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App reviews are unpredictable…

iCab Mobile 6.8.1 was just (End of January 2013)  released in the AppStore.

This update was supposed to be just a small and quick bugfix release for one issue with the Pocket sync feature. When the reading list was linked to a Pocket account and this account contains a very large number of bookmarks (many thousands), a bug within iCab Mobile could slow down the processing of these bookmarks while syncing so that the App could be terminated by the iOS. And because in this case iCab never gets the chance to finish the initial sync, the same happened when the App was started again. This is now fixed with the new update.

When submitting the update to Apple I didn’t expect any problems, so I assumed it would be available in the AppStore after the usual 5 days, which Apple needs until they actually review the App.

But unfortunately I was wrong. Apple rejected the update. The reason was not the bugfix, they rejected the App because of a feature that was available for years in iCab Mobile and which is also available in hundreds of other Apps in the AppStore. They rejected the App because it is able to download videos from YouTube so you can watch the videos offline.

You’ll find some more thoughts about this below.

I told them why I think their decision is wrong, but I don’t really expect an answer from Apple. I’ve never got any responses to complaints in the past.

So I added some code to block downloads from youtube, added the information to the release notes for the AppStore that I had to block downloads from youtube, and submitted the App to Apple again. 5 days later Apple started the review and I expected it would now be accepted for the release, but I was wrong…

This time Apple did not complain about the features of the App, they rejected the App because I mentioned in the AppStore description that I had to block downloads from YouTube… And as the reason for this, they cited item 3.3 from the AppStore guidelines: “Apps with descriptions not relevant to the application content and functionality will be rejected”.

I’m forced to “change” a certain feature of the App, and informing the users that the feature does no longer work as before should be “not relevant”??? What? Are they kidding me?

I’ve asked Apple what this is about and why I’m not allowed to tell the users about this, but as usually no answer from Apple.
I’m sorry about all this. I do know that especially many teachers are using the download feature for videos in their classes and this is not possible anymore.

But at least you can still download videos from many other sources and also download other files.
Some general thoughts about this topic:

With the initial rejection Apple referred to item 8.5 of the AppStore guidelines which says that the “use of protected 3rd party material (trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, otherwise proprietary content) requires a documented rights check which must be provided upon request” and also to the Youtube TOS which does not allow the download of any content.

While the latter (the YouTube TOS) somehow makes a little bit sense, the first statements does not. Item 8.5 of the guideline is most likely referring to icons, logos and other copyright-protected material which is used as integral part of an App, its App icon, its artwork and User interface etc. Of course I need licenses to use copyright-protected material in my Apps this way. But I do not use any material this way in iCab Mobile.

A general web browser does not “use” copyright protected material on web sites. What browsers are doing is to load web sites on behalf of the user, which of course also includes texts, photos, artwork, logos, videos, audio files and much more, and all of this content can be copyright protected. And it is obvious that a browser is supposed to do this and it is obvious that this copyright-material is not part of the browser, does not belong to the browser. Also all browsers (including Apple’s own Safari) explicitly allow the user to save the content of web sites. Texts and pictures can be saved and transferred to other Apps using Copy & Paste. Photos, files and even whole web sites can be saved.
And according to laws and licenses there’s no real difference between a text, a photo, an audio file or a video or any other content. Depending of the license or the copyright which applies to the content, there are limitations in what the user is allowed to do with the content. And this is something the browser can not decide. The browser can not know what the user would like to do with the text, the photo, the video or other content he wants to save or copy, the browser can not know anything about the license that is bound to the material. This is something the user is responsible for. So in my opinion, it’s not really a solution to anything to force a browser to block downloads from a certain site.

Besides, there are millions of videos on Youtube which are under the creative commons license CC-By which explicitly allows to share, mix, redistribute, there are also laws like “fair use” (US) and “private use” (Germany) and similar laws in other countries, which do allow users to use even copyright-protected material under certain conditions (like for educational purposes, for your own private usage). So there’s nothing illegal in downloading content per se, at least if the content itself is provided legally on the web site.
If Apple is serious about this, where does this end? In the future, do browsers need to switch off Copy & Paste to prevent users of copying articles from the new york times, or other copyright-protected texts? Will Apple remove the ability to save, copy & paste text and photos and download files in its own Safari? I doubt it, but what makes the Youtube videos so special that an App must prevent saving these, but is still allowed to save all the other content?

