The bitter lawsuit hanging over the Apple Watch’s new swipe keyboard


In January 2019, Kosta Eleftheriou had each motive to consider Apple was about to make a deal, his lawsuit alleges. Apple’s head of keyboards liked his FlickType keyboard app for the Apple Watch, gushing over how few errors it made. “Apple can buy this from you,” the person exclaimed, saying it “could possibly be a key function for the watch.” He demoed it for the Apple Watch workforce on January twenty fourth, the place a senior engineer allegedly gushed too.

That night, Eleftheriou obtained a message from Apple, however not the one he anticipated. In the midst of one afternoon, the corporate had seemingly determined that Apple Watch keyboards had been towards the foundations. “Particularly, the app is a keyboard for Apple Watch. Because of this, your app shall be faraway from sale on the App Retailer right now,” Apple wrote.

This Tuesday, Apple revealed its personal swipe keyboard app alongside the brand new Apple Watch Collection 7.

Eleftheriou had been Sherlocked.

He’s removed from the primary. Apple has an extended historical past of trying to its personal app builders for inspiration, copying their concepts, and integrating them into its personal working methods totally free. (It’s referred to as “Sherlocking” as a result of Apple famously copied loads of options from the third-party Watson app over to its Sherlock desktop search device in 2002; listed here are some more moderen examples.)

However this isn’t your typical case of whether or not a developer must be entitled to their earnings or whether or not customers deserve the performance totally free — and never simply because Apple’s making users pay for a new Watch to get it. When Apple blocked his app two years in the past and continued to tussle with him over updates, the corporate made an enemy of Eleftheriou. He’s change into one in all Apple’s most vocal critics, growing a status as a rip-off hunter. He regularly and successfully factors out that Apple is horrible at retaining out frauds which bilk extraordinary customers out of outrageous sums of cash.

In March, he filed a lawsuit towards the corporate over his app, alleging that the corporate continued to reject and maintain up his Apple Watch keyboard for months in an try to power him to promote it to Apple for reasonable. “Evidently, Apple thought Plaintiff would merely quit and promote its utility to Apple at a reduction,” the criticism reads.

Right here’s the half the place you is perhaps considering: “Wait, didn’t Apple ban each keyboard app for the Apple Watch again in 2019?” or “Didn’t Eleftheriou simply tweet that rejection message and say ‘see you in court docket’ a pair days in the past?”

The timeline’s just a little complicated, it’s true.

Sure, Eleftheriou filed his go well with almost six full months earlier than the Apple Watch Collection 7 announcement. It’s not clear what impression the Sherlocking may need on the go well with, and he received’t say. His legal professionals are advising him towards saying an excessive amount of to journalists.

However no, Apple didn’t really reject each Apple Watch keyboard app in 2019 — Eleftheriou believes his app was singled out for this remedy. Shift Keyboard had already arrived in February 2019, and even associate apps that included Eleftheriou’s keyboard tech (the criticism names Nano for Reddit, Chirp for Twitter and Lens for Instagram) allegedly made it by.

Apple tells The Verge it modified its thoughts over time. Initially, the corporate didn’t suppose it was acceptable for a keyboard to take up the whole thing of the Apple Watch’s small display, however determined in a different way in 2019 after it noticed the potential and says it’s inspired Apple Watch keyboards ever since. The corporate principally admits that eradicating Eleftheriou’s app was a mistake, and claims it shortly corrected the problem.

However Eleftheriou disputes that final level, saying it took a yr of appeals and resubmissions to get his keyboard again onto the shop. “From [January 2019] on, I used to be concurrently discussing a FlickType acquisition with them, whereas additionally being rejected,” he tells me. And Apple initially made it appear to be these appeals failed, too. “The App Assessment Board evaluated your app and decided that the unique rejection suggestions is legitimate. Please notice that every one enchantment outcomes are closing,” reads Eleftheriou from a message he obtained in Could 2019.

Within the criticism, he alleges it wasn’t till January 2020, a yr after the shock takedown, that his Apple Watch keyboard extension was authorized. When FlickType for Apple Watch did lastly arrive, it turned the primary paid app in the complete retailer, pulled in $130,000 in its first month, he claims, and was named one of Apple’s top paid apps of 2020. That’s what he’s utilizing as grounds that he’s been financially harmed within the lawsuit.

Not that he’s essentially too fearful about funds proper now. “The FlickType earnings, yeah, I do count on it to ultimately disappear provided that the performance will now be built-in,” he says, casually. “I don’t have a day job, however yeah this isn’t an enormous monetary downside for me,” he provides once I ask. I’m wondering if he made good cash when he sold his keyboard company Fleksy to Pinterest roughly 5 years in the past. (Microsoft purchased keyboard app SwiftKey for roughly $250 million simply months earlier.)

Eleftheriou says FlickType has “largely been a interest,” however his different interest — looking down rip-off apps and calling out the App Retailer’s failings — stems from this entire scenario, too. He was fed up watching competing apps thrive, together with scams, after his personal had been blocked by App Assessment.

And final month, Eleftheriou publicly gave up on his common iPhone keyboard extension for the blind after one too many rejections, as a consequence of what he describes as the newest misunderstanding by Apple’s App Assessment workforce of how his app (and the corporate’s personal VoiceOver display reader expertise) are alleged to work.

“Our rejection historical past already spans greater than FOURTY [sic] pages stuffed with repeated, unwarranted, & unreasonable rejections that serve to frustrate & delay slightly than profit end-users. And coping with App Assessment isn’t simply time-consuming. It’s additionally very emotionally draining,” he wrote on the time.

Apple successfully tells me this, too, was a mistake on its half. The corporate says it now realizes the keyboard does actually adjust to its tips, has defined that to Eleftheriou a number of instances, and has repeatedly inspired him to submit the app once more. Apple would favor that he doesn’t take it away.

However Eleftheriou says he’s had sufficient. Right here’s the assertion he despatched me:

I shall be delighted to convey again the accessible FlickType Keyboard for iPhone when Apple lastly fixes their damaged Third-party keyboard APIs on iOS and permits builders to pretty compete with Apple’s personal keyboard. They have to additionally be sure that each single reviewer has fundamental VoiceOver coaching – we hold getting rejections as a consequence of reviewers not understanding and even understanding the way to use VoiceOver.

I’ve already poured hundreds of hours growing my app, working round numerous keyboard API points and coping with app evaluate, so I’m actually wanting ahead to Apple’s enhancements and can promptly re-submit the FlickType VoiceOver keyboard when enough progress has been made in these areas.

As a separate notice, I’m additionally calling on Apple to permit builders to entry their very own rejection historical past. Apple presently hides this from builders and even refuses to offer it upon request. It’s unacceptable that Apple will ship us rejection messages that disappear shortly after, with no option to entry them ever once more.

He’s significantly irritated with how Apple’s personal keyboard has an unfair benefit because it doesn’t want to make use of its personal APIs, and the way these APIs are missing options that Apple publicly promised years ago.

Technically, Eleftheriou is the one making the iPhone keyboard extension disappear, not Apple. It nonetheless exists within the present model on the shop. He submitted a brand new model that removes the extension, one which’s presently pending with Apple’s App Assessment.

For now, Eleftheriou goes to take his keyboard and go house.

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