The creators behind email app BlueMail penned an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking to get back on the Mac App Store during a lawsuit.
Dan and Ben Volach revealed to Wired that they were shocked to learn about Apple’s new ‘Sign in with Apple‘ feature at the company’s annual developer conference. The brother’s app, BlueMail, received a similar feature called ‘Share Email’ in 2018. Further, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Ben Volach a patent for the technology a year prior.
A few days after Apple’s announcement, the company removed BlueMail from the Mac App Store. The Volach brothers don’t believe it was a coincidence and have filed a lawsuit against Apple for patent infringement.
Now, the brothers have published an open letter to Apple’s CEO asking to have BlueMail reinstated on the Mac App Store despite the ongoing litigation.
According to Wired, the brothers believe that without BlueMail available on Mac, it can’t generate the resources to pursue the lawsuit. Considering that litigation can take time, and small developers don’t have a lot of resources, it is a precarious position. Apple’s legal team allegedly asked for an extension to prepare its defence.
“No small developer has your resources and these extensions are more than preparation; these delays leverage your resources and control over our ability to generate revenue. And so, when you delisted our app, we lost our voice,” Ben Volach wrote in the letter.
Not the first time
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Apple has been accused of stealing ideas from apps on its storefronts. Apple has data on which apps are popular because it manages the App Stores on its platforms. Several popular apps, according to Wired, fell to their demise after Apple incorporated similar features into its apps.
A recent example would be the introduction of Screen Time, Apple’s digital wellness features, in iOS 12. A few months before those features launched, Apple cracked down on similar digital wellness apps because they could acquire too much user data. The New York Times reports that many digital wellness apps shut down after Apple poached their features.
It also isn’t the first time the Volach brother’s company, Blix, suffered because of Apple. In the open letter, Ben Volach notes that BlueMail jumped from rank 143 on the iOS App Store to number 13 following an investigation into how Apple manipulated App Store search results.
Blix is one of many companies in a precarious position relying on two gatekeepers — Apple and Google — that can derail entire businesses in the blink of an eye by changing the rules of their digital storefronts. Wired detailed the plight of several small developers trying not to upset the gatekeepers and lose access to platforms they rely on.
Others can go toe to toe with Apple — the European Union plans to investigate Apple’s anti-competitive behaviour with rival app Spotify, for example. U.S. Congress is also investigating Apple’s anti-competitive behaviour.
The BlueMail incident may lend more evidence to the anti-competitive claim. Wired reports that, following a beta period, Blix launched BlueMail on macOS on May 8th, 2019. Apple initially approved it, but within two weeks notified Blix that BlueMail violated its spam guideline. It requested Blix upload a compliant version of the app within 48 hours.
The guideline in question — which can be viewed in full here — says not to create multiple “Bundle IDs” of the same app. For example, instead of creating various apps for different locations, create a single app and offer location-specific variations through in-app purchases. Ben Volach believed another email app he owned, TypeApp, was the problem.
According to the lawsuit, TypeApp “targets email service providers and is customized for the needs of those service providers.” The Volachs pulled TypeApp from the Mac App Store and resubmitted a new version of BlueMail with a new design. BlueMail isn’t affiliated with TypeApp.
Further, the BlueMail team asked Apple in the resubmission to provide more details about which apps it finds similar. Apple rejected BlueMail again, saying it duplicated content available on the App Store. The team requested more clarity, and Apple said BlueMail duplicated TypeApp.
According to the lawsuit, this couldn’t be the case on June 4th, 2019, since Blix voluntarily removed TypeApp weeks earlier. Further, it claims BlueMail and TypeApp weren’t duplicates to begin with.
Apple said BlueMail still wasn’t “in compliance” and removed it from the Mac App Store on June 7th without further explanation. However, both BlueMail and TypeApp remain on the iOS App Store, as well as on Google’s Play Store.
TypeApp, BlueMail nearly identical
According to Wired, both TypeApp and BlueMail appear almost identical on other platforms. It wasn’t able to analyze the pulled Mac applications for differences. The Volach brothers didn’t provide additional details due to pending litigation, but the lawsuit says TypeApp features specific customizations for Brazil.
Ben Volach told Wired that many of BlueMail’s customers use MacBook computers. Because of this, Volach claims the removal from the app store is harming the company’s business, despite only launching the macOS app earlier this year. He also ruled out distributing BlueMail outside the Mac App Store thanks to recent software updates.
The 2017 macOS Sierra update makes it more difficult to download apps over the internet. While it’s still possible to do, bypassing the Mac App Store presents users with several security warnings, which could turn clients off of the service.
Ultimately, the Volachs believe Apple infringed on their patent and purposefully removed BlueMail to stifle competition. The brothers hope the open letter will draw attention to their case since Apple’s legal team can draw out the lawsuit.
Those interested can read the full letter here.