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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.


72 Responses

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  1. Ingrid says

    This sucks. This youtube download feature was one of the main reasons I started using this app. I get that it is not your fault, but it genuinely sucks. Do you think you will ever be able to put it back?

  2. Alexander Alexander says

    I have no idea if I can remove the blocking sometimes later. But I guess I can’t try this in the near future.

  3. Steven Fisher says

    Sounds like you didn’t use their appeal process. The appeal process will get you a reply, even if it isn’t a satisfactory one.

  4. Alexander Alexander says

    @Steven Fisher
    I did. But no reply so far.

  5. Anand says

    Youtubebdownload is the mainnreason I bought this app. Since the update description did not mention about YouTube down removal (reason given in your blog) now I am stuck with the update.
    Anyway I can go to the previous version?

  6. Alexander Alexander says

    @Anand
    If you have a backup copy of the old version, then you can install the old version again. So the question is if you have a backup. Chances are good if you sync the device via iTunes from time to time, because be default iTunes will keep copies of all Apps you have installed on your device on the hard disk of your Computer. And if you create backups of your computer hard disk regularly (as you should), there’s agog chance that you still find the App in one of these backups. You then only need to replace the new version of the Apps that is stored in iTunes by the old version, delete the App on the device and then sync the device with iTubes again. Of course make sure that iTunes is configured to install the App onto the device.

    Without a backup of the old version, you are probably out of luck. I’m sorry.

    But please note that downloading videos from other sources still works. I know that Youtube is the largest platform, but there are also others out there, like vimeo or daily motion.

  7. Moe says

    I had a similar experience a long time ago. I wrote a tab-enabled browser when the iPad 1 first came out. (You probably remember that the first version of Safari didn’t have proper tabs). The interface actually looked a lot like the current Safari interface. When I submitted the app, it was rejected because I hadn’t rated it properly. Since the app gave access to the open internet and the internet has webpages on all kinds of content, including adult content, I had to rate the app as not appropriate for kids. I’m sure you have had to do the same.

    I thought this was silly since Safari doesn’t come with an adult-content warning, but whatever. I changed the rating and added a bit of text to my description explaining to customers why the app had an adult rating. I explained that if Safari had been required to have a rating, it too would be designated for adults. Apple rejected the app again. They told me I couldn’t say that Safari would have been rated for adults since Apple’s apps don’t have to be rated in the first place. (!) So, I had to remove the explanation of why my app was rated as if it contained adult content. Soon after, I just gave up.

    By the way, great job on iCab. It stinks that you have to deal with this.

  8. Gkpm says

    @Moe
    That’s because Safari can be restricted (disabled) under Settings as part of the parental controls. Having other browsers rated as 17+ allows parents to block those as well.

  9. Steve d. says

    I’m extremely sorry this happened to you.

    iCab has been our “lifeline” for accessing educational YouTube content when we are cruising in parts of the world, like NZ, which have severe expensive limits on wireless broadband.

    Our solution has been to take iPad to cafe with unlimited wifi, use iCab to fetch our download list.

    Good news is I have prev version backup on MacPro.

  10. CJ says

    I’m sorry to see this feature go and that there was not some way you could have warned your users via the iTunes Store. The ability to download YouTube videos was a main reason I used your browser as I work in Education and YouTube is blocked at work. I have lost count of the numbers of teachers that I have recommeded the app to.

    Even with this feature removed iCab is still a great browser and I hope we can find a way around this YouTube issue like when modules were removed in the past.

    Thanks for a great app

  11. Cher says

    The ability to download videos from you tube was the ONLY reason I purchased this app. Since the videos that I am interested in downloading are posted only on you tube, how can I get my money back for this app that I updated NOT BEING NOTIFIED that this ability would disappear making it comp,etely useless to me?

  12. Alexander Alexander says

    @Cher
    I’m sorry, but the ability to download videos from youtube was never advertised and was never mentioned anywhere in the AppStore description and was never part of the feature list of iCab Mobile, so I guess this is not a reason which Apple would accept to refund your money. Besides, you can still download videos from other video platforms and also download other files.

    I’m sorry for all this, but it was not my decision to block downloads from Youtube. As I wrote in the above blog post, I would have notified the users in the change log of the AppStore if Apple would have allowed me to do so.

  13. Marty says

    This is so disappointing. One of the two reasons I bought this app and ine of my major uses for my ipad. What’s even more annoying is that I didn’t back it up so I can’t even roll it back via iTunes. That jailbreak can’t come soon enough.

