Apple strikes again: Which developers got 'Sherlocked' at WWDC

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2021
Whether it directly competes with a third-party app, or is just enough for most users, Apple's forthcoming macOS and iOS have again potentially trod on the livelihoods of some developers.

Tim Cooks meets Memoji at WWDC 2021
Tim Cooks meets Memoji at WWDC 2021


There is little new under the sun and as Apple develops its operating systems, it is going to enter the same fields as its third-party developers. On quite rare occasions, Apple will buy the developer's app -- as it did with Dark Sky, now behind the redesign of the Weather app.

Other times, it will simply release its own version and that can conceivably be good for a developer as it immensely raises the profile of a technology area. For a long time, this has been called getting "Sherlocked."

What is Sherlocking?

Apple Sherlocks developers often enough that the term has been enshrined in the Urban Dictionary. It has a long and storied history.

Once upon a time, Apple had a search tool called Sherlock and Karelia Software developed an alternative called Watson that took Apple's approach to make a web search application. Apple then added that exact same functionality into the next version of Sherlock and Watson died.

There is the fact that with Apple talking it up, your app's focus gets far more attention than it did. There can be ways to leverage that volume if you can persuade enough buyers to try your version -- but it's generally not great for the future of your app.

WWDC 2021 is continuing and there will be features still to be revealed that may cross over with third-party developers. Plus in as rich an ecosystem as iOS and macOS, there are going to be other casualties that may not yet be as obvious.

Here are the first major victims of Apple's Sherlocking of apps in 2021.

FaceTime

What it adds: revamped video calls
What it may Sherlock: Zoom

FaceTime is going to be available over the web and that's going to take it into Zoom's territory. Plus Apple has redesigned its layout in a way that more closely resembles Zoom's grid of video streams.

Arguably this has been a long time coming as FaceTime is far from being so commonly used that people use its name as a generic term. You will see more people saying they FaceTime their friends than you hear anyone saying they Teams them, but Zoom and Skype have been the leaders here.

As ever, Zoom and other apps offer much more than Apple's features. But it costs money to have Zoom meetings that last more than 40 minutes and it doesn't cost anything for FaceTime.

iCloud+

What it adds: secures users from having their IP address tracked
What it may Sherlock: ExpressVPN, ClearVPN

Similarly, the new iCloud+ does not offer the same kind of VPN (Virtual Private Network) that third-party companies do, but it offers enough.

Its purpose is to hide where a user is coming from when they browse to a website. And equally, to ensure that only they and the site they want know where they're going to.

Hiding a user's real location and browsing choices is a privacy feature, specifically intended to protect the user from being tracked. Third-party VPNs do this, but they also allow users to circumvent geo-locked sites such as international versions of Netflix.

Apple is less likely to encourage that, but it's not clear yet just what the limitations -- deliberate or otherwise -- of Private Relay in iCloud+ are.

The new grid view in FaceTime resembles Zoom
The new grid view in FaceTime resembles Zoom

Photos

What it adds: the ability to edit EXIF metadata
What it may Sherlock: multiple EXIF apps such as Metapho

When you want to upload an image to social media, you may well want to remove details included in the file. Typically all images include some metadata about where they were taken, and you could previously need an EXIF editor to delete them.

Or if your digital camera's clock was wrong and you want to correct the date on a hundred photos, you used one of these apps. Now Photos is able to edit the same data right out of the box.

Password Authenticator

What it adds: generates verification codes for two-factor security
What it may Sherlock:1Password,LastPass, Dashlane

Apple and third-party password managers are increasingly overlapping the same territory as each tries to make it easy and secure to log in to sites. Now with the forthcoming iOS 15, Apple's system, the Keychain, is adding two-factor authentication codes too.

Live Text can replace Google Lens for many people
Live Text can replace Google Lens for many people

Live Text

What it adds: the ability to read and copy text in images
What it may Sherlock: Google Lens

Google Lens has been able to parse the text included in a photo, and copy out the text, for some years. Lens does more, to do with recognizing its surroundings and providing relevant information, but Apple's Live Text will stop users bothering to find and download it.

Apple Maps

What it adds: recognizing surroundings to orient a user
What it may Sherlock: Google Lens

The Google Lens app's ability to identify its surroundings and offer related information, also clashes now with new elements of Apple Maps.

Now Apple Maps can compare a user's surroundings with its database of buildings, and the aim is to then offer more precise directions. The new Apple Maps, though, also includes more detail about businesses around a user.

