Under The Microscope

Follow-Up on the Removal of Airfoil Speakers Touch

Update (June 6th, 2012): We do have some definitive answers, though not great news, discussed in this post.

While last week’s post was intended only to provide information about Apple’s removal of Airfoil Speakers Touch to our existing and future users, it’s been picked up by many sites across the web, igniting many conversations about the App Store. There’s also been plenty of feedback and speculation by outsiders as to why Airfoil Speakers Touch was pulled. Unfortunately, we still have no hard answers direct from Apple. It’s worth reviewing a few things though.

Was Airfoil Speakers Touch pulled because it duplicates functionality coming in iOS 6?

While this was the most popular theory floated, it’s likely off-base. We don’t know what iOS 6 contains, but there’s little precedent for Apple pulling already-accepted applications from the store because future versions of iOS will contain similar functionality.

What exactly did Apple say the problem was?

When we spoke to Apple last week, they told us that we were in violation of the rule stating “applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs”. However, despite repeated questions, they’ve been unable to tell us which specific APIs we’re misusing.

As we’ve stated, to the best of our knowledge we’ve implemented Airfoil Speakers Touch using only publicly-available APIs, and in full accordance with the developer agreement. We’ve continually asked what non-public APIs they believe we’re using and have received no response.

Indeed, there seems to be something of a communications problem with Apple, as we haven’t heard from them since May 23rd. Apple apparently did have time to contact The Verge about this issue on May 25th, however, repeating their claim that we’re using non-public APIs.

Maybe Apple considers the ability to receive audio from iTunes and iOS a “non-public API”?

It seems possible, though it doesn’t make much sense. We’ve certainly never seen a network protocol referred to as an API before.

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of interfaces that provide access for a 3rd party application like Airfoil to interact with underlying system libraries. A protocol on the other hand, is an agreed-upon method of communication between two different applications.

If Apple is suddenly referring to network protocols as a “non-public API”, it’s a gross abuse of both the terminology and the license agreement. Furthermore, if that is the case, what protocols are fair game? Apple doesn’t provide a list of which protocols are allowed and which are not.

What’s next?

Right now, we’re still working within Apple’s process. We’ve submitted an appeal to the App Review Board, per Apple’s instructions, and we hope to hear back on that soon. Unfortunately, both the App Store and the review process are entirely controlled by Apple, so there’s not a lot else we can do at the moment. We’re definitely concerned Apple may just silently stonewall on this, so we’ll keep discussing it here.

15 Responses to “Follow-Up on the Removal of Airfoil Speakers Touch”

  1. iPhoneCEO says:

    We had an app rejected last year due to an “unpublished rule” regarding in-app payments. It took 8 weeks to get a response from Apple. They don’t care about developers unfortunately. Wish there was good news to tell you. Best of luck though and keep up the amazing work!

  2. Ben says:

    The jailbreak market is a viable alternative. Not sure how apple reacts to devs who release their products there though.

    1 million people jailbroke their ios 5.1.1 devices last weekend with the absinth jail break. Not a small market anymore.

  3. François Joseph de Kermadec says:

    Go Amoebas! Without fundamentally questioning Apple’s App Store policies at the moment, I must say their behaviour in this instance, as reported above, is shameful.

    Whether they had a « good reason » or not to de-list Airfoil Speakers Touch from the iTunes Store, there is no excuse for not providing a clear, straightforward answer to your questions.

    Please do keep us updated on this matter, as you suggest.

  4. concerned bystander says:

    Did you approach Apple about licensing AirPlay?

    Did that come up in any their communications? I can see why they’d pull it for that reason.

    I presume you’re not licensing it, since it reportedly costs $4 per instance ( http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/03/24/airplays-hidden-agenda-apple-tv-sets/ ) and the feature was only $3. Also, I think that if you did ask to license it, the answer would be “no”, anyway… not a much better situation than you’re in now. If you could license it, but had to charge $7 for the feature to make up for it, I’d still buy it, but I imagine more than doubling the price would put a damper on sales.

    For what it’s worth, I do agree that that’s different than using non-public APIs, which seems irrelevant. I certainly believe you guys when you say you’re not using any non-public APIs, and it seems unlikely you’d be doing so unknowingly. I don’t buy the Apple plans on including it in iOS 6 theory either. I think it’s licensing, but it seems odd they wouldn’t come out and say that.

    Not sure what to think here, other than I like the idea of this feature and hope you can work something out… As a iOS developer myself, this sort of thing (lack of communication) is disheartening to hear. I can sympathize as I had an app take 3 months with no communication to get rejected for a pretty lame reason.

  5. leon says:

    > The jailbreak market is a viable alternative.

    No, it’s not.

  6. Mark says:

    > No, it’s not.

    Yes, it is.

  7. lol says:

    what a giant mess, besides revenue why would anyone put themselves through this?