  14. Marty says

    Are you not able to ‘preload to memory’ like the other YouTube download apps? They don’t allow export or viewing with another player but at least it would be integrated into the browser.

  15. Tori says

    Are there any other apps that allow you to download and save to your photo album? I am lost without this. I use it to insert video into my keynote presentations for school on my ipad.

  16. IMNS says

    I guess there are benefits of not updating your apps on a regulars basis. Still on the older version. Will make sure I have this version’s ipa backed up in my PC just in case I ever end up updating it on the ipad by mistake. Thanks for the heads up :)

  17. Mobamo says

    What about copying the old iTunes iCab 6.8 file and sharing it. Would that file be accepted ?

  18. Alexander Alexander says

    @Mobamo
    All Apps are bound to the iTunes account that was used to download the App from the AppStore. So you can’t share the App. It will only work on your own devices which are also linked to your own iTunes account.

  19. Bryce says

    Here is a free app that only let’s yo download YouTube videos!
    Try it out!
    Tell me how you like it!

    HD Video Downloader by ILIEY.
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hd-video-downloader/id558780721?mt=8

    Sent from my iPad

  20. Alexander Alexander says

    @Bryce
    Yes, I know there are Apps in the AppStore, where Apple does allow what they do not allow in iCab Mobile. Apple is very unreliable and inconsistent in their decisions. But if you promote this App at the wrong locations, Apple might see this and it gets kicked out of the AppStore….

  21. Dave C. says

    Hey Alexander,

    I wonder if it’s because of the explicit use of the word “Youtube”.

    In another app that I use to grab videos, it’s stated as “HTML5 video”; something that could be argued as “downloading from a user’s private site”.

    Might be worth a look.

  22. Alexander Alexander says

    @Dave C.
    No, it has nothing to do with the word YouTube. The whole video download feature was never advertised or mentioned in the App description or “What’s new” section or anywhere else.

    This makes it even worse that I have to change the download feature, while other Apps can even advertise the same feature in the AppStore description which Apple does not allow in my App.

  23. Laurie says

    How do I open the application to actually use it. All I am able to access is the home page with the reviews, and what the app. Offers, however I am unable to actually use the app. Tried to contact the email address provided, and it delivered sent back a non deliverable MSG. Is this a scam? Did I just get ripped off? Please reply no such address for Alexander clauss

  24. Laurie says

    How do I open the application to actually use it. Please explain how to open the page .mthe main reason I bought this app. Was to be able to post ads and upload pics. From my device. Please help.

  25. Alexander Alexander says

    @Laurie
    All of my email addresses are working fine. Which one did you use?

    Maybe you have misspelled the email address?

    Maybe your email was not delivered because your own mail server was found on a blacklist of servers known to have sent SPAM. This is the most common reason nowadays that emails got rejected and not delivered. I guess, most email services do consult certain blacklists to block emails from SPAMers and unfortunately a single SPAMer which uses the same email service as you can be responsible that your whole email service is added to a black list. The error message of the returned email should usually give you a clue abut the reason why the mail was not delivered. You may need to contact the administrator of your email service a and send them this error message so they can take care about this issue so they are removed from this blacklist of SPAMers.

    You issue with the App…. What exactly is your problem? If you don’t see a browser toolbar with the URL field and the back/forward buttons, then you might have accidentally enabled the fullscreen mode (in this case you can leave it by tapping on the button at the bottom right) or something went wrong while installing the App (shouldn’t happen, but even the iOS has bugs, so sometimes in very rare cases, the installation fails and something is damaged). The easiest way to fix this kind of problem is just delete the App on the device and install it again, directly from the AppStore (this does not cost anything).

    It’s probably also possible to repair the damage without reinstalling, but then I would need to know some more details, and because you haven’t done anything with the App yet, re-installing should be the easiest solution…

  26. Mike B. says

    Hi Alexander,
    Apologies for having to add the second 1-star review for your app. I just bought it today, on the basis of previous reviews and recommendations, and am stunned at the way that changes could be enforced on you that change significant aspects of the product. I realise that I should have looked more closely at the specifications in the AppStore today, and read the (only) review of the current version, but naively thought that things would not change significantly without clear notice.
    I understand that this is not your fault, but feel that buyers need to be made fully aware that they are not getting the same product as the one which has had so many good things said about it in earlier reviews.
    Best regards,
    Mike B,

  27. Alexander Alexander says

    @Mike B.
    One thing I want to point out is that YouTube downloads were never advertised or part of the feature list of iCab Mobile. So no one should have purchased the App just for this feature in the first place. I’ve never promised that you can download videos from youtube.

