If you’re a blind or low-vision iPhone user who relies on the FlickType keyboard to type, I’ve got some bad news — you’re about to become a casualty of the fight between Apple and one of its staunchest critics. Developer Kosta Eleftheriou has announced that he’s discontinuing the iPhone keyboard portion of his app, and says that keyboard will automatically be removed in a future update.
It's with a heavy heart today that we're announcing the discontinuation of our award-winning iPhone keyboard for blind users.— FlickType Watch Keyboard (@FlickType) August 16, 2021
Apple has thrown us obstacle after obstacle for years while we try to provide an app to improve people's lives, and we can no longer endure their abuse. pic.twitter.com/cH1HCQzeP1
You might have heard the entire app is going away, and that’s not actually true, Eleftheriou tells The Verge. In January 2020, he added a swipe-to-type Apple Watch keyboard to FlickType that saw the app skyrocket to the number one paid app in the entire Apple App Store for a time, and that app will continue to exist and continue to contain that Apple Watch keyboard. Eleftheriou says the app has nearly half a million downloads, but he doesn’t have a breakdown for how many of those users rely on the iPhone keyboard specifically.
If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Eleftheriou is the same developer who’s been poking holes in Apple’s App Store image for months, pointing out how egregious scams, secret gambling dens, and review fraud keep making it through the company’s filters even though they’re pretty easy for anyone to root out. His fight became personal long before today: he sued Apple in March for some seemingly shady behavior, alleging that Apple erected roadblocks to his FlickType keyboard in order to convince him to sell the technology to Apple for a discount, all while scammy mobile keyboard apps flourished on the App Store.
Now, says Eleftheriou, Apple has suddenly decided to reject FlickType yet again — and for a reason that he’s already successfully argued with them in the past. He shared the rejection letter with The Verge, and it’s a pretty simple dispute: Apple says the keyboard needs to work even if a user doesn’t give it “full access” to network access and other iOS features. But Eleftheriou says that if Apple actually tried to use the app, or consulted their earlier discussions, they’d see that the keyboard works.
We tried reaching out to Apple a total of 9 times last 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".— FlickType Watch Keyboard (@FlickType) August 16, 2021
To be clear, Apple’s own developer guidelines specify that “full access” isn’t a problem: the only dispute here is whether the app continues to work if a user turns it off — which it does, says Eleftheriou, if you turn VoiceOver on. “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,” Eleftheriou says.
As his Twitter thread explains, Eleftheriou sees this as the final straw for this specific feature:
“Our rejection history already spans more than FOURTY pages filled with repeated, unwarranted, & unreasonable rejections that serve to frustrate & delay rather than benefit end-users. And dealing with App Review isn’t just time-consuming. It’s also very emotionally draining,” he writes.
Eleftheriou stops short of accusing Apple of retaliation, in a separate chat over Twitter DM. “I can only speculate about this rejection, but I’ve recently had many more rejections I haven’t talked about yet, and them ignoring my attempts to reach them is also new,” he says.
“I can’t really know, but definitely feels like some kind of ‘special’ treatment going on,” he tells The Verge.
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.