iPhone keyboard for blind to shut down as maker cites Apple “abuse” of developers

Enlarge / FlickType iPhone keyboard.

An iPhone keyboard for blind customers will probably be discontinued, in accordance to the app’s developer, who alleges that “Apple has thrown us obstacle after obstacle for years while we try to provide an app to improve people’s lives.”

FlickType consists of an Apple Watch keyboard and the iPhone keyboard supposed for blind and low-vision customers of VoiceOver, an Apple technology that may communicate the important thing a person selects. FlickType’s Apple Watch keyboard will proceed, a minimum of for some time, however the iPhone keyboard will probably be disabled.

“It’s with a heavy heart today that we’re announcing the discontinuation of our award-winning iPhone keyboard for blind users,” the FlickType account on Twitter wrote yesterday. FlickType is developed by Kosta Eleftheriou, who lately filed a lawsuit alleging that Apple used its management over iPhone app distribution to induce him to promote FlickType to Apple at a reduction. He says he refused to promote the app.

Apple “incorrectly” rejected app replace

The final straw for FlickType’s keyboard extension got here final week when Eleftheriou “submitted an update that fixes various iOS 15-related issues & improves the app for VoiceOver users,” FlickType wrote. “But Apple rejected it. They incorrectly argue again that our keyboard extension doesn’t work without ‘full access,’ something they rejected us for THREE years ago. Back then we successfully appealed and overturned their decision, and this hadn’t been a problem since. Until now.”

FlickType stated it contacted Apple 9 occasions final week “with no success. At this point they seem to be ignoring our attempts to contact them directly, despite previously explicitly telling us to ‘feel free’ to contact them if we need ‘further clarification.'”

The app’s keyboard extension will cease working after future updates. “We wish to keep providing the last working version that includes the keyboard extension, but Apple makes it impossible to stop automatic updates for individual apps. So unless you stop automatic updates for all your apps, you will soon lose the FlickType keyboard extension,” FlickType wrote.

The app’s App Store listing says, “FlickType keyboard is designed to be as accessible as possible on both iPhone and Apple Watch, featuring large keys, high-contrast colors, prominent visuals, and effective VoiceOver feedback. FlickType can speak back to you for a completely eyes-free writing experience, enabling people who are blind to type just as fast as everyone else.”

The American Foundation for the Blind’s AccessWorld publication wrote an article in October 2018 about how FlickType solves an annoying downside for blind customers. “When I first began to use a smartphone, I found that the most cumbersome aspect was the touchscreen keyboard,” AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief Aaron Preece wrote. “Finding the correct key is fairly simple, but the delay as you wait to hear the name of the focused key adds a surprising amount of time to the act of typing.” Preece discovered that “FlickType is much more fluid to use than the default keyboard” and that when “FlickType predicts what I have typed correctly, I find it increases the speed of my typing around 30 percent or so.”

A National Federation of the Blind article referred to as FlickType “a much faster experience than the standard iOS keyboard.”

Keyboard works with out full entry

Apple rejected the app replace on August 13, sending Eleftheriou a notice that claims, “We noticed that your keyboard extension does not function when the ‘Full Access’ setting is toggled off. To resolve this issue, please revise your app to ensure that your keyboard extension is fully functional with or without full network access.”

Eleftheriou confirmed Ars the message from Apple, which contained a screenshot of the FlickType keyboard that asks customers to “please enable full access for FlickType under the iOS Settings app.”

FlickType keyboard.

FlickType keyboard.

Kosta Eleftheriou

Without full entry, “FlickType supports regular touch typing where you explore the keyboard and then lift your finger to enter the desired character,” a help web page says. Enabling full entry unlocks “tap typing,” through which blind and low-vision customers can “lightly tap where you think each letter is, and FlickType’s powerful algorithm will correctly guess the right word almost every time.”

Tap typing “allows users who are blind to not have to wait for feedback for each key, effectively allowing them to type as fast as anyone,” Eleftheriou advised us. He identified that different keyboards, such as the Microsoft-owned SwiftKey, additionally ask for full entry to allow further capabilities.

“Requiring full access for certain additional features is nothing new,” he advised Ars.

Apple’s App Store reviewers do not appear to notice that the iPhone keyboard works with out full entry as lengthy as VoiceOver is enabled, Eleftheriou told The Verge. “They’d have to try it as a VoiceOver user, something that they don’t seem to bother doing. I’ve had several rejections in the past because the reviewer didn’t know anything about VoiceOver,” he stated.

Eleftheriou says Apple should cease “developer abuse”

When requested if he’d proceed offering the iPhone keyboard if Apple reverses the replace rejection, Eleftheriou advised Ars that “Apple would need to do more than just reverse their decision. I’ve already gone to great lengths over the years to personally convince them to reverse dozens of their wrong decisions in the past. They’d need to at least admit that they’ve been treating me and thousands (millions?) of other developers unfairly and unreasonably for years. Admitting this would be the first step towards them actually reducing, and eventually stopping, this developer abuse.”

Eleftheriou stated he is not certain how lengthy he’ll preserve creating the Apple Watch portion of the app. “I’m still going to try to provide the watch keyboard, for now at least,” he advised Ars.

Developers’ complaints concerning the Apple App Store have resonated with some lawmakers, as Congress is considering legislation that will drive Apple to let customers sideload apps and entry third-party app shops.

We contacted Apple at the moment and can replace this text if the corporate solutions our questions.

Eleftheriou’s lawsuit in opposition to Apple

This shouldn’t be the primary public dispute between FlickType’s developer and Apple. Eleftheriou calls himself a “professional App Store critic” and has labored to establish scam apps that trick customers into making funds which may in any other case go to legit apps.

Eleftheriou’s California-based firm, Kpaw, sued Apple in March, alleging that the iPhone maker “threw up roadblock after roadblock” to make it troublesome to get FlickType onto the App Store.

Apple was attempting to purchase FlickType from Eleftheriou and evidently “thought plaintiff would simply give up and sell its application to Apple at a discount,” the lawsuit alleged. The criticism, which was filed within the state superior courtroom in Santa Clara County, continued:

Once plaintiff lastly acquired its utility to market, plaintiff’s utility vaulted to the highest of the App Store’s gross sales worldwide. Then, copycat and rip-off functions surfaced, driving down plaintiff’s gross sales. What’s worse, these scammers vaulted to the highest of gross sales within the App Store by submitting pretend opinions to elevate themselves in Apple’s system. Plaintiff complained to Apple and, in response, Apple did subsequent to nothing, regardless of its acknowledged insurance policies forbidding this exact kind of unfair competitors. While Apple enticed plaintiff to develop and publish functions for sale within the App Store based mostly on Apple’s promise of a “safe” surroundings, Apple doesn’t the truth is police its App Store, undoubtedly as a result of it earnings massively from rampant developer misconduct and client fraud. By this lawsuit, plaintiff seeks to get better its losses as outcome of, and produce to an finish to, Apple’s fraudulent and unfair practices.

Last week’s app-update rejection “is the tip of the iceberg,” Eleftheriou advised Ars. “The big picture is the years-long pattern of rejections as well as the extremely poor 3rd-party keyboard APIs.”

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