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Philosophy versus App Store Rejection

In May 2015, philosopher William Hooper, contracted me to recreate a notes app that should pay tribute to the iOS 6 style. He saw a market for such an app, because he – and many other users – didn’t like the flat style introduced in iOS 7.

I built the 1.0 version in a couple of weeks and enjoyed the challenge of skinning the UI to give it this retro style. Several thousand people downloaded the free app, and I began to believe William that a certain audience found it quite appealing.

Shortly afterwards we added additional paper styles, additional fonts and a different header bar style for users to select and released it as version 1.1. Unfortunately I had made a stupid programming mistake that would cause the notes database to be deleted from time to time. We removed the 1.1.0 version from sale while working on a fix.

When we submitted the 1.1.1 version containing the data loss hotfix version, the troubles began: Apple started to reject the app. After a month back and forth with the app review team, William published the following on his philosophy blog and asked me to share it with my readers.

Classic Notes 2007 Banned from the App Store

On May 29th Classic Notes was banned from the Apple App Store, I have spent the last few weeks trying to get it back into the app store, changing the graphics and resubmitting, but so far I have still had no luck. You can read about my adventure here.

This is what being rejected by Apple looks like:

Classic Notes Rejection Letter

That is my latest rejection, but my first looked pretty similar, and every message Apple has ever sent me looks the more or less the same, even when I write back they just send the same message, namely just a few words copied from their rule book with no sign of a human being behind the decision. They did however call me once on the telephone, and in that conversation they said they would reconsider their decision, but a week or two later they sent the same old rejection message again. The next stage for me is an appeal to the App Review Board.

The file attached to the complaint, namely Screenshot_0.png, is a screenshot of Classic Notes 2007 running on the iPad.

Have a look at this side by side comparison of Classic Notes and iOS6 Apple Notes running on an iPad:

Classic Notes Side-by-Side

Here is the title bar in more detail:

Classic Notes Title Bar Side-by-Side
More images: sidebyside1sidebyside2iPhone5aiPhone5biPhone5csettings

Of course there is a similarity between Classic Notes 2007 and Apple Notes circa 2007, but I have agued in vain to them that it’s just a fashionable likeness created by the use of brown leather, yellow lined paper, and the notify font. When I spoke to them on the telephone I explained that I can’t ditch these elements, they are heart of the nostalgia concept.

You can see their complaint is:

“8.3 – Apps that appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product,
interface, or advertising theme will be rejected.”

Notice the words “existing Apple product” and “confusingly similar”. It does not say “Any app that appears at all similar to any Apple app or interface that has ever been made will be rejected”

When I spoke to Apple on the phone I said “but the old version of notes is not an existing Apple product”. The chap on the other end of the phone laughed and said “well it does still exist it just isn’t available”.

I also said “It is not confusing, nobody who downloads this thinks that it comes from Apple, they know the old notes made by Apple was preinstalled not downloaded, and they know the old notes is no longer available and instead they have to use the new notes, and they are downloading this notes app from the app store because they miss it! Thus there is no confusion is there?”. The chap on the other end of the phone went kind of cold and insisted that people might be confused and think Classic Notes 2007 is the actual old Apple product itself. I pressed the point saying several times saying “are you serious, that’s madness”, and every time he said he was indeed serious.

After that I tried various other arguments. For example, I said

“This is a Steve Jobs tribute app that talks about how important it is to keep the memory of loved one alive. Have you read the first line of our advertising, it runs: ‘When we love a person our heart leaps whenever we see things that remind us of our beloved, and so we call such reminders beautiful, and they bring not just joy to our lives, they also in a sense magnetize us, keeping us true to the way of life our lover approved of.’ And then it goes on about how important it is ‘to be reminded of the wonderful Steve Jobs and his remarkable story’. So imagine Steve Jobs up in heaven right now listening in to this phone conversation, do you think he would be pround of you right now because you are making a wise descision? Do you think when you die Steve Jobs will greet you at the pearly gates and say you were right to ban the only app anyone ever wrote in tribute to me because it threatened to do the world more bad than good? You’re not a nobody who can say these sorts of deep and meaningful questions are above my pay grade, you’re the manager here at the app store, such questions belong to you.”

But let’s focus on the claim that the old Apple notes still exists and users may be confused and think Classic Notes is the original app.

There is an expression philosophers like to talk about, namely the “Are you for real?!”

What does it mean? It means that sometimes people don’t make decisions for ‘real’ reasons, they make them for ‘shadow’ reasons. You can think about it terms of being and non-being, or professionalism and ego. The person who goes unreal lets tangential motives and emotions drag him away from what is professional.

For example, a person who is hungry might say to his boss that the problem he is working on is unsolvable, and he is giving up and going out to lunch, but his boss might look at him and say: this problem is not unsolvable, you just are allowing your hunger to overcome your reasoning. Imagine, if you like, the Vulcan Spock from Star Trek who has become super rational by conquering all his desires.

Philosophers call the virtue of the professional man who resists his desires overcoming his reasoning process “self-controlled”. It’s the second most important professional virtue, the most important professional virtue being justice, which means something like “mind your own business, don’t meddle in other people work”.

Note, this idea of not allowing your reason to be overcome by desire only makes sense in a professional context where reason exists. Plato is pretty secretive and complicated, but I think he distinguishes between the four intellectual virtues and the three initiative virtues, and I think the imitator is not self-controlled by calculation, rather by loving and despising correctly he becomes habituated and is unconsciously self-controlled.

Perhaps the most common self-control issue is greed. Financial motives often come into conflict with professional standards, and this is as true for individuals as it is for corporations. For example, you could hypothesise that it would appear to be in Apple’s interest to ban products from the App Store which compete it’s own products, but of course if Apple were seen to be doing this there would be an outcry by the public and eventually a regulatory attack. We often talk about businesses “cheating” “greedily”.

Another common self-control issue is the inability to back down. Sometimes people make a wrong decision, and then can’t back down for some emotional reason such big-ego (hating giving others power), or shame (hates loosing face).

Think about the shame issue, and see how shame often makes love appear to be in conflict with reason— which is an interesting philosophical idea.

For example, using our own Classic Notes as an example, imagine an employee who really loves Apple, and who is slightly ashamed that some customers prefer the old notes to the new notes, and who consequently bans Classic Notes from the App store because he allows this shame to drag his away from what is truly professional.

Isn’t this strange? We think of love as something good, but here it is doing something bad.

The way to learn about philosophy is to think about examples such as this and figure out what is happening. When we see someone in two minds, we can hypothesise different moral frameworks, so in this case we might talk about dividing the individual into a professional-bee part and an emotional-sheep part. And thinking about this division, we could perceive the ethical working practises principle “the mind should rule over the heart”.

But just looking at the heart alone, still we should be able to explain why real love is all good, and why in this example the love is just somehow mixed up. How can we do that? We could argue that the love in this case is not loving what Apple really is, you see the real Apple is a hero who wins wars and welcomes competition, and without war it wouldn’t thrive and be happy, but the employee who was ashamed was not getting that, in a sense they were sort of short sighted and could not see what was really going on. And that’s interesting because it seems to mean that there is no need for even the most patriotic of men to hate his countries enemies.

But of course, this has nothing to do with Classic Notes 2007, because the App is build by lovers of Steve Jobs as a tribute to him, so we are no enemies of Apple, on the contrary we are Apple’s friend. Barking at us, we could joke, is like being the dog that attacks the homeowners long lost friend. Help cried the friend as the dog sunk its teeth into his heels, but was it loud enough for the homeowner to hear, or will the dog tear the friend to shreds?

Categories: Apple

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