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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple: Don’t do math in iOS 8’s Notification Center

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

PCalc—which in an amusing bit of timing is this week’s Six Colors sponsor—is a very clever Mac and iOS calculator that is always keeping up to date with the latest Apple technologies. So the new versions of PCalc add Handoff support as well as widgets

Except… Apple just told PCalc developer James Thomson that he’s got two or three weeks to remove the widget from his iOS app or be booted off the App Store.

First there’s the maddening inconsistency: This is an app that was accepted into the App Store, and is even being featured in the App Store as I write this. And now, a few weeks in, someone at Apple has decided that the app is too… what? Too useful?

Then there’s the frustration about Apple reducing functionality. Why is doing basic math in a widget not okay, but running billing timers and calculating trip ETAs and any number of other tricky actions are fine? It can’t be the fact that it’s a widget that you interact with, because I’ve seen numerous widgets that allow you to tap and swipe and do all sorts of stuff.

Having an easy swipe-down calculator on your iPhone makes your iPhone better. I’d hate to believe that Apple is embarrassed that James Thomson’s app managed to build in a widget when Apple’s own calculator app failed to do it.

Finally, there’s the exhaustion. Haven’t we seen this story a million times before? But here we are again, with another App Store ruling that feels arbitrary and inconsistent, isn’t explained, and harms the platform overall by sending a message to developers that any attempts to innovate could be met with arbitrary rejections at any time. Even getting your app accepted and promoted on the App Store does not protect you, as Thomson discovered, because a few weeks later someone made a decision “high up.”

As developer David Barnard writes:

I fear App Review. And that’s no small thing. So many decisions I make end up being filtered through whether or not I think something might get rejected. Which has a profound impact on my team’s entire development process — from what ideas we explore while brainstorming to how we implement specific features.

The App Store has been operating for six years now. Shouldn’t we be past this?

[Update: Apple has reversed course.]

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