)
But this is not your typical case of whether a developer should be entitled to their income, or whether users deserve the functionality for free – and not only because Apple makes users pay for a new watch to get it. When Apple blocked its app two years ago and continued to chat with him about updates, the company made an enemy of Eleftheriou. He has become one of Apple’s most vocal critics and has developed a reputation as a scam hunter. He continuously and effectively points out that Apple is terrible at avoiding scams that ordinary users get rid of outrageous sums.
In March, he sued the company over his app, claiming that the company continued to reject and hold up his Apple Watch keyboard for several months in an attempt to force him to sell it to Apple for cheap. “Obviously, Apple believed that plaintiff would simply abandon and sell its application to Apple at a discount,” the complaint reads.
Here’s the part where you might be thinking, “Wait, didn’t Apple ban all keyboard apps for the Apple Watch back in 2019?” or “Didn’t Eleftheriou just tweet that rejection message and say ‘see you in court’ a few days ago?”
The timeline is a bit confusing, that’s true.
Yes, Eleftheriou filed a lawsuit almost six full months before the announcement of the Apple Watch Series 7. It is not clear what impact Sherlocking may have on the suit, and he will not say so. His lawyers discourage him from saying too much to journalists.
But no, Apple did not actually reject all Apple Watch keyboard apps in 2019 – Eleftheriou believes his app was singled out for this treatment. Shift Keyboard had already arrived in February 2019, and even partner apps that included Eleftherious keyboard technology (complaint names Nano for Reddit, Chirp for Twitter and Lens for Instagram) reportedly came through.
Apple tells The edge it changed meaning over time. Initially, the company did not think it was appropriate for a keyboard to occupy the entire Apple Watch’s small screen, but decided differently in 2019, after seeing the potential and saying it has encouraged Apple Watch keyboards ever since. The company basically admits that removing the Eleftherious app was a bug and claims that it quickly fixed the issue.
But Eleftheriou disputes the last point, saying it took a year of appeals and submissions to get his keyboard back in the store. “From [January 2019] at the same time, I discussed a FlickType acquisition with them, while I was also rejected, ”he tells me. And Apple originally made it look like these appeals, too. The App Review Board evaluated your app and determined that the initial rejection feedback is valid. Note that all appeal results are final, ”reads Eleftheriou from a message he received in May 2019.
In the complaint, he claims that it was not until January 2020, a year after the surprise, that his Apple Watch keyboard extension was approved. When FlickType for Apple Watch finally arrived, it became the number one paid app in the entire store, pulling in $ 130,000 in its first month, he claims, and being named one of Apple’s highest paid apps by 2020. he uses as justification that he has been financially harmed in the lawsuit.
Not that he’s necessarily too worried about the economy right now. “The FlickType revenue, yes, I expect it to eventually disappear as the functionality is now built-in,” he says casually. “I do not have a day job, but yes, it is not a big financial problem for me,” he adds when I ask. I wonder if he made good money when he sold his keyboard company Fleksy to Pinterest about five years ago. (Microsoft bought the SwiftKey keyboard app for about $ 250 million just months earlier.)
Eleftheriou says that FlickType “has mostly been a hobby”, but his other hobby – hunting for scam apps and calling the App Store’s bugs – also stems from this whole situation. He was tired of watching competing apps thrive, including scams, after his own had been blocked by App Review.
And last month, Eleftheriou publicly abandoned his popular iPhone keyboard extension for the blind after too many rejections because of what he describes as the latest misunderstanding by Apple’s App Review team about how his app (and the company’s own VoiceOver screen reader technology) is supposed to to function.
It is with a heavy heart today that we announce that our award-winning iPhone keyboard for blind users will cease.
Apple has been throwing us obstacle after obstacle for years as we try to deliver an app to improve people’s lives, and we can no longer endure their abuse. pic.twitter.com/cH1HCQzeP1
– FlickType Watch Keyboard (@FlickType) August 16, 2021
“Our rejection history already extends over more than FIRTY [sic] pages filled with repeated, unjustified and unreasonable rejections that serve to frustrate and delay rather than the end users. And handling App Review is not only time consuming. It is also very emotionally exhausting, ”he wrote at the time.
In fact, Apple also tells me that this was also a mistake on its part. The company says it now realizes that the keyboard actually complies with its guidelines, has explained it to Eleftheriou several times, and has repeatedly urged him to resubmit the app. Apple prefers that he does not take it away.
But Eleftheriou says he’s had enough. Here is the statement he sent me:
I will be happy to bring back the available FlickType keyboard for iPhone when Apple finally fixes their corrupted third-party keyboard APIs on iOS and allows developers to reasonably compete with Apple’s own keyboard. They must also ensure that each reviewer has basic VoiceOver training – we keep getting rejected because reviewers do not know or even understand how to use VoiceOver.
I’ve already spent thousands of hours developing my app, working on countless keyboard API issues and dealing with app review, so I’m really looking forward to Apple’s improvements and will immediately send the FlickType VoiceOver keyboard again when enough progress has been made in these areas.
As a separate note, I also urge Apple to give developers access to their own rejection history. Apple is currently hiding this from developers and even refuses to provide it upon request. It is unacceptable that Apple sends us rejection messages that disappear shortly after, without any way to access them again.
He is particularly annoyed at how Apple’s own keyboard has an unfair advantage, as it does not have to use its own APIs, and how these APIs lack features as Apple publicly promised many years ago.
Technically, Eleftheriou is the one making the iPhone keyboard extension disappear, not Apple. It is still available in the current version in the store. He submitted a new version that removes the extension, one that is currently awaiting Apple’s App Review.
For now, Eleftheriou must take his keyboard and go home.