 

Another aspect what I’m concerned about is the lack of communication from Apple. The reasons why they reject an App are often hard to understand, especially if they cite a certain item of their guidelines, which doesn’t really match the case.

Even if Apple is calling you by phone because they want you to remove a certain feature, it’s difficult to talk to them. Some time ago I got such a phone call, requesting to cut down the “modules” feature of iCab Mobile. It would violate one of the developer guidelines, and when I asked about this guideline or anything else, I only got the answer “I can not tell”. This was a really strange conversation, Q:”What did I wrong?”, A:”I can not tell”, Q:”Was it a developer guideline that I missed?”, A:”I can not tell” Q:”What ever?”, A:”I can not tell” etc.
Several weeks later Apple released a new version of their guidelines and I found a new term in it which is probably the one they were referring to when they requested to remove certain aspects of the modules features. Then I knew why he could not tell me anything… The new guidelines were probably still under NDA, so he was not allowed to tell me which of the new, not-yet existing, rules I did violate in my App… (just kidding, frankly I don’t know what I should think about this phone call, it was just very strange ;-)

Also they are not very consistent in their decisions. There are Apps released to the AppStore even after Apple has rejected my App, which not only have the same feature (Downloading youtube videos for offline viewing), but which also explicitly advertise this feature in the description and in the screenshots for the AppStore. Apple allows these Apps to do something which my App is not allowed to do anymore.

 

Posted in Programming.


74 Responses

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  1. Alexander Alexander says

    @Marco
    Yes. Only since 6.8.1 the direct download from Youtube is blocked. But there are third party web sites like http://clipconverter.cc/ which you can use instead when using newer versions of iCab Mobile.

  2. IMNS says

    I noticed even the dailymotion videos aren’t downloading anymore. Was that feature removed too or is it some bug/issue?

  3. Alexander Alexander says

    @IMNS
    There’re no problems at all in downloading daily motion videos on my devices. Which device do you use and which version of the iOS? And which “Browser ID” have you configured in iCab Mobile?

    In case you’re using an iPhone, you need to configure the Browser ID to “Safari (iPad)”, because you do not want to get the stripped-down mobile version of this page. As usually this stripped-down version of the site for phones is very limited in features as well and does not allow the download of videos. But even on the iPhone this should work if iCab identifies itself as iPad browser.

  4. Alexander Alexander says

    @IMNS
    Just an addition: There are some videos which are delivered as “stream”. These can not be downloaded (this was always the case). But the “normal” videos can be downloaded just fine. So maybe you’ve just stumbled over these video streams (there’s no indication on the web site about wether the video is a stream or not).

  5. Vincent says

    I use iCab mobile on my ipad a lot more than Safari. I think many will do likewise.I missed the download of youtube. Do let me know when Apple allows it again.

  6. IMNS says

    Checked the browser id. It was set as “standard” so changed it to safari(ipad) but still no luck. No matter what video I try from dailymotion, I get the same error. Instead of downloading, a 0 kb file gets created in the download folder with the error…..

    “The operation could not be completed.(NSFilePath error…”

    I doubt all the files I’m trying are streams. Here’s one I just tried… http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x14limz_iphone-5c-to-be-available-99-with-contract-video_news same issue.

    I’m using a 32 gb wifi ipad 3 with iOS 6.1.3 and have over 2gb free memory.

  7. Alexander Alexander says

    @IMNS
    It looks like DailyMotion does switch to the streaming videos in general. So most of the new videos are available as streaming videos already. But the older ones are more likely to be downloadable just fine. Check out my own videos about iCab Mobile on DailyMotion, these are not (yet?) provided as stream and so you can download them just fine.

