After 3 Months, 3 Rejections, Airfoil Speakers Touch Ships, Developers Leave iPhone

Airfoil Speaker Touch 1.0

After submitting a minor .1 bug fix for Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 [Free - iTunes link] for iPhone and iPod touch, longtime Mac developers Rogue Amoeba waited for what they assumed would be a routine App Store review. Three and a half months, three rejections, and the unsuccessful intervention of a champion at Apple, the app is finally in the store, but the developer has decided the process is too odorous to continue with the iPhone platform.

Don't stop us just because you've heard this before over and over again.

The issue this time was Rogue Amoeba discovering the type of Mac and exact application that was being used as audio source, and displaying the corresponding Mac OS X-provided image of the machine and icon for the app.

Though standard -- intended -- behavior on the Mac, Apple's App Store policy branded this a trademark violation and they requested it be changed. Rogue Amoeba assumed the request was erroneous and tried resubmitting, tried escalating via email, even had a champion inside Apple try help get it through. In the end, the App Store policy was an immovable object, and Rogue Amoeba had to remove the Mac and app icon images. Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 was then approved and placed in the app store.

(And during the whole process, Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0, buggy as it was, and using the exact same artwork Apple had issue with in 1.0.1 was left untouched in the App Store for users to download and use).

In the future, we hope that developers will be allowed to ship software without needing Apple’s approval at all, the same way we do on Mac OS X. We hope the App Store will get better, review times will be shorter, reviews will be more intelligent, and that we can all focus on making great software. Right now, however, the platform is a mess.

The chorus of disenchanted developers is growing and we’re adding our voices as well. Rogue Amoeba no longer has any plans for additional iPhone applications, and updates to our existing iPhone applications will likely be rare. The iPhone platform had great promise, but that promise is not enough, so we’re focusing on the Mac.

Add our voice to the chorus: fix. this. More after the break...

While many of these developers point to Apple acting as App Store gatekeeper as the issue, we'd submit right now the actual issue is Apple continuing to act as a capricious, illogical, unpredictable, often stupefying gatekeeper.

Curating a store is just a business model. It may well cost them developers philosophically opposed to the idea, even incredibly talented ones like Facebook's Joe Hewitt, but every decision has an opportunity cost. Choosing to curate a store, even one growing so fast it has 2 billion downloads and 100,000 apps, and continuing to suffer from poor communications, overzealous legal oversight, unclear guidelines, and the crap shoot that seems ultimately at the core of any given app getting approved on any given day... it just doesn't work.

Getting rid of the gatekeeper might treat the symptom but is it the cure? Apple legal could just as easily issue a DMCA demand notice for an app using artwork they felt was a trademark violation, and have it taken down -- even under Google's more open, publish-first, investigate-if-flagged App Market system. The problem is Apple shouldn't think using that artwork is a problem on the iPhone if it isn't on the Mac. That, and the dozens of other so-obvious-it-hurts-our-brains-issues, are what needs to be fixed, and what are driving developers to question the platform.

Like Palm, Apple could allow developers to skip review entirely, leave them off the storefront, but give them a direct download link to market and distribute on their own. That wouldn't fix this issue. They could extend Ad-Hoc to infinity so there'd be no update notification or over-the-air (re)downloads, but developers could make binaries available themselves and users could drag and drop them into iTunes to install, along with beefy warning flags for "unapproved apps". They could create those $900+ "pro" developer accounts, along with dedicated App Store point-of-contact and accelerated review process (levels of partnership program exist on many other platforms and in many other businesses).

Or Apple could just spend some of that 35 billion on hiring a legion of reviewers (rather than just 40ish), training them to the standards of Apple Retail, creating a second team dedicated to communicating with developers, and third team focused solely on whatever tiny percentage of cases, like the one above, spiral out of control.

Yes, Apple is making incremental improvements like email escalation and better review status messages, but every step forward always seems to be met with an equal and opposing step back.

2 billion downloads, 100,000 apps -- Apple touts the growth and size of the App Store in press releases, they need to start respecting that size in practice. Observably respecting. It shouldn't take a champion inside Apple. It shouldn't take emails from Apple Marketing SVP, Phil Schiller. It shouldn't take an open letter from Steve Jobs. (Though it might help restore some developer confidence at this point). It should just work, and Apple needs to invest whatever they need to invest at this point to make it work.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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After 3 Months, 3 Rejections, Airfoil Speakers Touch Ships, Developers Leave iPhone

48 Comments

OK, so how many apps were approved in that 3 month span? And how much revenue did those apps bring to developers? And how many happy customers downloaded those apps? Rene, this site is becoming like a local newspaper - only the negative news makes it to print. If you're going to continually post stories about the latest disgruntled developer why not post 1 or 2 about how the vast majority have succeeded in a new era of mobile computing brought about largely by Apple's vision. Not trying to be a fanboy, I'm not, I work for HP after all. However, there are more stories than 1 Gazillion apps downloaded according to Steve Jobs and virtually unknown developer is upset and leaving the platform because he's upset because Google Talk's rejection from the App Store (as if Google can't take care of themselves) or they resubmitted a rejected app as is and couldn't get it accepted.

