Apple Reverses Nutty App Store Expulsion Threat Against Amphetamine macOS App
When you are an app developer in a walled garden, sometimes the walls start to close in. It doesn't even matter if if a useful app has been around for six years and attracted over 400,000 downloads with high user satisfaction in the form of user reviews. Apple has its rules and follows them to the letter, sometimes to the detriment of its ecosystem's users -- just ask Epic about that one. One overzealous application of the rules could spell the sudden end of a successful business. This was almost the case for William Gustafson, developer of Amphetamine, which is a power management utility for macOS that has been available on the App Store since 2014.
Gustafson took to Twitter on Friday to post a link to his petition to keep Amphetamine on the Mac App Store. He says that on December 29th, he was given two weeks, until January 12th, to make sweeping changes to his six-year-old app or face a permanent ban from Apple's ecosystem. Why would Apple ban the app? The company's gatekeepers told Gustafson that his app ran afoul of their guidelines, specifically 1.4.3 which states "Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store."
The thing is, Amphetamine doesn't do any of that. Instead, it's a power management application that will keep a Mac from sleeping for a pre-determined period of time. It could be just while a large file is downloading or it could be set on a schedule. I've used Amphetamine since 2018 to make sure my iOS build server wakes up each work day so that the Xamarin tools I use in Visual Studio on a PC can run the iOS simulator, and it's great. There are tons of reasons why one would want a Mac to wake up and stay awake. Amphetamine is fully customizable with triggers to still let a MacBook sleep when the lid is closed, preventing the display from sleeping, and more.
Apple's specific reasoning for the ban was pretty simple. "Your app appears to promote inappropriate use of controlled substances. Specifically, your app name and icon include references to controlled substances, pills," said the reply Gustafson received. As seen on its App Store listing, the app's icon is a plain rounded rectangle with a little yellow pill, that same icon can optionally appear on the Mac menu bar as a shortcut, and the name is Amphetamine.
However, we feel this was grandstanding or virtue signaling on Apple's part. Amphetamine in no way encourages consumption of any drugs, legal or otherwise. Gustafson even added additional menu bar icons like a cup of coffee or an owl, things that are associated with being awake. Gustafson said in his online petition that he didn't feel that Amphetamine violated any rules, and having read Apple's App Store safety guidelines, we agree.
Fortunately this story has a happy ending for the developer. Gustafson submitted an appeal to the App Store and had a phone conversation with an Apple representative. After that conversation, Apple apparently rescinded its demands to rebrand the app, so Amphetamine will continue live on the App Store. In an interview with The Verge, Gustafson said that Apple's reps didn't know why the app got flagged. "I specifically asked Apple on the phone if this was a result of customer complaints and Apple’s response was ‘I don’t think so,’" he said.