Saturday, June 06, 2009

Apple blocks video camera app ahead of WWDC

I received this email in the mail. So I thought I share it as it was sent.

In October, we started development on iVidCam, a video recording app for the iPhone. We invested a lot of capital and resources because we knew if we got a video camera app working, then it would be an instant hit. By January, we had finished the mp4 video encoding engine, but we needed a way to take multiple pictures per second to make video.

In February, our breakthrough came. Apple featured 25shot, an app that took 25 pictures in 5 seconds. The app used a custom camera view and took 5 screenshots per second. Our team studied the app and integrated the same function into iVidCam. We saw Apple's featuring 25shot on the front page of the App Store as a signal to developers that this function was highlighted and encouraged by Apple.

In March, we finished development of iVidCam and even added wireless transfer and YouTube upload functions to the app. We were confident that this app would go #1 in the App Store. It had everything users wanted - a functional video camera app, mp4 encoding, wireless transfer, and YouTube upload of the recorded videos. We posted the app to iTunesConnect for Apple approval on March 27. Several days later we were shocked to discover Apple had rejected the app due to what they said was an "unpublished API."

The same day we called the highest management person at Apple we knew, John Geleynse. We met him at the L.A. Tech Talk last year and he appeared to be the main iPhone evangelist. We thought that he could surely help us. On the phone, he was cordial and even agreed with us that talking to the regular reviewers was not going to do anything. He told us to email him an email stating our case with specifics and that he would forward it to Lead of the App Review Team. He assured us this was the way to go.

We emailed John Geleynse the same day. And this was the beginning of almost 2 months of being ignored, neglected and overlooked by Apple. Our emails to the Lead of the App Review Team were not being directly responded to. We asked for dialogue, and they gave us no personal replies but sent us form letters intead. Throughout this process, we were committed to working with Apple and not complaining publicly. We wanted to give every opportunity for Apple to address our concerns. Apple deeply disappointed us by ignoring us for months.

* March 31-May 18 correspondence with Director of Tech Evangelism, John Geleynse

By mid-May we had reached the point of exasperation. Our efforts to dialogue with Apple, their main iPhone evangelist, and the Lead of the App Review Team had led to nothing. We decided to try one more time with Apple, this time writing to the highest management possible, Steve Jobs. Here's our May 18th letter to Steve Jobs that we asked several high management people at Apple to make sure it got to him:

* May 18 letter to Steve Jobs

We ended up getting a reply from Senior VP Phil Schiller, who ironically is going to be giving the keynote speech at June 8, 2009 WWDC where Apple could announce their own video camera app for the iPhone. Phil Schiller's email and following correspondence ended up to be another big disappointment. Apple never took us seriously and refused to dialogue with us on the issues we brought up.

* May 18-27 correspondence with VP Phil Schiller

After two months of being unable to dialogue with Apple, we learned that perhaps we were just too insignificant in Apple's eyes. Even though we had published hundreds of iPhone apps in the App Store, we were just one developer with a complaint in Apple's eyes. We decided to draft a petition letter to end the unfair practice of rejecting custom camera view apps by Apple.

* Petition Letter from Photo App Developers

And finally, we've decided to share our story publicly. Maybe Apple will change if enough people let them know they don't agree with how they've handled this situation. We can no longer do it by ourselves, we need your help.

* Please email Apple to let them know you're unhappy about their actions ( and

In closing, this saga has seeded many doubts about the partnership that Apple has with developers like us.

1. Our company has been damaged and devastated.

We've spent the majority of our resources on iVidCam, only to see it unjustly rejected and Apple closed to dialogue. It's frustrating especially since we were big fans of Apple and our company of 6 iphone developers has been committed to developing iPhone apps and working with Apple. We were counting on iVidCam sales. Now our company is struggling to break even and we're at the unenviable place of deciding whether continuing to develop for the iPhone is sustainable or not.

2. It doesn't feel good to be disrespected, neglected, and misled as a developer.

It's been a stressful process because we've tried our best to communicate and reach out to Apple, only to be ignored and not treated as a true dialogue partner. If Apple treats developers like this now, what is the future of Apple-and-developers relations? In our case, we feel like Apple misled us, changed the rules arbitrarily, and punished us for trying to be good iPhone developers that work within the system. Ironically, our company has been committed 100% to developing for the non-jailbroken iPhone, only to be punished by Apple. And if Apple comes out with their own video camera app on June 8, 2009 at WWDC, it will be a sad day for us and also thousands of developers. The App Store is not a good system when the people in charge can do whatever they want with no accountability, even at the loss and damage of other parties.

3. What's a published API?

One of the key issues in our story is what constitutes a "published API"? We've stated this over and over to Apple, but we believe that one of the strongest publishing mechanisms they have is the front page of the App Store. Apple appears to meticulously choose which apps to feature. The featured apps encourage users to buy them and developers to develop them. In this case, Apple featured 25shot in February and QuadCam in May, along with approving dozens of custom camera view apps in between. These featured apps appeared to millions of iPhone users on their desktop and also on their iPhones (AppStore). If these apps were using an "unpublished API", then why were they featured multiple times on the front page of the App Store? And why were dozens of these apps approved? If Apple was wrong in featuring these apps, then they misled developers like us to spend tons of capital and resources in development. Regardless, by featuring these apps, Apple clearly implicitly published the use of these APIs to millions of users and developers. And by continuously featuring these apps, Apple strengthened their published position of the custom camera api usage.

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