Under The Microscope

In Response to Mr. Schiller

Recently, Cult of Mac published an email a user of Airfoil Speakers Touch received from Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller. Rogue Amoeba must take issue with this response to our mutual customer, and with Mr. Schiller’s characterization of our retelling of the event as “not accurately recounted”. Here is Mr. Schiller’s full statement:

“The story as I understand it is simple, and not accurately recounted on Rogue Amoeba’s website. Rogue Amoeba’s app added a feature that accessed encrypted AirPlay audio streams without using approved APIs or a proper license and in violation of Apple’s agreements. Apple asked Rogue Amoeba to update their app to remain in compliance with our terms and conditions.

“Your assumptions as to Apple’s motives and actions are simply not correct. We have an Airplay licensing program explicitly to assist companies in creating AirPlay capable products. Apple never said that we would pull the rug out from anyone, we in fact worked with this developer to ensure they update their app and remain on the App Store.”

In response to the claim that this feature was made “without using approved APIs”

There are no APIs, approved or otherwise, to enable the functionality Airfoil Speakers Touch provided. All the code used to receive AirPlay-compatible audio was written internally by Rogue Amoeba.

In response to the claim that we did this “without a proper license”

Likewise, there exists no “proper license” to provide the functionality Airfoil Speakers Touch offered. While Apple licenses the ability for hardware manufacturers to play AirPlay audio, there is no such licensing program for software. When we inquired as to the possibility of this type of licensing being available for software manufacturers in the future, we were informed that it was unlikely.

In response to the claim that this was “in violation of Apple’s agreements”

As we wrote previously, Apple has told us there is no specific rule or provision that Airfoil Speakers Touch violated, beyond simply being something that Apple does not wish to have in the store. We steadfastly stand by our statement that Airfoil Speakers Touch violated no part of our agreements with Apple.

Finally, Mr. Schiller states that we accessed “encrypted AirPlay audio streams”, and seems to imply that this is somehow inappropriate. Quite simply, it is not. While there are multiple layers of encryption involved in the AirPlay audio streaming protocol, their primary purpose appears to be preventing third parties from building applications which interoperate with AirPlay.

Thankfully, reverse engineering devices and protocols for the purpose of interoperability is a time-honored, and legally sound, tradition. It is, among other things, largely responsible for the PC revolution and the computing landscape we enjoy today. Should we stop providing users with products that work together simply because other vendors dislike competition?

27 Responses to “In Response to Mr. Schiller”

  1. mikeash says:

    The weirdest thing to me here, both with Apple and all the Apple fans defending them here, is that reverse engineering AirPlay is nothing new. AirPlay (previously AirTunes) was never a public protocol, and Airfoil had to reverse engineer it and work with its encryption from day one. Apparently everybody was fine with that, but implementing the receiving side under the same basic principles is bad?

  2. Anonymous says:

    There are some excellent points here by Rogue Amoeba. However, there are better ways to deal with a company that controls your revenue stream and is billions of times more powerful. Apple would now look silly if they were ever to feature any of Rogue Amoeba’s apps on iOS or OS X. While Rogue Amoeba may have been trying to win the battle of this one feature in this one app, they have completed lost the war. This is very unfortunate for users, because Rogue Amoeba makes very good software.

  3. dBeats says:

    You guys are seriously missing the point. You must use Apple’s API to access Airplay, not reverse engineer it and hack away at it as you seem fit. Airplay was invented by Apple, and they are allowed to set the terms. You’re maturity and business knowledge pales in comparison to your technical knowledge. Grow up a little bit and I bet you will be just fine in the world of tech. It doesn’t matter whether you used an API or not, you MUST use the Airplay API to play with AIrplay. It’s dead simple. Don’t like it? Make you’re own over the air streaming product and bring it to market all by yourself and make money on it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nobody was suggesting that it was illegal to reverse engineer the encryption so your last paragraph is confusing. It seems incredibly stupid to expect Apple to support you and sell your software when you’re bypassing their encryption, though.

  5. Josh says:

    I don’t think Apple would just give you the boot because they felt like it. I also think it’s stupid of Apple to support a company who does stuff like that behind their back.

  6. Kate says:

    Don’t think for one second they’ll let you get away with stuffing the feature away. If it’s still there, Apple will find out. Why are all these Apple blogs saying you’ve left the feature in the app?