Apple Maps will offer more and clearer information about businesses
Apple Maps will offer more and clearer information about businesses

Mail

What it adds: email aliases that work like fake addresses
What it may Sherlock: Mailinator

If you've previously given out fake email addresses that actually work, you've had to use an app or have an account with an ISP that provides the service. It's how you can temporarily create an address like "[email protected]"

You get the email as if you'd given out your real address, but you've protected your real one. And can then just turn off the fake one to frustrate spammers.

Now Apple Mail will offer to create fake addresses in exactly the same way.

Shelf apps on iPad

What it adds: shelf-like multitasking
What it may Sherlock:Gladys, Yoink

More than taking on a class of third-party apps, Apple has this time more hijacked the name. Shelf apps were iPad utilities where you could temporarily, or permanently, hold any kind of file.

So if you've got a corporate logo you have to keep adding to emails, you could leave that on the shelf and drag it off each time you need it. You could drag it into any open application.

Apple's Shelf is about moving between open applications, and in particular the windows in each one. It doesn't as yet appear to let you transfer documents or files between those apps, however.

There is more to come

It's hard to argue that Apple should not be including these features in macOS and iOS, not when they are so clearly useful for users. It's harder, though, to argue that they should do it while ignoring the developers who certainly made the ideas popular and may even have created them entirely.

Apple does always err on the side of being easy to use when it comes to mixing power and features, though. There will always be third-party developers whose apps go the other way and give users much greater control.

Or at least, there always will be so long as those developers can survive.

Follow all the details of WWDC 2021 with the comprehensive AppleInsider coverage of the whole week-long event from June 7 through June 11, including details of all the new launches and updates.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    netlingtmayomar moralesstuartf80s_Apple_Guyaatbigorskymichelb76thttokyojimu
  • Reply 2 of 20
    hammeroftruthhammeroftruth Posts: 1,195member
    This is premature. Just because Apple makes something doesn’t always make it the standard for users. First, let’s see what this software does WHEN it’s released, not announced. Second, it would be nice to see what those competing developers have to say. It’s not necessarily over for them, especially if their product is much more polished than Apple’s. Lastly, never paint Google as a victim. In my opinion, they only make iOS apps to avoid antitrust issues.  All of the more polished Google apps are Android only and your info pays for their app development. 

    shaminowatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 20
    igorskyigorsky Posts: 637member
    Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    It's unfair for them to keep their products up to date, to improve their products, or to release new ones.  Basically Apple's existence is unfair to everyone, apparently.
    edited June 2021 mike1AppleUfmyItmayJapheyBeatswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 20
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,487administrator
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    What's the dollar threshold where somebody can't be Sherlocked?
    Beats
  • Reply 5 of 20
    shaminoshamino Posts: 501member
    While many may consider it a bit unfair when a mega-corporation like Apple releases a free product that eliminates the market for a small company's product, I am not the least bit bothered when they're going up against another mega-corporation like Google or Microsoft.

    Big companies should compete with each other.  That's pretty much the only thing that keeps them from resting on their laurels.

    Beatsjfeth001randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 20
    michelb76michelb76 Posts: 401member
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    What's the dollar threshold where somebody can't be Sherlocked?
    Most apps that have been sherlocked were small apps that were little more than 'features'. Highly popular, but not too big. Zoom(or Teams, or even Jitsi) has a ton more features than facetime, which is why facetime will not replace it anytime soon for most people. Google lens functioned suboptimal on iOS, so it's nice we actually get something that works. Mailinator is so niche, that..wel..1Password,LastPass, Dashlane are all crossplatform, so if you're using those, little chance you will replace them. People who use ExpressVPN, ClearVPN often use them for controlling the origin, something you can't with Apple's solution...etc. etc.
    thtmike1macplusplusrandominternetpersonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 20
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    What's the dollar threshold where somebody can't be Sherlocked?
    The cost of "a piece of string" springs to mind, especially for those who have large b.... - amounts of string.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 20
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,487administrator
    michelb76 said:
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    What's the dollar threshold where somebody can't be Sherlocked?
    Most apps that have been sherlocked were small apps that were little more than 'features'. Highly popular, but not too big. Zoom(or Teams, or even Jitsi) has a ton more features than facetime, which is why facetime will not replace it anytime soon for most people. Google lens functioned suboptimal on iOS, so it's nice we actually get something that works. Mailinator is so niche, that..wel..1Password,LastPass, Dashlane are all crossplatform, so if you're using those, little chance you will replace them. People who use ExpressVPN, ClearVPN often use them for controlling the origin, something you can't with Apple's solution...etc. etc.
    I'm aware of the history, but the point stands.

