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

Enlarge / IPhone FlickType keyboard.

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

An iPhone keyboard for blind users will be phased out, according to the app developer, who alleges that “Apple has thrown us obstacle after obstacle for years as we try to deliver an app to improve people’s lives.”

FlickType includes an Apple Watch keyboard and iPhone keyboard for blind and visually impaired users of VoiceOver, an Apple technology that can speak the key selected by the user. FlickType’s Apple Watch keyboard will continue, at least for a while, but the iPhone keyboard will be disabled.

“It is with a heavy heart today that we announce the discontinuation of our award-winning iPhone keyboard for blind users,” the FlickType account said on Twitter. wrote yesterday. FlickType is being developed by Kosta Eleftheriou, who recently filed a complaint alleging that Apple used its control over the distribution of iPhone apps to trick it into selling FlickType to Apple at a discount. He says he refused to sell the app.

Apple “incorrectly” rejected the app update

The last straw for FlickType’s keyboard extension came last week when Eleftheriou “submitted an update that fixes various issues with iOS 15 and improves the app for VoiceOver users,” FlickType wrote. “But Apple rejected it. They again falsely claim that our keyboard extension doesn’t work without ‘full access’, something they rejected to us THREE years ago. At the time, we did. successfully appealed and overturned their decision, and it had not been a problem since. Until now. ”

FlickType said they contacted Apple nine times last week “without success. At this point, they seem to ignore our attempts to contact them directly, although they have explicitly told us to” do not hesitate “to contact them if we have. need “more details”. ”

The app’s keyboard extension will stop working after future updates. “We want to continue delivering the latest 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 reads: “The FlickType keyboard is designed to be as accessible as possible on iPhone and Apple Watch, with large keys, high contrast colors, prominent visuals, and efficient VoiceOver feedback. . FlickType can respond to you during a completely eyeless writing experience, allowing blind people to type as fast as everyone else. ”

The American Foundation for the Blind’s AccessWorld publication wrote an article in October 2018 on how FlickType solves an annoying problem for blind users. “When I first started using a smartphone, I discovered that the most bulky aspect was the touchscreen keyboard,” wrote AccessWorld editor-in-chief Aaron Preece. “Finding the right key is pretty straightforward, but the delay in hearing the name of the targeted key adds a surprising amount of time to the act of typing. Preece found that “FlickType is much smoother to use than the default keyboard” and that when “FlickType predicts what I typed correctly, I find that it increases my typing speed by about 30%. ”

An article from the National Federation of the Blind called FlickType “a much faster experience than the standard iOS keyboard.”

Keyboard works without full access

Apple rejected the app update on August 13, sending Eleftheriou a note stating, “We noticed that your keyboard extension is not working when the ‘Full Access’ setting is disabled. To resolve this issue, please review your application to ensure that your Keyboard Extension is fully functional with or without full network access. ”

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

FlickType keyboard.
FlickType keyboard.Kosta Eleftheriou

 

Without full access, “FlickType supports regular touch input where you explore the keyboard and then lift your finger to type the character you want,” read a support page. Enabling full access unlocks “typing,” where blind and visually impaired users can “lightly type where you think each letter is, and FlickType’s powerful algorithm will correctly guess the right word almost every time. “.

Typing “allows blind users to not have to wait for comments for each key, effectively allowing them to type as fast as anyone,” Eleftheriou told us. He pointed out that other keyboards, such as the Microsoft-owned SwiftKey, also require full access to activate additional capabilities.

“Requiring full access to certain additional features is nothing new,” he told Ars.

Apple’s App Store reviewers don’t seem to realize that the iPhone’s keyboard works without full access as long as VoiceOver is turned on, Eleftheriou told The Verge. “They should try it out as a VoiceOver user, which they don’t seem to bother to do. I’ve had several refusals in the past because the reviewer didn’t know anything about VoiceOver,” he said. -he declares.

Eleftheriou says Apple must end “developer abuse”

When asked if he would continue to supply the iPhone keyboard if Apple rolls back the rejection of the update, Eleftheriou told Ars that “Apple should do more than just reverse its decision. I have already made great efforts over the years to convince them personally. to overturn dozens of their bad decisions in the past. They should at least admit that they have treated me, and thousands (millions?) Of other developers, unfairly and unreasonably for years. Admitting this would be the first step towards them actually reducing, and ultimately stopping, this developer abuse. ”

Eleftheriou said he is not sure how long he will continue to develop the Apple Watch part of the app. “I’m still going to try to provide the keyboard for the watch, for now at least,” he told Ars.

Developer complaints about Apple’s App Store have resonated with some lawmakers as Congress considers legislation that would require Apple to allow users to load apps and access third-party app stores .

We contacted Apple today and will update this article if the company answers our questions.

Eleftheriou’s lawsuit against Apple

This isn’t the first public dispute between the developer of FlickType and Apple. Eleftheriou named a “professional app store reviewer” and worked to identify fraudulent apps that trick users into making payments that might otherwise go to legitimate apps.

Eleftheriou’s California-based Kpaw sued Apple in March, alleging that the iPhone maker “threw barrage after barrage” to make it difficult to access FlickType on the App Store.

Apple was trying to buy FlickType from Eleftheriou and obviously “believed the plaintiff would just give up and sell their app to Apple at a discount,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit, which was filed in Santa Clara County State Superior Court, continued:

Once the Applicant finally brought their app to market, the Applicant’s app rose to the top of App Store sales worldwide. Then, copy and scam apps surfaced, causing the complainant’s sales to plummet. Worse yet, these scammers have climbed to the top of App Store sales by submitting bogus reviews to rise in Apple’s system. The plaintiff complained to Apple and, in response, Apple did next to nothing, despite its stated policies prohibiting this specific type of unfair competition. While Apple urged the plaintiff to develop and publish apps for sale in the App Store based on Apple’s promise of a “safe” environment, Apple does not in fact monitor its App Store, without no doubt because it profits massively from widespread developer misconduct and consumer fraud. Through this lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks to recover and put an end to its losses resulting from the fraudulent and unfair practices of Apple.

The rejection of the app update last week “is the tip of the iceberg,” Eleftheriou told Ars. “The big picture is the reject model that has been going on for years as well as the extremely poor third-party keyboard APIs. ”

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