Apple Literally Stole My Thunder
I’ve been a developer for iOS since one could develop for iOS. And I’ve created a lot of apps, some very successful. As such, I’ve had my fair share of rejections, both warranted and unwarranted. I’m not one to complain, but this latest is simply unbearable.
The first app I ever developed is still sitting in iTunes Connect. At the time it was innovative, but the world has moved on. Back before there was “an app for that”—before the most popular sites, even Google, became mobile (or responsive)—there was an app I made called, simply, “Images.”
It did one thing, and it did it well: show you images of whatever you searched for. Essentially, it did what Google Images does now on their mobile-optimized site: show you a text field with large, swipable images below. The idea was, if you were out at a party and didn’t know what a honeybadger looked like, you could get that info to share in as few taps as possible.
Apple rejected it. Back then, you were just rejected, with no rhyme nor reason. You actually had to write in just to request you be given an explanation. I did just that. The reason: porn. Since you could type in anything and get an image for it, you could also type in lewd text and possibly receive an explicit image. Any app that allowed this, they said, would be rejected. Nevermind that you could also go to Google images using the native Safari app and do exactly the same thing.
I fought, but lost. This was a big enough “fuck you” that I swore I’d never write another iPhone app.
The App Store eventually became more transparent and logical with its review process. And I didn’t stop developing iPhone apps for more than a few months: I enjoyed it too much, and knew, for better or worse, that it was the future. That app still sits there, never to see the light of day. It was a lot of work back then, for nothing, but I’ve moved on to create a few successful indie apps.
My latest rejection — of a weather app I developed a few months ago—has me fuming. Now, I personally see weather apps, like to-do apps and flashlight apps before them, to be one of those lowest-common-denominator apps. They’re relatively easy to build, so lots of them get built by mediocre developers, and the store gets overrun. I was fully aware of this going in.
“There was thunderous applause.”
Which is why I was determined to build something magical, something I’d not seen before. While Apple’s own weather app had nice realistic graphics of weather conditions, other apps were trending toward a very minimal interface using a simple vector icon to represent the weather. I wanted to build something that would appear as if you were looking out of a window. I created OpenGL animations for various weather conditions, including a thunderstorm. Not a video, mind you, but computer generated conditions that looked and moved realistically—weather CGI, essentially. Apple rejected it on the grounds that it was too simple: “We encourage you to review your app concept and evaluate whether you can incorporate additional content and features.”
Originally I wanted to test the waters for such an interface, to see if people would like it before I added additional features—but I was willing to play ball. So I added some things I’d planned to hold off until later. The app integrated with your calendar. It showed hourly forecasts with minute-by-minute precision, and beyond. It showed sunrise and sunset with its animations and a nice moon at the correct phase. It would even notify you of inclement weather without you having to lift a finger.
It was also rejected. This time, the reason read: “It is less about a specific quantity of features…Rather, it is about the experience the app provides.” Does this strike anyone as unfair?
Apple states, in legalese:
“Apps should be engaging and exciting, enabling users to do something they couldn’t do before; or to do something in a way they couldn’t do before or better than they could do it before.”
Everyone can get to the weather, that’s a given. But no one had built anything that let you do it this way before. I eventually gave up, though. I suppose I trusted Apple—if they said that no one wanted to see weather in a beautiful realistic animation, then no one wanted to see it.
You might understand my shock when they unveiled a revamped weather app today. And its most defining new feature? Animated weather. Rain fell, snow drifted, hail dropped, and thunderstorms stormed—just as my app had so confidently done months before. And the audience loved it. When the lightning flashed, there was thunderous applause.
I’m not naive enough to claim Apple actually took my idea. I’m sure they happened to be working on a similar concept. I’m just saying they may have unfairly biased the review process, not wishing for someone to debut a key new aspect of their beloved OS before they were able to do so—not wanting anyone to steal their thunder.
According to Apple, no one wanted a flashy weather app. They were so certain of this, they built one themselves.