The Apple Watch Series 7 gets a keyboard, making it easier to enter texts. But actually it already existed: with FlickType you can enter texts on your Apple Watch for much longer. Developer Kosta Eleftheriou made a keyboard app that works well and makes few typos. This put him in the spotlight at Apple. Eleftheriou stopped by to demonstrate his app to Apple and received favorable reactions, giving the impression that a takeover was imminent. But now Eleftheriou is left empty-handed and Apple is said to have stolen his ideas. He files a lawsuit.
It often happens that apps are ‘sherlocked’: they become redundant because Apple builds exactly the same functionality into the operating system as standard. But in the case of Eleftheriou, it’s not just anyone: he has become one of Apple’s biggest critics, especially when it comes to scam apps that try to rip you off. Eleftheriou complains that Apple just approves such apps and at the same time claims that the App Store is a safe place. Often it concerns 1-on-1 copied apps, with absurd in-app purchases of, for example, a tenner a week. They are purely meant to take money out of your pocket and Apple is not only cooperating with them, but also taking advantage of them by pocketing 30%.
Apple wanted to take over FlickType
In January 2019, the situation was very different. Eleftheriou was convinced that Apple wanted to take over its FlickType app. Apple’s keyboard leader absolutely loved FlickType, declaring “Apple should buy this from you.” During a demo for the Apple Watch team in January 2019, everyone was also enthusiastic.
The same evening, however, he received an email that keyboards on the Apple Watch are not allowed according to the rules. FlickType would be removed from the App Store and Eleftheriou has been at odds with Apple’s review team ever since. With each update, Apple struggled and Eleftheriou became more and more frustrated. Last month, the developer announced they would discontinue the FlickType features for the blind, because Apple continued to be difficult. Ironically, it has not yet been possible to remove the blind function from the app, because Apple refuses to approve the update.
In March 2021, the developer filed a lawsuit because FlickType is continuously rejected. “Apparently Apple thought the plaintiff [Eleftheriou] would simply give up and sell his app to Apple at a discount,” the complaint read. Now that the functionality of FlickType has been copied by Apple, the maker sees an additional reason to sue the company. Eleftheriou has plenty of money thanks to the sale of his Fleksy keyboard to Pinterest five years ago.
Keyboard apps on the Apple Watch, is that allowed?
There was a time when keyboard apps were banned on the Apple Watch, but Apple later changed its stance to allow the Nano (for Reddit), Chirp (for Twitter), and Lens (for Instagram) apps. Eleftheriou thinks his app is being targeted. Apple admits that banning FlickType was a mistake at the time, but according to Eleftheriou, he had to fight for months to be able to release new updates. When FlickType finally returned in January 2020, it was an instant success, finishing high on Apple’s list of best-selling apps in 2020.
Lens for Instagram, an app that was approved in 2019.
Eleftheriou has another reason to be angry: for years he’s had to work around all the limitations of Apple’s APIs, and Apple’s own keyboard doesn’t have those limitations. This gives Apple an unfair competitive advantage over independent developers.
Apple’s Apple Watch keyboard will only be available on the Series 7 and probably won’t work in Dutch.
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