Thursday, February 16, 2012

Egypt Revisited

As a lot of you know, last night I had a strong reaction to Apple and its decision to reject Serotek's Accessible Event app. The exact number of apps that do not make it to Apple's App Store is not documented but is estimated to range in the thousands. When our app fell into that category for a third consecutive time, I admit my reaction was a little hasty.

I understand Apple only wants the best apps to maintain a superior user experience. I applaud Apple for allowing that user experience to be so inclusive of the world's blind population. To that end, I submit my sincere apologies to Apple and to the blind and visually impaired community for having taken my frustrations as a developer to Twitter. If I may, I would like to provide an explanation for my reaction.

My sentiments are not unique among Apple's developer community. Hundreds of blog posts and Twitter feeds point to Apple's obscure approval system. There is no appeal process for rejected apps that meet the company's hardware and software specifications. Though sideloading has provided alternative access to OSX, Apple's sandboxing policy set to start on March 1 raises speculation about whether the company will simply eliminate what it deems inappropriate. Even apps that make the cut face an impending reality of not being able to interact with other apps. Some believe this is necessary to uphold a secure environment. Many others wonder if security is being used to minimize productivity.

Speaking from the position of a developer, I am worried about the direction Apple is taking. I am not alone in my feeling that what we are facing is really Apple's sandbox, and developers just happened to be allowed to play in it with an eye to the big bully who might one day decide he no longer wants some of the kids there. Yes, there are rotten apples that try to take advantage of the system and make things bad for everyone, but we should not dilute the very freedom that made Apple products cool to start.

On a more personal level, I have had time to reflect on the situation since my public blitz. There is no justification for my reaction, and yet I've been wondering about the origins of my feelings. Could it be that I am lashing out against the same oppressive environment imposed by the adaptive technology industry I have been opposing for the past ten years? The traditional players in the industry, after all, have grown comfortable telling blind people what they can or cannot access, and Apple has taken steps that open those old scars, not because they rejected a single app but because their system is being restructured in a way that is more limiting than it is liberating. But now it’s not just the blind community it’s the World. I have worked hard to encourage people to be more than just a company's list of features. I do not want us to wander down a path that excites us about everything that we might be able to do, only to hit a brick wall and discover that freedom is what a company decides it should be.

As you know, Serotek is no stranger to the Apple App Store. In January iBlink Radio was inducted into the AppleVis iOS App Hall of Fame. The app provides access to radio stations, podcasts, and reading services and has gained distinguished prominence among a global audience.

On behalf of Serotek, I apologize for the delay of another in a series of apps that will help blind people be productive in school and in the workplace. It is our desire to continue working in an open environment that empowers people to pursue personal and professional ambitions. We will be publishing instructions on how to sideload the Accessible Event app to work on your Mac.

Until then, stay vigilant. Innovation is about moving out of what previously restrained us.


Joshua Loya said...

Owning up to your mistakes is a sign of honor and maturity. Also, I hope, if Apple does make the installation of non-Appstore apps more difficult, that they offer much clearer approval requirements for developers.

Christopher said...

Hello to the Serotek team. I agree with the previous commenter. Apple must take appropriate steps to make the guide lines for apps clearer. Are you going to continue trying to get it in to the store?

Dan Mathis said...

I am sorry, this is why I am with android as a blind user, I bought the phone, its mine so there for I will side load apps, load apps from the play store "formerly google market place". Apple does have some sexy hardware but the fact that I have to where handcuffs keeps me far way from apple. I did wants own an Ipod but now its proud ownner is my little 11 year old sister in law who loves that thing to death, beeing in a closed environment is great for her. But not me.