    It was more of less a coincidence that youtube videos could be downloaded so easily on the iPad (on a Desktop PC with the standard Flash-based video player, this is not the case, here the video URL is not directly included in the HTML code of the page). The App just has a very general download feature (like many browsers) but which also checks for videos.

    Also the download feature is still working on all other sites as before, you you can still download all kinds of files and videos from other sources. Apple only forces my to block downloads from youtube (and doesn’t allow me to inform the users about this in the AppStore).

    I know that Youtube is important for many users, but technically this is just a fragment of a single feature, and I guess that all the good things which were written before in the reviews are not all about this small fragment, and I hope that all the tons of other great features (including the downloads feature which still works as before outside of Youtube) are not getting worthless because of this one issue…

    It would be really sad if an App that can do 1000 great things and therefore would get 4 or 5 stars, but when forced to limit one of these things, so the App can now only do 999.5 great things, it’s only worth 1 star…

    I’m not happy about this. I’d love to get the old behavior back. But unfortunately this is not possible unless Apple is changing their mind.

  28. FD says

    Hi Alexander

    I wonder if you would be able to make the iCab Mobile app download youtube video if some other app call your download function (for example using the x-callback-url feature). This way all you have is a general download function and you can still block download of youtube from within iCab Mobile directly to please Apple. But some advance users would still be able to make it download youtube video.

  29. Jay Versluis says

    Hi Alexander,

    I feel your pain about needless rejections. I too have fought with Apple in the past about seriously annoying app review policies – and I’m scared every time I submit an update to one of my apps because they may not like a feature anymore that they had previously approved.

    Thank you for your frank comments here, it is refreshing to hear that all developers ad fighting with Apple’s ridiculousness at times. Keep up the good work!

  30. Zetaprime says

    That’s even a problem in Android. Firefox for Android had an extension that allowed YouTube downloads, so the idiots who make the extension complied with Youtube’s request to remove that ability from the extension. In this case they didn’t have to..they aren’t bound by the rules of an App Store and users can side load any software they like as you would on a computer. I don’t understand why these people don’t just defy youtube’s requests and provide the feature anyway. There needs to be more civil disobedience and defying of censorship attempts.

  31. Haroon says

    I stumbled upon this post coincidentally. iCab is one of the apps I don’t just like, but truly love using in iOS. Even though I never used the YouTube downloading feature (I tend to grab the videos using a Firefox extension on my MacBook instead), I’m more upset about the way you were treated. It sounds like the App Store has grown into a giant bureaucratic beast, and if Apple is not careful they are going to ruin everything they have built.

    Not only are there other apps in the store that allow YouTube downloads, but I believe Apple even hosts Safari extensions that let people do the same thing — at least they did the last time I checked. If one needs to do a batch download from YouTube they should look into jDownloader as well, otherwise the Flash Downloader extensions available for desktop browsers work well enough.

    Perhaps Apple has a vendetta against third-party browsers in iOS? Their heavy handed rules are one reason there is no decent alternatives to the iOS mail app available.

  32. Qelly says

    ‘Apple’ was jealous because your app is better.

  33. Dylan says

    My guess is that Apple only did is now because Google complained. The latter seems to have gotten more aggressive towards third party developers as of late. As I recall they forced at least one developer of an alternative YT player app to remove the ability to play audio in the background.

  34. Craig says

    I despise Apple,
    They make great products and I use them.
    But, I hate their corporate culture.
    Their greed, their elitism, and their closed ecosystem.
    Apple has always been the best game in town for video hardware and software.
    Hopefully, android Devices we’ll catch up with them someday!
    I guess there’s no way you can bypass the Apple Store with your app?
    I’ve seen were blocked android apps are sold directly from the developers website.
    (Apps blocked by the telecom carriers not Google android)
    I don’t know if that’s something possible to do with Apple?

  35. Alexander Alexander says

    @Craig
    Unfortunately there’s no way to bypass the AppStore.

    Currently there’s one way I know of to download from youtube nevertheless, and this is to use the ClipConverter site http://clipconverter.cc/ which is a site that can convert videos from web sites in other formats. And because the converted video is then coming from ClipConverter and no longer from youtube, the download should work in iCab Mobile. This isn’t as comfortable as before, but it might be an option.

  36. monkey says

    I think the decision to make you take out this feature is ridiculous on their part.

    There a loads of dedicated apps that only download videos to the iPad, and even just YouTube videos.

    Think your product is great – sorry Apple is turning into a greedy non-supportive corporation.

