Un-Traceable.

Our long national nightmare has ended. Traceable is no longer “In Review”. The nuclear winter has begun. Traceable 1.1 has been  officially rejected by Apple for violating guideline 13.1:

Apps that encourage users to use an Apple Device in a way that may cause damage to the device will be rejected.

Traceable is (was?) an application that enables illustrators and artists to use the iPad as a portable light table to easily trace built-in patterns or photos from the camera roll. It was approved by Apple over a year ago and has been in the App Store ever since. We sold on average about five copies of the app per week. That’s not a whole lot and certainly doesn’t recoup our development costs, but we had some plans for future versions that would make it more useful and, we hoped, more profitable.

We sent the update to Apple in early January. It moved into review within a few weeks but then mysteriously stalled out. Eventually we contacted Apple about the delay. The following day I received a phone call from someone at Apple who informed us that our application violated the guidelines for inclusion in the store. Of course we were disappointed. I protested. He said there wasn’t anything he could do. So that’s the end of Traceable I suppose.

Or is it?

While we understood the bargain we struck by venturing into Apple-land, the course reversal is difficult to stomach. Not only was our app approved the first time, but it remained in the App Store for a year without incident. Moreover at least one other application exists that promises the same functionality.1

It’s a frustrating position to be in. Apple is not capricious. They just prefer screwing developers to screwing customers. If a customer walks in with a busted iPad, Apple wants to make the customer happy. Ipso facto, Apple creates guidelines designed to prevent situations that inconvenience the customer, cost them money, or both. We just happened to get caught in the crossfire. Yet we can’t help but feel the discretion Apple has could be better applied in this situation. Our application is aimed at adults, adults who draw things for a living. If they want to use our application, they understand the (rather trivial) risks.

At Full Stop, we have iPhones in our pockets, iPads in our bags, and MacBook Pros on our desks because Apple makes the best, most affordable hardware and, frequently, the most well-designed software. The application ecosystem they have created is a tremendous boon. Making it easy for people to pay for digital goods (as iTunes did for music) benefits everyone. Customers receive more and higher quality software (because software designers and developers are compensated), software developers have a ready and willing consumer base, and Apple of course gets happy customers, happy developers, and a nice rake for playing matchmaker. Everybody wins, except when they don’t. When a conflict of interest occurs, the pecking order is clear: Apple, Apple’s customers, and finally Apple’s developers.

So far it’s been a successful strategy. As interested parties who find ourselves awkwardly occupying roles as both customer and developer, we hope Apple will continue to refine their process. More feedback, more visibility, and more consistency would be welcome.2 Once the well of trust has been poisoned none but vultures remain.

From here?

The ultimate status of Traceable is unclear. It is still in the App Store as of this writing. Should we be grateful? Should we make a few cosmetic changes and re-submit, hoping for a more favorable judgment by a different reviewer? Should we cut our losses and walk away?

Given the revenue that was being generated and the amount of other things on our plate here, the forget-about-it option probably has the most appeal. Unfortunately, we’re kind of stubborn. Traceable is a good idea, and more than a few people have saved a lot of money by purchasing a virtual light table from us. We think it’s a great fit for Apple’s platform. We hope they see the light, so to speak.

  1. Released (and updated) after Traceable entered the App Store but before this recent rejection. []
  2. Also, more speed, but, hey, beggars, choosers, and whatnot. []

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