Sounds like a lot of ignorance on the part of the developers. Why did they think they could use Apple's icons?
I would tell these dumb whiny developers "Don't Let the Door Hit Your Ass on the Way Out"

I'm in agreement with Rene and
Reptile here. If Apple's going to be a gatekeeper they shoulld strive much more obviously to be a good gatekeeper. They certainly have the money and should have the motivation. And of course TiPB is a local newspaper. Balance isn't required, but some coverage of app approval process operating well must exist in the info stream; the process (probably because of overwhelming and unexpected volume) is flawed, but not as broken as it seems if this blog is your major source of realtime iPhone news.

I'd have to say, the fact of the matter is, Reptile (as usual) is right.
We understand plenty of developers are angry about the App Store unfairness and inconsistency - BUT the fact of the matter is (like Reptile said) there are thousands of awesome apps that are making it through.
I understand the "issues" surrounding the approval process - but by this point in the game, we get it (unknown developer or not) your point has been proven.

@Riley. Such a fanboy...
Apples approval process is broken we all know that. The iPhone wont be their baby forever and it eventually will be on its own as it should be like OS X. I use this app alot and now I just have to hope for the best.

I think you guys are relying on Engadget too heavily for news. Even your news titles are being written in the same style. They are incredibly pessimistic about the iPhone platform, an in all honesty, resent its success.
There is more interesting news than some small-time developers violating a rogue Apple policy, not correcting the issue, and then throwing a temper tantrum.
How about contacting Google to find out if/when their turn-by-turn will be coming to the iPhone? Anything is more interesting than this shit.

There are 100,000 apps, doesn't sound like to much can be wrong with the review process if developers of fart apps can get their apps approved.

Maybe just change in the process would do...
Apple could allow all apps right away and then after they are submitted review them and pass their comments to the developers giving them resonable amount of time to fix the issue. If developers ignore Apple demands then app would be removed from app store and blocked from further submission until the issue is fixed. That would allow developers to start earning money right away (I think that's the underlying cause of all the upset with review process). In such scenario if Apple takes 3 months to review the app it's not really that big issue.

i cant see the point made in the article, and it does suck royally, but at the end of the day apple probably dont give a flying **** about any dev leaving, 30% of everything sold everyday can do that to you.
What should really happen is these devs stop geting their knickers in a twist and being all public with the "i cant take it any more" and just go quietly.
Meanwhile apple need to change things in terms of approval time and communication, but for the most part th rejections for stuff people arent allowed to do like logos of macs or iphones are obvious now, but because of the time it gets to get to the top of the queue before rejection the dev gets pissed off that they have to submit again. So a simple app update can take over a month to come out in a situation like this.
Meh, one day things will be better... dont know what that is tho!

The article would have been been worthwhile had it gone deeper into what is clearly a legitimate issue. If the app is actually in violation of a copyright, what should Apple have done? Would Amazon accept a product it considered in violation of copyright? If the developer has a case that the app doesn't violate a copyright, what is it? Hopefully something more compelling than having had a prior version slip through the cracks.

A catalogue of mistakes by the developer: Developer improperly uses copyrighted Apple images. Developer gets away with it the first time around. Tries using them again in an upgrade but is caught out. Developer ignores advice to remove images. Developer resents being told to stop using images (that developer has no legal right using) and pushes to continue using Apple's copyrighted images. Developer wastes several months by ignoring original advice. Developer throws a hissy fit and blames Apple -- an immature and unprofessional reaction but the Developer has his principles. (Well maybe not his own principles, but principles he's using -- probably without permission.)
Final mistake: Developer assumes most people give a damn.

As far as I'm concerned, it's the devs fault for the 3.5 month delay when they were told for the reason for the rejection and they tried to run around the policy. Meanwhile Trillian still sits in submission limbo for 3-4 months now without ANY dialog from Apple. THERE'S a dev that should be pissed off.

