Start-up Blix calls for developers to revolt against Apple’s ‘sherlocking’

A start-up software developer that’s suing Apple for allegedly “sherlocking” its app has called on other developers to revolt against Apple claiming strong-arm tactics by the App Store owner.

Blix is complaining of being “sherlocked” by Apple. The small start-up says it added a feature to its BlueMail email management app back in August 2018 that gave users the ability to sign in to websites with an anonymous email. Then, at WWDC in June 2019, Apple unveiled a similar feature within its “Sign in with Apple” service allowing users to sign into websites without revealing their actual email address. Blix alleges Apple took its ideas “without permission, payment, or credit.”

Apple sherlocking? Sign in with Apple
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Patrick McGee for Financial Times:

[Blix] sued Apple in October for patent infringement and illegal monopolisation, claiming that in addition to copying its function, Apple “suppressed” its iPhone app in search results and ejected its desktop app from the app store altogether… Apple said it ejected BlueMail from the MacOS store because of security concerns. “We have attempted on multiple occasions to assist [Blix] in getting their BlueMail app back on the Mac App Store,” Apple said.

Blix is not the only small company to complain about Apple developing its own version of an existing app or function. The practice became known as “Sherlocking” in the early 2000s after Apple updated its desktop search tool, Sherlock, with features that also appeared in an app called Watson. Since then, there have been dozens of occasions when Apple has introduced features first pioneered by others…

Blix said it decided to call for developers to take on Apple after a Congressional hearing in Colorado last month suggested that antitrust concerns were gaining traction.

MacDailyNews Take: Competition is not illegal. Companies, including Apple, are allowed to try to make better mousetraps.

Blix’s court filing claims that “multiple different types of Apple app competitors enjoyed a sudden, unexplained rise in search rankings” roughly two weeks after a New York Times article examined how Apple ranked its own apps higher than competitors’. Of course, the explanation could be as simple as the idea that Apple undertook a review after seeing the NYT article and found an error or errors which they then corrected. Hanlon’s Razor. We’ll await Apple’s explanation of why the App Store rankings jumped should this go to trial.


  1. Simple – if it can be patented, sue them. If it cannot be then good luck.
    If you signed a document that ‘Apple can use ideas from apps’ then you cannot cry like child.
    Unless you dont have provision to fight I dont think you should cry… after all, you are making money on the platform created by Apple and only Apple.

  2. Apple, like Google and Microsoft, owns a major operating system and is attempting to maintain a compelling customer ecosystem. The evolution of these ecosystems has led to functional integration to provide a more seamless user experience. For instance, both Apple and Google provide numerous functions like email, maps, photos, videos, messaging, firewall, etc., that used to be separate (and, often, third party) applications.

    So, when is Apple (or Google or Microsoft, for that matter) crossing the line in terms of integrating functionality present in third party applications or extensions? There is no inherent “right to survival” based on an idea and, to the best of my knowledge, you cannot patent software.

    The only check and balance on Apple of which I am aware is embodied in the degree of commitment of its developers. Third party developers are a fertile breeding ground of cool ideas, so Apple does not want to depopulate or alienate its ecosystem developer pool by over-fishing. On occasion, however, Apple has been known to compete even with major developers (e.g., Final Cut, Aperture).

    Given the timing in this case (about 9 months from Blix BlueMail update to WWDC 2019), it is possible that Apple may have already been working on an anonymous email function prior to June 2018. If so, then Apple certainly has the right to release the new function. There may also be concerns about the security of the implementation, or its ease of use.

    Apple may want to consider compensating smaller developers who are making material contributions to the evolution of macOS, iOS, etc., even if Apple is not legally required to do so. Morally and ethically superior policies often prove to be superior business strategies, as well.

    1. The real bottom line is two fold:
      1. Is the new feature for Apple unlike any of its competitors (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) and is it a virtual carbon copy of the developer’s work?
      2. Did Apple’s in house development team (including those that come up with ideas to develop internally) start the process (including early discussions) before the developer announced the feature in their product?

      Sign in with Apple is relatively recent and others, e.g., Google and Facebook, have had that capability for quite some time. Apple could easily argue that they developed something to compete with Google, Facebook and others rather than Apply copying what Blix did.

      Oh wait, I am talking about Apple’s legal team here. Oh well, Apple’s screwed.

    2. Which would be almost acceptable except that developers are not competing on an even playing field with Apple. Apple has access to hidden OS functions and has the Store. If you own the store it’s anti-competitive to use the store to improve the OS or other service by copying what your “supplier” did.

    3. While it may be possible Apple had been working on a similar feature prior to Blix announcing theirs, the fact that Apple is the sole arbiter of allowing and distributing Apps for iOS puts them under higher scrutiny when these types of claims take place.

  3. This is not a Sherlock-able feature.

    As a concept, anonymous “burner” IDs and personal info have been around for years. We have burner phone number generation apps and services, one-use credit card numbers, and yes burner email addresses.

    One company cannot have a lock on anonymous email generators.

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