  8. IMNS says

    Yeah, I was able to download your videos without any issues. I also tried some other apps and while they seemed to download all daily motion videos (even streaming ones), they didn’t download them as mp4 files. Instead it was a folder consisting tens of smaller files which worked only inside the app but no way to transfer them to other apps. So not much use for me. Also tried some apps on android (media clip for example) and they seemed to download these streaming videos in mp4 format without any issue. Guess I’ll just download them on android and then forward them to my ipad for now.

    Btw, icab needs a facelift now. Seems a bit ancient in iOS 7 :)

  9. Jennifer Cluse says

    Just visited, and I think Craig defines the problem most accurately.

    I’ve recently had a similar problem in a different area, when I tried to buy a replacement battery for my MBP, the one that Apple demands only they can change. (Which is rubbish.) But, because I had “worked on my Mac” (done it’s annual fan clean-out) they refused to not only install a new battery, but also refused to sell me one, even when I stated that I would supply a total waiver. Trying to unravel the ‘logic’ of the ruling, I too was repetitively offered the same “I cannot tell you”. It’s very, very uncomfortable to be in a conversation with someone repeating such a phrase. *What* are they hiding? And why? Who or what is controlling them? To what purpose?

    I appreciate well the frustration this layed on you, Alexander, especially as this is impinging on your occupation.

    Managements (*not just AAPL) appear to be moving into a form of secretive and obscure total-control mode. I suspect that Apple is just the too-visible early sign of troubling changes. It may well require ‘us’ to become political to be able to claim back what we assumed to be common rights. It certainly makes one uneasy.

    Yet another reason to be glad that I rejected the Apple Store supply-route within about the first two months of opening an account there, and now only ever buy from developers directly.

  10. Arash says

    Stay strong Alexander! You bring sanity to the joke that is the app store’s supply of browser apps.

    In this competition there is icab, and then there ISNT the rest, but instead only garbage… (I have tried -every- notable browser app)

  11. Siegfried says

    Hallo Alexander,
    zuerst mal ein dickes Lob auf Deutsch:
    icab ist bei weitem die wichtigste und zugleich beste App auf meinem iPad!

    Now further on in English:
    icab is by far the most important app on my ipad, because it allows me to use my iPad as a replacement for my pc.
    I definitely don’t want to start my computer to upload it to the iPad.
    The possibility to save the downloads in a folder structure makes it even more useful.

    Instead of blocking such functions apple should try to implement them into to iPad themselves.
    I my opinion is so stupid, THEY want to have control over thing that I want to do with MY iPad.

    I cannot imagine to use the iPad without this functionality of iCab.
    So, at the moment, I try to keep the version before the 6.8.1 on my iPad using a jailbreak.

    I’ll give the clip converter module a try, but it seems, it doesn’t work in the 6.8.0 version.

    If I update to the actual version of icab, does it work seamlessly?
    Best Regards,
    Siegfried

  12. Alexander Alexander says

    @Siegfried
    The clipconverter module is just a convenient way to open the clip converter website and automatically pass the URL of the current web site to the clip converter service. But the problem is that the clip converter page has started to provide a mobile version of the page in the past, and this was causing an issue with the old version of the module that comes with iCab Mobile 6.8. When the clipconverter page detects a mobile browser, it redirects to the mobile version of the site and then forgets about the URL of the video page. Therefore, newer versions of iCab Mobile and the Clipconverter module do change the Browser ID setting for the clipconverter module, so the clip converter page will no longer assume that iCab is a mobile browser, and this will fix the issue.

    The clip converter site is a third party service, which is not related to iCab. So I can not guarantee that it will always work as expected. If you want to check if clipconverter would work for you as an alternative to the native download capability for youtube, you could configure the Browser ID for
    “*clipconverter.cc/* to “Safari (Mac)”. This way the clipcponverter page should no longer switch to the mobile site and no longer lose the URL of the video page.
    In case the clip converter works for you, you might be able to update iCab Mobile as well (maybe keep a copy of the old version of iCab Mobile, in case you want to have the option to go back).

  13. stíobhart says

    Hi Alexander.

    I never used the YouTube downloading feature myself, so its demise is no big deal. However I resent Apple’s transparent attempts to cripple any 3rd party apps which threaten the dominance of their own crappy software.

