iOS 5 feature once caused app to be banned for "potentially resulting in user confusion"


Steve Jobs was infamous for calling a feature useless during one release and then adding it in the next, to such a degree that it became an Interenet meme. That's how Apple does a lot of its business; talking down on everyone else's work until it's time for them to use the ideas themselves.  

A brilliant example of this is a new feature in iOS 5: camera shutter control using the volume up key. It makes it a lot easier to take pictures compared to using the on-screen shutter button, especially if you can't see the screen while taking a picture. It even works on older devices, since it uses existing volume keys instead of adding anything new. The problem is that someone had the same idea last year, and that didn't end too well.

Camera+, one of many third-party camera control apps for iOS, introduced this feature all the way back in 2010. Well, "tried to introduce" is more accurate. In the very first version of Camera+, the shutter button feature was the reason why it was rejected from being published because it used some private APIs (programming tools to interact with the device). The developer caved, removed the feature, and got Camera+ published.

A couple of months later, on August 4, the developer blogged about having submitted a new update of the app to Apple, an update that had only one new feature: VolumeSnap. Here's how the developer described the feature:

VolumeSnap ~ use your iPhone’s volume controls to snap photos!

 Using Camera+ now feels just like a real camera. Your photos can be sharper because you can now hold your iPhone steadier with two hands instead of fumbling around for the shutter button on screen.

In addition, you can plug your iPhone earphones in and use the volume buttons on them as a remote shutter control.

Sound familiar? It should to anyone who's read up on iOS 5, as even the earphone remote feature is included. So why did the developer think that Apple would approve it the second time when they rejected it the first? Pressure from users, the fact that other approved apps used something similar, and the fact that the feature had been implemented in another way that didn't break any guidelines (or so the developer thought). The developer was open with Apple about the past rejection of the feature, explained what was different, and hoped it would be enough to get the update approved. 

It wasn't. Apple rejected it again, and both the developer and users were left in the dirt. Here's Apple's exact reasoning for rejecting the app, word for word:

Your application cannot be added to the App Store because it uses iPhone volume buttons in a non-standard way, potentially resulting in user confusion. Changing the behavior of iPhone external hardware buttons is a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement. Applications must adhere to the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines as outlined in the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement section 3.3.7

The developer didn't let it go however, and put in a way for users to activate anyway – without it being an officially implemented feature. That didn't go over well with Apple, who simply removed the app from the App Store. It popped back up again later on, but without the feature. 

So, that's the story of Camera+, the app that got banned from the App Store. The developer certainly wasn't innocent here, sneaking in features that it was told to leave out like that. However Apple's reason for rejecting the feature is what's really interesting. "Potentially causing user confusion." Well, if that's the case, Apple, why on Earth did you include the feature in iOS 5?

People say that necessity is the mother of innovation. If that's true, then Apple does a pretty good job of making sure that necessity is not enough. You have to wonder how many potentially awesome features like that are lost because of Apple's unwillingness to bend the rules when something innovative comes along. Not to mention all the features that do exist in apps already and get shamelessly copied by Apple: notifications are from Android, the reading mode in Safari is from services like Read It Later, and GPS-based reminders in the new reminders app has existed in third-party apps for ages. 

Either way, iOS 5 users everywhere can now enjoy the fruits of the work that the Camera+ team put in last year. If you like this feature in iOS 5 and end up using it a lot, I highly suggest heading over to iTunes and buying Camera+ for $0.99, if only to give back something to the people who fought Apple to get it to users a year ago. Hopefully, the feature won't end up confusing too many people after all. 

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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