FlickType developer sues Apple over App Store scams

i Kosta hat

Kosta Eleftheriou, an iOS app developer, says there’s a easy approach to examine whether or not an iPhone app may be a rip-off.

Step one is to disregard the app’s common star score and featured opinions, which he says are too straightforward for builders to artificially inflate. As a substitute, it’s best to have a look at the complete listing of written opinions, type them by “Most Latest,” and begin trying to find patterns. Glowing opinions crammed with dangerous grammar and nonsensical sentences are a foul signal, however the actual tells are the one-star opinions. Should you spot customers complaining about astronomical in-app buy costs or options that don’t work as marketed, the app might be a lot worse than its stellar rating lets on.

“You’ve acquired to just remember to perform a little bit of labor,” Eleftheriou says. “You wish to examine.”

Eleftheriou has completed loads of his personal App Store sleuthing in latest months. After discovering {that a} shoddy imitation of his standard FlickType keyboard app was charging prospects tons of of {dollars} per 12 months in subscription charges, he launched his personal campaign towards App Store scams on the whole. On Twitter, he usually flags apps that seem like purchasing fake reviews and tricking users into making costly in-app purchases, and he’s known as out Apple for not doing sufficient to cease them.


Now, Eleftheriou is elevating the stakes by suing Apple itself. In a lawsuit, Eleftheriou accuses Apple of fraud, false promoting, unfair competitors, negligence, and failure to function in good religion. The criticism cites Eleftheriou’s personal experiences with Apple—he claims the corporate mentioned buying his FlickType app, solely to later throw up roadblocks to him releasing it within the App Store—and with the corporate’s failure to maintain out “barely usable” copycats. (Apple has not responded to a request for remark.)

The lawsuit says Eleftheriou is in search of compensation for misplaced income because of Apple’s actions. However in an interview, he says he’s additionally hoping for broader adjustments, if not from Apple then from regulation.

“We must always not for a second settle for that that is only a lifestyle, that the App Store will simply have faux scores and faux opinions that we can’t belief,” Eleftheriou says. “It simply doesn’t should be this fashion.”

American dream

Eleftheriou’s story is considered one of a developer who as soon as noticed the App Store as a spot the place any trustworthy developer might succeed, solely to develop into disenchanted as unscrupulous builders have prospered.

Kosta Eleftheriou [Photo: courtesy of Kosta Eleftheriou]

Initially from Greece, Eleftheriou was residing in London when the iPhone’s App Store launched in 2008. After experimenting with a few video games, he struck gold with an app known as iSteam, which stuffed the iPhone’s display screen with faux steam that customers might wipe away. The $0.99 app earned Eleftheriou and his codevelopers over $100,000, convincing him to ebook a one-way ticket to San Francisco and develop into a full-time app developer.

“I instantly acquired hooked on the entire platform,” he says.


His obsession with constructing higher touchscreen keyboards quickly adopted—as did an early predilection for pushing Apple’s buttons. In 2010, he developed a prototype app known as BlindType that appeared to auto-correct even the worst typos. And whereas Apple didn’t assist third-party keyboards on the time, he told Engadget that BlindType deliberate to launch an iOS model “to place stress on Apple to lastly enable this type of factor.” BlindType by no means made good on that plan, as Google acquired the app later that 12 months.

After spending a 12 months at Google, Eleftheriou nonetheless had keyboards on the mind, and so he cocreated a brand new app known as Fleksy with a give attention to gesture typing for visually-impaired customers. The app was so profitable the builders turned it right into a mainstream product, raising $3 million in venture funding to gasoline its development.

As soon as once more Eleftheriou couldn’t resist placing somewhat stress on Apple. He allowed individual apps to use Fleksy as a substitute of the default iPhone keyboard lengthy earlier than iOS added official third-party keyboard assist. However whereas Fleksy was initially profitable, Eleftheriou says it in the end couldn’t sustain with traders’ expectations for development. Pinterest acquired the Fleksy team in 2016.

Nonetheless, he solely lasted at Pinterest for a few 12 months earlier than the entrepreneurial itch took maintain as soon as extra. He had the concept to create one more keyboard app, however this time for the Apple Watch. He was unhappy with Apple’s textual content entry choices—which included voice dictation, canned solutions, and a “Scribble” characteristic for handwriting letter by letter—and thought he might do higher.

“I at all times felt there was a greater method, and so with my expertise I made a decision I used to be going to depart Pinterest—and leaving loads of compensation behind—to begin constructing this know-how,” Eleftheriou says.

That’s when his actual issues with Apple started.

App Store roadblocks

Eleftheriou’s lawsuit towards Apple describes a sequence of struggles to get FlickType onto the Apple Watch. Apple allegedly rejected the app at first due to its subscription mannequin, which Eleftheriou dropped in response. The corporate then accepted the app into its retailer, however later modified its thoughts and eliminated it, claiming that standalone keyboard apps have been in truth not allowed.

