Apple's relationship with developers is complicated. They single-handedly got a new generation of application developers interested in the industry. However, it seems that more often than not, developers and publishers are frustrated with the experience of working with Apple. This week, the developer of FlickType, Kosta Eleftheriou, announced that he will be shutting down the iPhone keyboard designed for blind users because of Apple's policies and behavior.
The company has accused the developer of violating App Store policies in the past but has left them alone for the past few years. This week, as part of a routine update to fix bugs related to the upcoming iOS 15, Apple accused them of requiring "full access" to the system, which it does not. FlickType is used by thousands of blind people around the world and was downloaded over 50 million times since its launch into app stores back in 2013.
In reality, the keyboard simply uses the VoiceOver feature, a part of the iOS Accessibility features which allows the system to read out loud the part of the screen on which a user is pressing. For users who are blind or with limited visibility, this feature for a keyboard is a game changer. Rather than relying on being able to see the keyboard, FlickType is able to read the keyboard to the user, making the full smartphone experience a reality previously not afforded to them.
While Apple did previously accuse Eleftheriou of improperly requesting elevated access to the device, the issue was resolved following a formal challenge. But, Apple apparently was not able to hide its true nature forever, bringing back that same complaint. It was this innocuous update, and Apple's inappropriate response, that was the final straw.
This is not the first time Eleftheriou has had a recent run-in with Apple. In addition to announcing the retirement of FlickType, he has also recently filed a lawsuit against Apple. He claims that Apple tried to use its size and power to force him to sell FlickType to Apple for an undervalued price. He refused to sell and filed the lawsuit instead.
This is far from the first time that a developer or publisher has had a ghi profile run-in with Apple's App Store policies. In 2009, Apple famously blocked Google Voice for offering duplicate features, which many other apps had provided previously, and have provided since. The following week, Apple censored the dictionary because it contained dirty words. Because it's a dictionary and contains words.
Most recently, of course, is the high profile case of Epic Games vs Apple. Epic Games has sued Apple, as well as Google, for using their power in the industry to harm developers through app store policies. Epic's big complaint is surrounding the forced usage of Apple's incredibly expensive payment system rather than being able to use its own system.
While FlickType is the latest victim of Apple's ever-changing, duplicitous relationship with developers, it will certainly not be the last. At some point, Apple is going to have to change its ways or risk losing more indie developers.