Apple

Apple again orders app developer to remove a useful and popular feature

Apple is once again cracking down on developers who develop new and innovative features that nevertheless run afoul of App Store guidelines.

App Store guidelines

A few months ago, app developer Panic released an iOS version of its excellent file management app Transmit.

The app allows iOS users to upload and download files from remote FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, and Amazon S3 servers, store them within the app, and allow access to those files from any iOS app using the Extensibility features in iOS 8. Other apps could even open files directly on servers through Transmit, making changes and saving them seamlessly.

In addition to accessing files stored both locally and on remote servers via the above protocols, Transmit could also send files to other services, like Apple's own iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or Box. This was accomplished through the Share Sheet, the page that pops up in any iOS app with a Share button (the square with an arrow coming out of it). And this is where Panic got into trouble.

In a blog post published yesterday, the company revealed that Apple had required them to remove the ability to share files to iCloud Drive. This is because of an App Store rule that says apps cannot upload any content to iCloud Drive that wasn't created within the app itself. Transmit allowed users to download files from FTP servers or Amazon S3, and then save those files elsewhere, including iCloud Drive.

Removing access to iCloud Drive is annoying, but not a deal breaker — or so they thought. In fact, Panic cannot remove access to iCloud Drive in Transmit without removing access to the entire Share Sheet. This means that Transmit no longer is able to send files to other apps and services, including Box or Dropbox.

"At Apple's request, we had to remove the ability to 'Send' files to other services, including iCloud Drive.

"In short, we're told that while Transmit iOS can download content from iCloud Drive, we cannot upload content to iCloud Drive unless the content was created in the app itself. Apple says this use would violate 2.23 — 'Apps must follow the iOS Data Storage Guidelines or they will be rejected' — but oddly that page says nothing about iCloud Drive or appropriate uses for iCloud Drive.

"If the issue is just iCloud Drive, why did we remove the other destinations? We had no choice."

The Share Sheet itself, and the apps that appear on it, are controlled by iOS. Individual app developers have no control over it, other than to specify what kind of files are being shared (photos might get sent to Facebook, but not Word documents, for example).

Other than apologizing to users that relied on the Share Sheet feature in Transmit, there is nothing Panic can do — except appeal to Apple, publicly in this case, to change their policies, make a one-time exception, or allow developers to exclude iCloud Drive (or any particular app) from its Share Sheet.

Apple advertised iCloud Drive in its marketing materials as a secure place for users to store "presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs, images, and any other kind of document." However, even though users can upload any files they like from their Mac, the company is not allowing users to upload files any way they wish on iOS.

This isn't the first time in recent months that Apple has required developers to remove otherwise useful features from their apps. In November, the developer behind the app Neato was forced to remove its Notification Center note-taking widget from the App Store because it included a keyboard — the entire point of the app was to allow notes to be taken directly in the Notification Center, and removing the keyboard essentially left the app with no functionality.

In October, Apple told developers that widgets were not allowed to do any "calculations," and a number of popular calculator apps were told to remove features that allowed quick calculations to be done in the Notification Center.

In that case, however, Apple relented after significant press attention (and perhaps some common sense from further up the chain of command) — and calculator notification widgets are again on the App Store.

Apple's iron-fisted approach to the App Store has been criticized by many developers and customers, and a more freewheeling atmosphere is one of the main reasons many users cite for choosing Android over iOS.

Panic says in its post that "there are good people working at Apple who will read this, be frustrated, and hopefully try to fix the situation." Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but Apple has reversed course before.

Do you think Apple should allow Transmit to upload files to iCloud Drive from iOS, the same way users can upload "any kind of document" to the service from their Mac? Let us know in the comments below.

About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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