  8. Dave M. says:

    First, I’m with “concerned bystander” about the lack of license for AirPlay. You can’t just use AirPlay just because it’s a network protocol for transfering video/audio to another device. You should be complying with Apple’s licensing and work with them not against them.

    Second, Mark, No, Jailbreaking is not a viable alternative to Apple’s App Store. The claim is “one million” people jailbroke their iDevices using Absinthe. In reality, I’m sure one million people “downloaded” the Absinthe software. The reality of one million people “jailbreaking” is another issue entirely.

    I attempted to use Absinthe a couple of days ago on my iPhone 4. After waiting over 45 minutes for the jailbreak to finish, I was unable to install any of my previously purchased/downloaded/installed apps. I had to fully restore my iPhone 4 in order to get rid of the failed jailbreak.

    Also, the process of restoring then re-jailbreaking my device after each iOS update is just too much for myself to deal with. Not to mention having to reorganize my springboard icons each time I jailbreak (and install IntelliFolders) is just the last straw.

    So unless you can back your claim of “Yes, it is.”, I’m hard-pressed in believing that a company that is as well known as Rogue Amoeba will resort to the Jailbreaking community for it’s income.

  9. Mat says:

    I’ve seen it suggested that the real issue is that to have the functionality you’ve got to be using a hacked key to decrypt the stream. Is that the case? If so, it sort of makes sense that Apple wouldn’t allow it. Wouldn’t they allow it if you removed that particular feature and just made it function as an adjunct to Airfoil on the Mac.

  10. Chris says:

    As much as I love you guys, I love your apps, and I desperately want Airfoil Speakers Touch to continue to be available, I think you’re clearly dancing around the issue here, which is that you’re a using cracked AirPlay encryption key. The cries of “we have no idea what Apple could possibly be upset about” don’t sound nearly as innocent when you’re circumventing an encryption system deliberately designed to prevent you from doing exactly this.

    Personally, politically, and ethically, I don’t believe in software patents and I think the copyright system is being deeply abused in horrible ways by big corporations, including Apple. So I’m in no way defending their policies or behavior. But I think you should have seen this one coming from miles away and it’s no surprise whatsoever. You managed to sneak an app past the review process that is arguably in violation of Apple’s intellectual property (as much as I hate the very notion), and now you got caught.

    The best I think anyone can hope for is that this incident, like others in the past, embarrasses Apple into quietly changing their policies. But until that happens, I don’t see AST being let back in.

  11. Craig says:

    Not sure a mathematical key can be patented. This is more likely a DMCA violation or simply a failure to license the technology properly (especially given the licensor also controls the store in question).

    There are technical/legal ways to get around all this, sure. The issue is that Apple are being uncommunicative and unclear about the violation or are applying a rule violation to something unrelated to the rule. Nothing new with Apple, for sure, and frustrating for RA, but drawing attention to it and being transparent is all you can really do at this point.

  12. Shef says:

    Dave m, you can not be serious, correct?

    A protocol means just about exactly that, that it can be used. Certainly Apple’s rules don’t say “You can only use some protocols”.

    And then Rogue Amoeba should work with Apple–but you’re jail breaking your phone?

    What a clown.

    Rogue guys – keep up the good work and don’t stop fighting the good fight!!

  13. Dave M. says:

    Shef: If you read the comment I posted about jailbreaking my phone, you would see that I was “unsuccessful” and so have not jailbroken my phone. Also, I never plan to again for just that reason.

    As to the protocol point. OK, I didn’t word it very well. I meant the fact that the data being used in the protocol is protected by a key that they had to acquire by Apple in order to use the protocol “legally”. Or at least legally in Apple’s world. The fact that RA didn’t is the issue here.

    As far as my jailbreaking my phone in the past. i purchased every tweak that I used when I was jailbroken. I never used hacked games/apps. I just used it to add some interesting functionality to my phone. Not to steal tethered bandwidth from AT&T, or use the phone portion illegally.

    I stopped wanting to jailbreak my phone after it became clear to me that every update Apple made to iOS was going to mean a royal pain to get my phone to use that update along with the software I purchased via Cydia.

    As far as your “clown” statement. I don’t think trolls are welcome in any forum, even ones like this.

  14. Putem Inline says:

    I hope you and other developers will work together and bring a lawsuit against their absurd draconian rules. I’ve been an Apple guy for half my life but these past few years they’ve been tastin bitter.

    I’ve spent about $80 on cydia software. Only slightly more in the app store. So I will vote that the jailbreak market viable. I have 3 jb iOS devices.

  15. Arun S. says:

    I believe the quickest route for Airfoil Speakers to be reintroduced to the iOS App Store would be to simply remove the Airplay emulation feature.

    It is clear, through the anecdotal evidence of other Airplay receiver apps being removed, that Apple considers unlicensed use of the Airplay encryption keys to be against it’s terms of service.

    Would Rogue be opposed to removing the Airplay feature, in order to let the rest of their customers still stream from Airfoil directly?

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