  37. Ethan says

    I agree that apple simply was seeing you as a threat- and felt they ‘needed’ to ‘put you in your place’ (below them). I used to use Atomic Web Browser, but I woke one day to find it no longer updating- which it needed- and when I looked, I found that it had been blocked from the US AppStore, so I can appreciate the stress of having to play along with Apple, I would rather not have a YouTube download feature than to not have the amazing upload and download functionality that you provide to your app. Thanks to your app, my laptop keyboard has become a foreign experience, as I would often find myself reverting to Firefox- but rarely do so anymore. I love all of the nooks and crannies in the app, and think it’s probably the best use of my money I have spent on an app. I look forward to keeping your app in my dock.

  38. CJ says

    Hi, I just saw that there is a new version for iCab. While I’m excited about it I’m also a little bit afraid to upgrade. Is there any features that were/had to be removed this time? Is it possible that the YouTube download feature is back?

  39. Jimbo says

    Such a shame. Just upgraded, wish I’d seen this blog post first. That’s is so sneaky on Apples part. Oh well, I think people are slowly losing patience with there monopoly and need to control every aspect of the user experience everything else. Hence the rise in sales of Samsung smartphones etc. It’s funny I can’t imagine Apple requesting a youtube block on behalf of Google though, they’d probably be delighted to have someone irritate Google. I reckon it’s because your browser is so good and treats the user like a proper adult and not a little sheep in a pen. They want to keep people on Safari etc. it’s almost like when Windows was done for unfair competition by bundling Internet explorer with the OS. It’s their store ok but when the store is actually almost the entire market they shouldn’t be allowed sabotage competitors. You see the same attitude in some of there ridiculous patent claims.

    The clipconverter trick works by the way. Just paste the youtube link but you have to hit the share button in icab to download.

  40. Alexander Alexander says

    @CJ
    This time, Apple did not complain about something. So nothing had to be removed.

    I don’t think Apple will allow iCab to download from Youtube again. But you can workaround this issue by using the “clip converter” module that ships with iCab Mobile or by directly going to the clip converter web site.

  41. CJ says

    Thanks Alexander

  42. nqeuew says

    Apple guys are not consistent with their guidelines. Also, the guielines themselves are not very clear and specific. That is not fair. But I think Apple is being that way intentionally. Being too strict makes the market shrink, and being too loose makes the market uncontrollable. It means that, for a same issue, Apple sometimes says YES and sometimes says NO. What’s the difference? I believe, to apps which can be competitive with Apple’s own ones, Appe is more strict. I really don’t like that attitude. Duh.

  43. joe says

    This behaviour of Apple is very disturbing. This is just another aspect in my years with the fruit company that makes me focus more and more on possibilities one has on the android platform. Even if this means I would abandon/burn apps worth of hundreds of Euros….

  44. Jesse Pinkman says

    ridiculous, there are tons of other apps that can download youtube. just search ‘download youtube’ in apps store

  45. mobamo says

    hello Alexander!

    Could you give a hint how to use the Clip Converter Module for Downloading youtube Files?

    Thanks and greetings from the french mountains

  46. Alexander Alexander says

    @mobamo
    You only need to open the module when you are on a youtube video page. The module will call the clip converter page with the relevant information.

    But because of a bug of the clip converter page you need to use a Desktop Browser ID setting, because otherwise the clipconverter page will swot to the mobile version of its site and loses the information of the video.

    I’d suggest to define a site.specific browser ID setting (scroll down the list of browser IDs to find the option to define site-specific IDs). When defining a site-specific Browser ID, use “*clipconverter.cc/*” as URL and “Safari (Mac)” as Browser ID.

    The next release of iCab Mobile will automatically create this site-specific browser ID for clip converter, so you don’t need to create this manually.

  47. mobamo says

    Thank you , Alexander – this sounds great but….
    being on a YoutubeSite : when I clic the Clipconverter-Module – nothing happens.
    Do I need a special Version to access this function?
    I’m still runnnig the 6.8 Version?

  48. Alexander Alexander says

    @mobamo
    Yes, you probably need to update. The clip converter module was updated in the last version (and is updated again in the next release ;-)

  49. Donna Brown says

    Really sorry to hear that but this is still a 5* app with fantastic features. It’s been a real timesaver for me and I was able to recommend it just this morning to someone needing more than Safari can offer.

    Silly decision on their part and you’ve obviously done everything humanly possible. Thanks for trying!

  50. Marco says

    I have the IcabMobile 6.5.1.ipa is that the version that can run the youtube feature?

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