  7. MicMan says:

    Well, this is some $%#|. I can’t say I get what other commenters here are thinking. Rogue gave us a useful feature. Apple didn’t like it and made them take it out. No matter how much you love Apple, that’s rotten. Sure, Apple controls iOS, but taking away useful features just because they can is rotten behavior. I don’t see anyone saying they can’t do this just that they shouldn’t do this. I certainly agree with that.

  8. Kate says:

    See the problem wasn’t that they included this feature, but that they bypassed encryption and did it without Apple’s consent. Just like dBeats said, “Airplay was invented by Apple, and they are allowed to set the terms.” That’s totally true. It’s their thing. Rogue Amoeba just wanted to use it to their benefit. While I don’t see the harm in using the feature. They went about doing it all wrong with NO permission.

  9. MicMan says:

    @Kate Apple doesn’t provide ‘consent’ for everything, and there’s certainly no ‘permission’ process, beyond the app store approval process (which this app passed, by the way). Apple is allowed to set the terms, full stop. No one is arguing that they aren’t. That doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job of wielding that power. They sure aren’t here.

    Rogue using AirPlay for ‘their benefit’? It was for my benefit too, as a user of the software. They made AirPlay even more useful. Apple didn’t like it so they killed it. Are they allowed to do that, absolutely. But it sure stinks.

  10. Vince says:

    Let me get this straight: you reverse engineered an encrypted protocol, that Apple designed specifically to keep you out of, and your defence is that reverse engineering is legal and that there’s a “time-honoured tradition” of it?

    Since when has the App Store’s (or any) license agreement confirmed strictly to law? This is not a public institution. You hacked your way into something Apple designed to keep you out of, because they didn’t want you in there.

  11. Kate says:

    @MicMan I was under the impression Apple licenses the Airplay protocol to other manufacturers. Therefore making Rogue’s attempt theft or wrong. I agree the App is and was awesome and btw you can still get the functionality but that’s another story they don’t like talking about. Rogue brings awesome functionality with all of their apps! I’m not against Rogue here, but I think they possibly screwed up this time.And to prove I’m not a stupid loyal fankid, I think Apple screwed up badly too with how they went about this.

    Apps get missed through the approval process all the time. Remember when Tether came out? or how about iOS Live TV? or iMAME? All of those we’re blatantly bad Apple’s (pun intended) that shouldn’t have made the approval process. Apple should be more careful.

    @Vince I agree with everything you’re saying…

  12. bt says:

    As much as I want to take Rogue Amoeba’s side it’s just not logically possible. Sure it sucks Apple keeps tight control over what is allowed in their Appstore but it is certainly their right to do so. Surely Rogue knew this would likely happen from the beginning and judging by their company name this behavior is part of their identity. It’s just unfortunate they’re attempting to portray themselves as ignorant. Regardless though, I hope they just keep making good software.

    @Anonymous- your argument has absolutely no bearing in reality. Tap Tap Tap did the same thing with Camera+ and Apple had no problem featuring them when they ultimately allowed them back in the store.

  13. bt says:

    Also, this is just downright ridiculous

    “Likewise, there exists no “proper license” to provide the functionality Airfoil Speakers Touch offered.”

    If a company does not have a license available to use their product it doesn’t mean everyone has free reign to use it. It means they don’t want anyone to use it.

  14. MicMan says:

    @Kate The post says that there’s no licensing for software only hardware. Even if there was licensing, not licensing something when you have your own version is not ‘theft’.

    @bt When have the Rogue guys claimed ignorance? They made it possible to do something Apple didn’t provide, Apple didn’t like it, and they killed it. It doesn’t seem more complicated than that. Maybe you mean Rogue should have known this would happen, but bsed on what? They didn’t violate any of the existing rules. I just don’t understand putting down a company for trying to innovate.

    Fight on, Rogue dudes!

  15. Kate says:

    @MicMan indeed they were trying to innovate. I applaud them for that, that’s what they’ve built their empire on. It’s just that they messed up words were said, but does everyone now need to argue back and forth. It’s just going to distance them from Apple. Camera+ complied after the fact. Though It’s kind of messed up that Apple stole that same feature in the Camera app. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens here. Like we’ve said, they invented it, they can do as they wish. The feature isn’t gone, it’s just disabled. Maybe we’ll see it return one day but arguing with Apple isn’t going to fix things. Don’t like the rules, take it to Cydia, plenty of folks will pay for it there… That’s my take on this.