FlickType [Photo: courtesy of Kosta Eleftheriou]

Though Eleftheriou efficiently appealed that call, stating {that a} competing Apple Watch keyboard app was already accessible, he spent roughly a 12 months making an attempt to get a separate note-taking model of FlickType into the shop. Once more, Apple’s rationale was that “full keyboard apps usually are not applicable” for the Apple Watch, although FlickType’s standalone keyboard had already launched, each by itself and thru integrations with different apps.

Although the lawsuit stops in need of saying the corporate made an acquisition provide, it claims that at one level, Apple wished Eleftheriou to “merely surrender” on getting FlickType accepted and promote the know-how at a low value.

Eleftheriou says he felt powerless in these sorts of conditions. He notes that when Apple rejects an app, its choice seems in a “Decision Heart” on Apple’s developer portal as a substitute of over e mail. And if the developer information a brand new model of their app, it erases all messages from the earlier rejection. That system, mixed with the best way Apple typically tries to resolve points by cellphone, means builders usually don’t have a written report that they’ll use to again up their claims, Eleftheriou says.


“There are all these behaviors the place they’re systematically putting themselves able the place they’ll completely abuse that place, and have a lot energy over you, that basically you’d be afraid to talk up,” he says.

Digging up App Store scams

All of this helps clarify why Eleftheriou has develop into a singular public face within the combat between app builders and Apple. In contrast to kerfuffles involving Epic Video games, Spotify, Match Group, and Basecamp, his complaints don’t have anything to do with App Store income splits. As a substitute, his case aligns extra instantly with customers’ pursuits by focusing on dishonest apps.

At the same time as Apple was slowing down FlickType, Eleftheriou figured that his expertise in making keyboard apps would give him a protracted head begin over imitators. What he didn’t depend on was that these rivals would merely create barely-functional imitations and use bogus opinions to get wealthy.

In a Twitter thread from late January, he documented how a keyboard app known as KeyWatch promised an Apple Watch typing expertise much like FlickType, even stealing footage from his personal promo video in adverts on Fb and Instagram. In actual fact, the app was “virtually unusable,” Eleftheriou tweeted, and demanded an $8-per-week in-app buy instantly after putting in it. (FlickType is free to make use of and is a $10 one-time buy for premium options like gesture typing and emoji.)

Regardless of the exorbitant price, KeyWatch’s App Store itemizing appeared to have glorious opinions. The complaints solely surfaced when he dug deeper and located a number of one-star opinions calling the app a rip-off. Eleftheriou additionally discovered a number of five-star opinions utilizing duplicate textual content or describing non-existent and even nonsensical options (resembling a built-in calculator and Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys).

In the meantime, FlickType’s App Store score sits at 3.4. Eleftheriou says that’s largely as a result of its the Apple Watch’s limitations. As a result of the keyboard doesn’t work system huge, he will get loads of complaints from precise customers who need it to work in any app that accepts textual content enter.

KeyWatch [Screenshot: Kosta Eleftheriou]

“My enterprise is affected by scammers that I can’t compete with,” he says. “Provided that I have been to sink to the degrees that they did and purchase opinions and scores, would I be capable of compete, however I’m simply not keen to sink to that degree.”

Eleftheriou says app makers have little recourse after they really feel they’re being ripped off. Apple’s answer, he says, is to arrange a mediation course of, by which every developer makes their case and Apple orders that any infringing content material be eliminated.

Nonetheless, he says that he was surprised to search out that the builders of KeyWatch didn’t really face any punishment for being a blatant rip-off. Solely taking his case public and getting consideration from the tech press appeared to alter issues, as Apple eliminated the KeyWatch app shortly after. Even then, he needed to elevate much more complaints to get the builders banished for good.

“Instantly, I’m calling these individuals out, and that’s not likely what I wish to be doing, however I simply felt like I had no different selection,” he says.

Since that incident, Eleftheriou has develop into a de facto level individual for digging up ugly examples of App Store abuse. He’s obtained “dozens” of complaints from different app builders and “tons of” of complaints from customers, and continues call them out on Twitter. There’s the Roku distant management app with a 4.5-star score that charges $5 per week, the constellation app with a 4.6-star score that charges $10 per week, the canine whistle app with a 4.5-star score that charges $10 per week, and the open Quora dialogue on how to buy reviews.

To Eleftheriou, all these points are only a signal of Apple’s indifference to the issue. Setting apart the precise authorized deserves, probably the most compelling a part of his lawsuit is the argument that Apple is failing maintain up its promise of offering a “secure and trusted place” to obtain apps. There’s no mechanism within the App Store for customers to request refunds, neither is there even a method for customers to report suspicious apps. And as he’s seen firsthand, some scams go on for years till somebody publicly calls them out.

“If I can discover these apps so simply, as a developer who has no entry to the inner knowledge that Apple does . . .  that simply reveals how a lot they’ve dropped the ball,” he says.