    Would you ever consider releasing two versions of iCabMobile? You could have the Apple censored version on the App Store and an ‘iCab, the director’s cut’ version available on Cydia for jailbroken iGadgets. I reckon a pretty big percentage of the people who can be bothered to install an alternative browser are probably running jailbroken anyway, so they can use ‘Browser Changer’ to make that browser the default.

  14. Alexander Alexander says

    @stíobhart
    I do not have much experience with jailbreaks and Cydia yet. But I’ll think about it.

  15. droe says

    As someone who has had the same issue with Apple reviewers, I just put the code back in in my last update and it went through with out any issue. It can be hit or miss with the reviewers. The reason my app was rejected was not the same as yours, the simple E-Mails they send are useless. They can complain about the smallist thing.

  16. Brett says

    I’ve been using iCab since Preview 1.9 on Mac OS 8.6 back in 2000, and I bought it for my iPad 1 as soon as I saw it was available. I really appreciate it not being “dumbed down” like Apple has done with iOS Safari and increasingly with Mac OS X. Chrome and Firefox desktop are now hiding the “http://”, but Safari on iOS 7 now does something even worse and hides everything in a URL except the domain name (unless you touch). So please don’t dumb down iCab! I have an Android phone and I like it because there are not as many restrictions as with iOS. At least I can choose my default browser. Apple’s hardware is nice, but the growing number of restrictions, combined with the dumbing down, is making me seriously think about moving away from Apple software on all devices. Maybe it’s time for iCab to be on Android and Linux? :) Thanks again for your excellent work.

  17. Alexander Alexander says

    @Brett
    Don’t worry, iCab Mobile won’t hide all the important stuff from you. You decide what you want to see, or what you want to hide.

  18. Sebastian says

    Hello Alexander!

    I’m thinking of buying Your browser which seems to be an ingenious work regarding the opinions.
    I’m not yet fully concerned to buy it because I’ve read that many users are waiting for an update because they seem to have problems on iPads Air (I also have one) and also wish to have an ios7 look.
    The last update was several months ago and I’m wondering if I can buy this app or if it is an app which isn’t developed any more?
    Will there be an update which will solve the mentioned problems by users?

    Thanks!,

  19. Alexander Alexander says

    @Sebastian
    I’ve just finished the new iCab Mobile 8 release. It took a little bit longer because iCab Mobile is an extremely large and complex App, and so switching to iOS 7 was some more work than it would be when updating a “normal” App.

    Right now I’m facing a bug in Apple’s App submission process, which prevents that I can submit the update to the AppStore. This bug is triggered by all Apps which use a certain new framework of iOS 7 but which are built to still run under iOS 5/6 as well.

    Hopefully Apple will have a solution or a fix for this. If I don’t get an answer or solution from Apple until this weekend, I’ll remove the support for iOS 5/6 for now and submit the App for iOS 7 only. Then I have to wait for Apple to fix this bug before I can support iOS 5/6 again.

  20. Sebastian says

    Thanks a lot for Your answer!!
    Am going to get Your App and am looking forward to explore everything…

    Thanks again!

  21. CJ says

    The newest update 8.0 is great and looks very iOS 7 like. Seems to have fixed the issues I had too. Still the best browser and replaced Safari on my iPad long ago.

    Great work – thank you

  22. urbanbike says

    Bravo, la version 8 est un très grand cru, bien revue (…et il y avait du boulot vu que ce produit propose des tas d’options épatantes qui parfaois perdent un peu l’utilisateur)… Reste, depuis que je l’ai acquis, le meilleur navigateur sous ***iOS***. Merci pour le mode multi-utilisateur bien pratique qui permet de séparer usage courant et usage profssionnel…

  23. GaryM says

    Is iCab Mobile gone again? I tried to update a few days ago, and the update kept failing till I restored the old version. Now I can’t even find it on the App Store.

  24. Alexander Alexander says

    @GaryM
    I’ve temporarily removed the App from the AppStore because of a serious bug in the last Update (8.1). The App will be available again as soon as Apple has approved the bugfix update.

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