Exactly. Rogue Amoeba is so clearly in the wrong here it's ridiculous. The Mac dev license lets you show those images in Mac software, the iPhone dev license does not. RA signed the iPhone dev license and agreed to be bound by its terms. Clear and simple.
The "but Apple approved the prior version" argument holds no water as far as I'm concerned. That you got away with it once doesn't mean you get a free pass now.
Hewitt's apparent situation -- got nailed for using private API calls in the 3.1 version of the Facebook app (as well as the 3.0 version, but it made it through before Apple started using a static analyzer) -- is not dissimilar.
Is Apple's system "unfair"? Sure, to some extent, what with a variety of humans doing the approvals, all with their own understandings, quirks, and attention (or not) to detail. Is it still an amazing distribution system, unrivaled in any software market? Hell yeah. If you don't want to play, take your toys and go home, but seriously, stop whining about it.
(Mind you, as a developer with his own approval problems, it's not that I'm not sympathetic with there being problems, and that spending months of coding only to find out you misunderstood something and all of that might go to waste is certainly a painful thing. Doesn't make self-righteous complaining any more reasonable.)

@Matthew
Citation on your claims regarding Hewitt, please? Some quick googling finds nothing at all even similar to your allegations.

iPhone developers need to quit griping about the approval process..... This is apple's technology and they can moderate it anyway they like.... If you don't lke it.....reject your binaries and get out of iPhone development....bye bye....

This makes me think there should be an optional app-store approval process. If you would like your software to be "apple approved", and therefore guaranteed not to do anything maliciuos/illegal, etc, then you get a special stamp that would make people trust you more. If you did not get the stamp it would just make your software questionable. Apple could still retain the rights to remove any apps that infringe on its policies.

Apple has the right to regulate their store however they want. Nobody argues that they don't. But you (not you, Rene, but a lot of commenters) keep arguing that developers somehow waive their rights to think for themselves, or, God forbid, voice a complaint if they have one.

I wonder if that defense will work for a traffic ticket...?
"I drive that fast on that road every day and have never received a ticket before."
then try
"If you give me a ticket now I will never drive again!"

According to their comments to Gruber on Daring Fireball ( tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/yhtuwjc )
RogueAmoeba never included any Mac icons in their application at all. The icons and screens that show up are fetched live from the Mac streaming the audio, along with the audio streams, using Apple-created public APIs. This is the same mechanism Macs, and yes, iPhones use to display a representation of a machine they connect to over a network.
So, far from Rogue Amoeba being "clearly in the wrong", Apple is rejecting an application for doing something that it is not even doing. Airfoil Speakers is no more using the icons in their application that is Safari when it visits a page that contains those icons.

I wish development was more open, and I wish apps could get approved more quickly. But in this case, the developer is complaining about their app getting rejected, and how it took 3 months to get it in the store. Then upon explanation, we learn that the app was rejected pretty quickly, and the delay was caused by the developer refusing to cooperate with the App Store policies. Even better, the excuse: "we got rejected, but we thought it was a mistake, so we sent it in again without fixing the problem." News flash: the app store policies often defy common sense. Of course they meant it. Stop wasting time.
It's somewhat noble of them to spend time fighting for the quality of their app, but in the meantime they're the ones causing the delay in getting an update to their loyal customers, and then turn around and say, "OMG look what Apple did to you!"

@kp
As always, it is not that simple. Read that last link at Daring Fireball. In short, a) the app does not include any Apple icons, b) it is far from clear any SDK terms were violated, and c) Apple, despite requests, never indicated the specific violations, or a way to fix them, given the App contained no icons, and that lack of response triggered the initial delay. (Yes, then point d, Rogue Amoeba re-submitted as is, but given a, b, c, and the subsequent silence from Cupertino, it is hard to blame them)

