- Some app developers are increasingly wary of working with Apple, thanks to its stringent set of rules that govern the App Store.
- Developers for products like parental control app Boomerang are recommending their customers buy Androids, not iPhones, for their children.
- After an antitrust hearing in January in which Tile accused the tech giant of using the Store to enable its alleged anticompetitive behavior, these complaints have grown louder.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Some app developers are growing increasingly wary of working with Apple, complaining that its stringent set of rules governing the company’s App Store seems to be just as catered to boosting its own features as it is to helping keep the store secure.
Parental control app Boomerang now tells parents to buy an Android device — not an iPhone — when shopping for their kids’ first smartphones. That’s because Apple’s regulations have grown so restrictive after it released its screentime feature, that it interferes with the app’s own functionality, Boomerang cofounder Justin Payeur told Business Insider.
“I’ve always thought it was a very bad user experience compared to what we can offer.” Boomerang cofounder Justin Payeur explained. “We could never offer what we offer on Android.”
Boomerang is just one of the many screen time apps that was subject to Apple’s strict regulations on mobile device management tech, which tightened in the months following Apple’s announcement of its own screen time feature.
And although Apple backtracked on a decision to completely ban third-party screentime-control apps, its guidelines for mobile device management apps changed again with the release of iOS 13 in the fall, causing new problems for Boomerang, said Payeur.
Apple argues that its restrictions are there to protect user privacy. The company sent Business Insider its general statement about its parental control apps policy, which says that Apple will only approve apps that do not share data with third-parties (something which Boomerang says it does not do) and which abide by its privacy policies.
But the tensions between app developers and Apple are not limited to parental-control apps.
And the developer complaints comes at a tricky time for Apple. As sales of smartphones slow, Apple is increasingly reliant on revenue from services including the cut it gets from apps that are sold on its App Store. At the same time, Apple is under widening scrutiny from regulators and politicians over the way its operates its tightly controlled digital marketplace, which is the only official way for iPhone and iPad users to download games, social networking services and professional tools.
Calls to reform the App Store ecosystem
As the iPhone and other Apple gadgets have expanded their selection of built-in features, developers whose stand-alone apps offer similar functionality have questioned Apple’s motives. Some developers point to a troubling pattern when Apple ‘sherlocks,’ or replicates, the features offered in their apps.
According to some of these developers, their apps were suddenly ejected from the App Store or subjected to new constraints, around the time that Apple began developing developing similar, built-in features for its devices.
Tile, which makes a location tracking product to help consumers keep track of things like keys and phones, testified in Congress last month that users of its app began receiving disconcerting messages from Apple’s settings warning them that they were being tracked. The warnings coincided with Apple’s update of its own feature for keeping track of an iPhone’s location.
Blix, a developer whose email-app was only recently allowed back into the Mac App Store after eight months of absence from the store, is suing Apple for alleged anticompetitive practices and infringing patent technology. At the beginning of this month, Blix called for other developers to join them in pressuring Apple, in a bid to draw enough attention to warrant outside government attention.
“Our experience has shown that until the app review process includes effective checks and balances, Apple holds too much power over small developers,” Blix cofounder Ben Volach told Business Insider.
Apple’s reputation for developing features inspired by popular third-party apps isn’t new. At a developers conference in June last year, the Verge counted nine such examples.
But developers’ complaints have grown louder as the Department of Justice and the FTC have ramped up their antitrust scrutiny of the company. Even developers who dont’ allege any direct interference from Apple say that the company’s control of the App Store is an inherent conflict of interest with app developers.
Astro HQ, a company whose app Lunar Display competes with Apple’s Sidecar feature, now recommends that developers build their products across platforms, like Microsoft Windows and Chrome OS.
“You have to wonder what kind of message this sends to developers in Apple’s ecosystem,” Astro HQ CEO Matt Ronge told Business Insider. “A strike against Apple’s stewardship of their ecosystem is that they compete with their developers. Who’s going to want to build the next giant innovative app on the platform?”
Apple has denied allegations of anticompetitive practices, and pointed to successful third-party apps like Google Maps, that successfully compete with its features, as evidence to support their case. The company also pointed to the fact that the App Store has over 2 million apps and continues to support innovation by providing developers with tools to build new apps.
Apple also pushed back against allegations of ‘sherlocking,’ and stressed that while it respects intellectual property rules, Apple users would suffer if the company didn’t compete with its third-party developers.
That message doesn’t satisfy some developers.
“[Apple’s tactics have] been going on for a long time but there’s not a lot of people who want to talk about it,” Astro HQ’s Ronge said. “With the government looking into it, it’s been creating a space for people to talk about it.”