FlickType Keyboard Developer Sues Apple for Stealing Apple Watch Keyboard Idea, Alleges Anticompetitive Behavior

apple watch series keyboard

At the Apple Watch Series 7 launch event on September 14, Apple proudly showcased “a new QWERTY keyboard (that) lets you tap or slide from letter to letter.” Turns out Apple straight up replicated FlickType’s keyboard for the Apple Watch and hamstrung FlickType on the App Store. The app’s infuriated developer has dragged Apple to court.

FlickType allowed Apple Watch users to type directly from the wearable’s screen. The developer Kosta Eleftheriou said the app was lauded by Apple and presented at Apple HQ in 2019. He created several apps for the blind and visually impaired so they could type on smartphones even without looking at the screen. The apps analyzed the location of the finger taps to predict what the user was attempting to type.

Through the App Store Review, Apple sent the developer an email in 2019 saying that FlickType Keyboard version 4.3 is being removed from the App Store since it isn’t in compliance with App Store Review guidelines.

Unbeknownst to Eleftheriou at the time, Apple probably began replicating the app for its then-in-development Apple Watch Series 7. The app is now available for use on the Apple Watch, but now that Apple offers a first-party equivalent, users probably won’t be looking for Eleftheriou’s app. Moreover, Apple appears to have committed daylight robbery here, keeping FlickType off the App Store for around a year. The FlickType developer is also suing Apple for fraud.

The Eventual Lawsuit and Its Allegations

Eleftheriou’s lawsuit claims that “Apple threw roadblock after roadblock that made no sense,” to keep the technology off the App Store for around a year.
When the app was finally allowed on the App Store, it was undercut by “copycat and scam applications” that were boosted by fake reviews.

FlickType’s suit says that Apple justifies its monopoly by claiming it is necessary to protect its users and developers from unscrupulous conduct and ensure a fair competitive marketplace for the benefit of both.” However, “in truth, Apple turns a blind eye to rampant fraud and exploitation to make an easy profit,” the lawsuit alleges.

The FlickType Story and Why Eleftheriou Is Upset

In a satirical tweet, Eleftheriou said “Since Apple really loves California as much as I do,” and proceeded to link a Wikipedia page about the California competition law. Interestingly, the Epic v. Apple ruling also finds Apple guilty of violating this law.

According to the lawsuit, Apple attempted to acquire Eleftheriou’s first app called BlindType, but he sold it to Google in 2010. In April 2018, FlickType was launched for the iPhone and in the fall of that year, Apple approved an update that added Apple Watch compatibility. However, Apple limited how FlickType could be used, making it unnecessarily cumbersome for the end-user.

Eleftheriou mentioned that Randy Marsden, the founder of Swype, thought Apple should buy FlickType and make it a key Apple Watch feature. This is when Eleftheriou updated the app to suit a wider audience and Apple refused the update (version 4.3 mentioned earlier) claiming keyboards for the Apple Watch were not allowed, although other such keyboard apps for the Apple Watch were already on the App Store. Apple finally allowed FlickType on the App Store in January 2020.

In Summary

“Despite possessing massive resources and technological savvy, Apple intentionally fails to police these fraudsters, costing honest developers millions, and perhaps billions, while Apple continues to amass huge profits for itself, (sic)”, the lawsuit opines.

The lawsuit was filed in March 2021 and the Apple Watch Series 7 launch event appears to confirm suspicions of why Apple suppressed a great app—because it was cloning FlickType to become a star feature of the new Apple Watch Series 7.

The eagle-eyed would have noticed that the text on the Apple Watch Series 7 read “copy that” when the new first-party keyboard was being demonstrated. Do you think that was an intentional jab at FlickType? Share your thoughts with us below.

Update: Statement from Apple

Apple told AppleInsider that the FlickType update to version 3.4 was allowed on the App Store in 2020 after Eleftheriou explained the app’s accessibility functions to the App Store review team. Later in 2019, Apple says it reworked the App Store guidelines to allow keyboard apps for the Apple Watch since the Apple Watch Series 4 had a larger screen.

Apple also said that although there were several Apple Watch keyboard apps on the App Store in 2020, FlickType was highlighted in the “Top Apps of 2020” promotion on the App Store.

Apple has said that it now welcomes Eleftheriou to resubmit updates for FlickType. After his explanation, the company believes FlickType’s accessibility keyboard updates comply with App Store rules.

[Via Washington Post]