Fear And Loathing In the App Store 13 - Apple Rejects Gravity
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 04 November 2015

Apple's latest UI innovation is Force Touch or 3D Touch, what to call it isn't clear. It basically lets you detect how hard a user is pressing on the touch screen so you have an extra degree of freedom to play with. Now this is an innovation - right? So innovative apps that make use of it are welcome - right? Well, no, not in the closed protective world of the app store. 

This is the story of how a small band of developers was brave enough to "think different". The API for force touch had been published and they started to think about ways it could be used to turn the phone in to a digital weighing scale. The API didn't allow a direct reading of a force applied to the screen, but wouldn't you spend time thinking up ways of doing exactly that? 

Initially this seemed like a not-so-good idea to developer Ryan McLeod because Apple has often reacted poorly to novel used of the iPhone's sensors. After looking in the app store at all the strange and wonderful uses of vibrations, magnetometers and so on, he changed his mind and thought that it might be worth the effort. To quote from his account of the process:

"Creating a scale turns from impossible to a challenge."

and if you don't know what he means then you aren't a developer. 

To cut a long story short, and do go and read the full account - it is fun and informative, the team settled on a spoon as a finger replacement. The reason - it has the capacitance of a finger, has a contact area like a finger and was available and could hold other objects to be weighted. After some experimentation and calibration using coins the app, Gravity, was born. It had taken only four days. 

 

gravity1

 

While waiting for Apple's reply Gravity's creators got a web site up and some marketing materials prepared. But it was all a waste of time - Gravity was rejected by Apple and I guess that means from this point on everything falls up.

The reason was that it had a "misleading description". Suspecting that it might be that the reviewers thought it was a joke app - not one actually capable of measuring weight - the next step was to clarify what the app did with a video. 

  

With the video viewed, surely Gravity would be let into the App Store? 

Nope. 

It was rejected this time with the phrase: 

 the concept of a scale app was not appropriate for the App Store.

Interesting term "not appropriate". 

All that was left was to speculate about the reasons for the rejection. Could it be that the such a use might damage the touch screen? Given the app could only weigh up to 385 grams (0.85 lbs), this doesn't seem likely. Could it be that the app brought to mind possible uses in measuring out illegal drugs:

"Some people immediately see a drug connotation with Gravity (the spoon definitely doesn’t help), but with ~1–3 grams of accuracy, no one is going to be weighing drugs with Gravity, but it still works well enough for my mom to determine how much postage goes on her letters to me."

So because the reviewers see something dark where there is nothing much, Ryan's mom can't weigh her letters to her son. 

The irony of the situation is not lost on Ryan and he quotes Apple's own advertising:

“An app store with over one-and-a-half million of the best apps available. That’s over one-and-a-half million hand-picked, awe-inspiring, just-plain-surprising, who-knew-a-phone-could-do-that apps.”

Well no users are going to be saying:

"who knew a phone could weigh things!".

In app development innovation is the name of the game. Give a programmer a new device, sensor, platform anything and they will generally think of ways of using it that the maker never imagined. This is progress and it makes things better.

 

gravity2

 

You can argue that the walled garden that is the App Store is good for the user; and that what is good for the user is good for the programmer.

All true but keep in mind when you decide to innovate that you will be judged by people you never get to contact directly and their decisions are final - they don't even have to explain to you.

When you enter the App Store you give up your freedom, which is fine as long as you never run into a wall. 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 January 2016 )