@dev
Two responses (and man is it ever clear that I need to start a blog, since I end up typing lengthy posts and responses in comments all around the iPhone blogosphere):
On the Hewitt situation, I did use the word "apparent" because it's not completely clear, but there are pretty clear pointers. The use of undocumented API calls can be found by Googling (without quotes) "three20 rejection" -- the three20 Google Groups links and the GitHub links give you the basic information indicating that multiple such calls are used. (Three20 is the code library that Hewitt (generously) released for other devs to use, nifty bits that he wrote that are part of what make the Facebook app work as well as it does.) That the three20 library uses multiple calls (including the forbidden firstResponder call that can't be removed from the Facebook app if it would continue to work the way it does) indicates that at least those are being used. There may well be more in the full app.
On it being delayed, you should be able to find multiple references to its release estimate and see that it's not. None of this was a problem when the 3.0 version of the app came out because Apple wasn't yet using a static analyzer to find the use of unauthorized calls. That started (based on app rejection stories around the web) around the third week of October.
If -- and I do mean IF, of course -- the 3.1 Facebook app used the firstResponder and other calls then chunks of it will need to be rewritten and odds are good that existing UI functionality would go away. That's it on Hewitt.
On Rogue Amoeba: I wrote a big email to Gruber about his second piece, but I'll summarize here. Unauthorized use IS infringement. That the app pulls the unauthorized file out of the OS of the Mac it contacts doesn't authorize anything. If the existing licenses were unclear to RA, that bites, but when Apple said "you're infringing," poof, they knew they were infringing. Arguing with Apple about it doesn't change Apple's interpretation.
Trademark law is the real problem here. In copyright law (as opposed trademark law) if someone infringes my copyright and I know about it and do nothing, and then later someone else infringes my copyright and I choose to do something about it, that's fine, I'm still protected. With trademark law if someone infringes on my trademark and I know it and I do nothing about it, the next guy to infringe can point to my lack of action and I'm completely out of luck. My trademark has become invalid.
Did Apple fail here? Absolutely, they failed to communicate clearly. Was Rogue Amoeba in the right? Nope, not at all, and it really is clear. (I won't go into the VNC argument unless you'd like me to -- it's not at all a similar situation in terms of trademark infringement.)

@Matthew
Thanks for the notes on three20. Interesting stuff. Not sure the fb app uses any of that, but possibly.
However, you miss the argument on unauthorized use and trademark law. All the Airfoil Speakers application is doing is this:
Query: Have you music for me?
Computer X: Yes, here is the stream.
Query: Have you identifying information for me?
Computer X: Yes, here is how I represent myself to the outside world.
Where is the unauthorized use here? Computer X is broadcasting something publicly and freely. Are you seriously claiming it is a trademark violation to ask a platform-neutral question, in a publicly documented API, if the computer answering the question hands information? That is is the responsibility of a client application to parse separately the trademark information of every remote box it contacts, rather than that box/company take responsibility for their own trademarks?
Forget VNC -- by that logic, Microsoft has lost the trademark on its Vista and now 7 images because they can respond to similar questions in the same way when on a network. Apple lost their trademarks because they have not given express written consent to Microsoft, Red Hat, and Canonical to display those icons when a Windows or Linux box is on the same network as a Mac. Heck, to take the logic to its end point, Apple lost the rights to the iMac branding because Firefox (not just Safari) can show an image of the iMac when I point my browser to http://images.apple.com/imac/images/overviewhero220091020.png , and Firefox might be used in a commercial context, like a kiosk.
Clearly, this is ridiculous. However, if you are going to make the argument that Apple's hands are tied because they have to protect their trademark in all cases, they have already lost, because of, in your terms, their lack of action.
Setting aside those examples, Apple had a clear opportunity to take action and protect those assets -- at the point of delivery. If the images were only intended for use in certain contexts, it would have been trivial for the Mac/AppleTV code calling up and broadcasting the NSImage to disallow it except in those contexts. But they did not. The simple fact that Apple did not do so means those assets are intended for use by any public caller. They could have protected those assets, or at least declared an intention to protect them. Instead, they did nothing. In your terms, they already have committed a "lack of action."

That three20 stuff is used in the Facebook app is clear in its readme: http://github.com/facebook/three20
Scroll down just a bit. Quoting Mr. Hewitt, "Three20 is derived from the Facebook iPhone app, which is one of the most downloaded iPhone apps ever."
I'll respond to the trademark stuff a bit later today after I hit a deadline.

Developers are free to stop developing for the iPhone. There are thousands of more good apps on the iPhone than any other platform. The iPhone is still the best phone for my needs without a doubt.

@Matthew
Thanks, good discussion.
Actually, since I screwed up my armchair lawyer credentials in another comment thread, I did some reading upon the Lanham Act (law dealing with trademarks), and subsequent decision based on it. The body of law would seem to support Airfoil Speakers even more:
The statue on nominative use specifically allows:
"the use of the name, term, or device charged to be an infringement is a use, otherwise than as a mark ... or of a term or device which is descriptive of and used fairly and in good faith only to describe the goods or services of such party, or their geographic origin" (from U.S.C. § 1115(b)(4) )
Several subsequent cases have established that somebody using a trademarked image in this way -- as a description of the source entity -- does not need to obtain permission from the trademark holder, and such use does not constitute infringement. (See http://www.publaw.com/fairusetrade.html )
That seems to be precisely what Airfoil Speakers is doing -- using the image to identify the source entity (Apple), so it would seem perfectly legal, and not something Apple would need to go after to defend their trademarks. Of course, it is Apple's store, so they have the right to do whatever the hell the please with it, just not hide behind the law as the rationale.