  16. bt says:

    @micman – Based on the history of the appstore. I suppose they could truly be ignorant of how Apple has maintained the appstore in the past but there has been a pretty extensive history of this very thing going on since the beginning. It happens all the time and each time the developers try and play the victim to gain user support. Maybe it’s a smart move in the long run. Multiple times Apple has reversed their decisions because of this tactic but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bit sleazy if not genius.

  17. Oliversl says:

    Two points that are really important:
    – Have you asked Apple for an AirPlay license? You said “we have been told”, but by whom?
    – can you confirm you used non-public or non-approved API? Simple question


  18. Henrik says:

    Fact: You are making money on something Apple has developed.

  19. Robbie says:

    Sorry, Rogues, I love you guys, but I’m with Apple. From the view of a lay person here: They developed something containing some cool encryption and you hacked it (reversed engineered or whatever you want to call it) to make use of it in your own product.

    Now if you’d hacked something I’d developed, arguing “but what we did is cool” I’m afraid it wouldn’t make me feel any better about you.

    I’d let this one go and move on.

  20. Robert says:

    I’m more than a bit confused. In another blog (closed for comments now) Paul said that no functionality will be lost with the update. So I updated the app and, sure enough, the ability to stream audio from iOS devices and iTunes.

  21. bt says:

    They left in a backdoor to restore the removed functionality. A 9to5mac.com post from yesterday explains how to do it.

  22. mojo66 says:

    There’s a little programm called shairport that does exactly what your app did, it pretends to be an Airport enabled device. It can only do that because someone extracted the encryption key from an Airport Express ROM. From what I understand, Apple designed the communication protocol so that that key is needed to communicate with an Aiport enabled device, and that’s probably what they effectively hand out to the companies that buy a license. If you guys used that key or found some other way around the procedure that Apple originally intended, then grats to you, you found a loophole. But in finding it, you guys stepped on Apple’s toes. If I was you, I would have been very quiet about this. But fighting over this in public makes you guys look really foolish in my point of view.

  23. giuliano says:

    More apple became popular, more we get asshsoles apple fanboy ready to defend their myth against user freedom.

  24. Alex says:

    These comments are rather disappointing. Paul is doing the best he can to write good software that people want to use, and Apple doesn’t like one part of it, so they shut him off. He does everything he can, explaining what he knows and what he doesn’t, fighting Apple to get it back, or at least for answers. And what many here are saying is, tough luck, we don’t care about your wasted effort, just suck it up. Frankly, that’s rude.

    Apple is surely within its rights to reject this feature. It’s there in their agreement that as users we have to check off, but don’t actually read. But saying that it’s not fair or not right for Apple to reject this, does not mean that they can’t. They can, and we are disappointed by it. Rogue Amoeba skirted the line and got burned. They must have been aware of the risk. But that doesn’t mean that they should not complain about overly ambiguous regulations. Fortunately, there is a solution around it.

    The argument “if you don’t like the rules, get out” is certainly not helping anyone. As someone who has used Macs for some 25 years or so, the feeling that Apple has gradually changed for the worst is getting harder and harder to bear. Sure, this isn’t about anything dramatic like personal freedoms or anything, but it makes me sad to see a company that once threw a hammer into the face of conformity do the same annoying stuff that every other huge corporation does, and sometimes worse.

    But regardless of your views on this, don’t take it out on Paul. He’s just trying to make his great software better.

  25. AllenKids says:

    It’s really hard to feel sorry for Rogue Amoeba here.

    You know very well Apple would have a problem with unintended uses of features it developed. Ask Camera+ how hacking volume button to snap pictures worked out for them.

    So you disagree and hack away all you want. But do not act surprised or offended when Apple brings the hammer down. Be the pirate and free and whatever, do not whine when you get shot at.

  26. Ravi says:

    While I understand and sympathize with your situation, there’s only one way to make your point now: Go ahead and make a kickass version of Airfoil Speakers Touch somewhere else: Cydia, Android, WP7, Windows 8, whatever.

    Without that, you’re just another sharecropper complaining about the rules of the plantation ( http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/07/12/WebsThePlace ). That usually doesn’t end well.

  27. Miles says:

    Bravo, Rogue Amoeba! Stickin’ it to the man, just like a certain computer company used to do before it sold out completely:

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