I'm sorta on the fence.
Apple wants to approve apps that they believe are the best applications. Yes, I'm aware of iFart and apps of that nature but I think it's more about them rejecting apps they don't want people to use. They want developers to create apps in their image so that the App store and the apps people use can have some quality to it. They want to make sure that what people make for the iPhone OS will be what they them selves might create.
This is also a reason why developers go to Android, the home of the 'open system'. No approval process - you make it, we download it. That's good for developers but the quality of their own store goes down. I've seen a few android apps developers created and the app that I saw did not look very well. The UI of an app doesn't always determine the quality of it but it does affect the app in someway and the quality there of.
Yeah, some might agree the Apple approval process is 'broken', but what are you gonna do about it ? The App store is 100K+ strong and It's pretty good for the consumer.

I am quite frankly astounded by the extent of the fanboyism shown here. The App Store approval process is clearly broken - we've seen that time and time again. Apps rejected for any reason, or no reason at all. Apps yanked from the store for ludicrously bogus trademark claims ("Edge", anyone?). Apps rejected because AT&T might get annoyed. Apps neither approved nor disapproved, interminably (hello, Google Voice?). And yet all you hear is "well, there are 100,000 apps, so everything just MUST be fine". Of course, after you remove all the variations on iFart, tip calculators, and similar crApps, the total's quite a bit smaller, but so what? It's the App Store, and regardless of whether they're actually serving the customer, everything by definition must be wonderful, right? I think you fanboys need to wake up. Yes, I agree that the iPhone is a good product - I own one myself and I'll likely upgrade to the next version in a year or so - but kidding yourself that we're living in the best of all possible cell phone worlds is nuts. I swear, sometimes I think I'm reading the letters to the editor of freaking Pravda.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Apple, clean this bloody mess up before it destroys the credibility of the iPhone platform altogether.

I don't wish Apple to change anything to the way they deal with the AppStore approval process. The more "deceived" developers there are, the more ideaful and quality programmers we'll get to develop on other platforms such as Android.

@dev
Short version, maybe I'm missing something. My understanding is that those images are theoretically to be provided as part of a call by Mac software, not by just any software. That is, the license to display request/accept the image from the contacted machine is part of the Mac OS X development license? That's my understanding of it, though I'm open to being corrected.
What it's not a part of is the iPhone development license.
My armchair lawyering is weak. I know there's specific law (or just rulings, actually) about images provided for public consumption on the internet. I know I couldn't take that image you linked to and put it on my business card, just because it was available to my web browser.

Gatekeeper should leave the gates open and become an usher.
What I mean is Apple should give the reviewing a bit of slack and focus more on enhancing the search/rating system in the App store.
Apple and developer;
"here's my App, will it be one the App store soon?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"is there anything I can do on to make you accept it?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"is there something wrong with it?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"have you actually tried the App?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"do you care about developers?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"would you like if I wasted three months of your business' time?"
"computer says 'NO'"
"would you care if half your developers abandoned you?"
"computer says 'NO'"

@Matthew
You and LaMarche are both missing three things.
1) Those images are not just for a response to Mac software. They are a response for a query about capabilities from a device connected on the network. In other words, you are incorrect on that point. LaMarche concedes these are publicly available, though he ignores the implications.
2) Neither you nor LaMarche deal with the fact that this sort of use -- purely to identify the holder of the trademark and their products -- is specifically and explicitly not trademark infringement under the terms of the Lanham Act. In other words, his "Bayer" analogy is completely irrelevant, because under federal law such use is not infringement.
3) Even if you conveniently ignore federal law and claim this was infringing, by not protecting the assets at the point of delivery, Apple has committed inaction that renders those specific assets unprotected, by your own logic.
Again, Apple has the right to do whatever they want in their store. But they cannot pretend the law compels them to act, when it is simply their own provincial attitudes.

@dev
To explain that part of the Lanham Act in your business card analogy, no, you could not take my image and put it on your business card. You could, however, take that image and use it to identify me in a purely informational context, as long as there was proper notification.
How else do you think Pepsi uses Coke logos in their commercials, or Jobs himself used the Windows NT logo or that Windows mobile screenshot in old Macworld presentations? It is not infringement to use logos or images in an informational context, and never has been.

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