    For what it's worth, I don't have any real issue with the "practice" as it stands.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 20
    tokyojimutokyojimu Posts: 513member
    Somehow, I don’t think Zoom is quaking in their boots. 
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 10 of 20
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 982member
    Sherlocked, or merely putting out a better app? I thought competition is a good thing?
    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 20
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,999member
    Nonsense.  None of those is an example of "Sherlocking."

    One cannot "Sherlock" a company the size of Google or even Zoom.  Also, creating an application in an existing, robust product space doesn't count.  Did Apple "Sherlock" all the other browsers when they introduced Safari?  (No; that's ridiculous.)  Finally, adding features to the OS or an application that are already well established in the marketplace doesn't count.

    Nearly every example above if one where Apple is (finally) entering a market with lots of existing players or adding features that numerous other competitors already have.

    The Zoom example is particularly silly.  FaceTime predates Zoom by years.  Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?

    I think the example of EXIF data is even sillier. The ability to edit a photo's metadata is simply a feature that for whatever reason, Apple chose not to include until now. The fact that some developer's were able to address a missing feature with an app should not preclude Apple from improving the feature set of their products. One could argue that these apps capitalized on an Apple oversight for years and now the party is over.
    macplusplusrandominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 20
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,313member
    I understand the sentiment even though some of your examples, like Zoom, are somewhat off the mark. There are several other variations of the David vs. Goliath theme, like Microsoft’s embrace, extend, and extinguish (EEE), or when major component suppliers like Samsung (or Microsoft again) decide to jump into the system builder role, thus competing directly with their own customers. In all of these cases you have to ask yourself whether you want to feel bad for the “little guy” or face up to the fact that in the competitive world of business you always have to fight for survival and go after every available opportunity, even if you step on someone else’s toes. Apple or Microsoft deciding to vertically integrate a function currently provided by a third party by using their own implementation can be a sound tactical or strategic move.  I’m sure they get over the sound of toe bones being crushed when they see the bottom line benefits and economy of scale.

    I’d go as far saying that a “kinder and gentler” approach where competitors start orchestrating or colluding to carve up the market so that everyone gets a piece of the pie would be very destructive for consumers. An example of the “carving up” model takes place in some of the ginormous government (DOD) contracts that surgically divide up the work into a sufficient number of congressional districts as to render cancellation of unnecessary or fiscally out of control acquisition projects impossible. I feel for the little guys but in my mind competition is always better than collusion or structured decomposition, which should really be called de-competition. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 20
    scatzscatz Posts: 21member
    Zoom is an extremely good product. I have tried many of the other options including facetime and teams. I think (gut feeling) that Zoom clients operate within a much smaller bandwidth. Never had any major problems with it. Facetime though......
  • Reply 14 of 20
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,558member
    Did Google "Sherlock" Apple when they developed Android as a copy of iOS?


    BeatsDogpersonrandominternetpersonhammeroftruthwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 15 of 20
    lineyliney Posts: 19member
    Before there was Sherlock there was Konfabulator, by Arlo Rose, in early 2003. It had "widgets", the first time the name was used on Macs. Apple stole the name AND the same functionality of add-ons for small utilities like a calculator, weather etc.
    edited June 2021
  • Reply 16 of 20
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    These are a stretch.

    FaceTime was the original iPhone video call. How did it Sherlock a way newer service? This reminds me of when idiots say “iPhone copied android lol!”

    I think like Dark Sky, Apple should have morals if they’re gonna take features from a company and outright acquire them before they do so. This adds a lot of benefits like moving the team to Apple and less lawsuits.

    With that said, a lot of these “sherlocks” are original Apple ideas done Apple’s way. For example, iCloud plus IS NOT a VPN. VPNs allow you to connect via different countries. iCloud+ is just different.
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 17 of 20
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    igorsky said:
    Is the notion that it's somehow unfair for Apple to keep it's products up to date once competitors come along?
    It's unfair for them to keep their products up to date, to improve their products, or to release new ones.  Basically Apple's existence is unfair to everyone, apparently.

    Everything Apple does is anti-competitive, anti-trust and anti-consumer.
  • Reply 19 of 20
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,877member
    liney said:
    Before there was Sherlock there was Konfabulator, by Arlo Rose, in early 2003. It had "widgets", the first time the name was used on Macs. Apple stole the name AND the same functionality of add-ons for small utilities like a calculator, weather etc.
    I think you'll find the name "widgets" is specifically not protectable under IP law in many countries. It's a generic name from the early 1900's impossible for Apple to steal a hypothetical name for a manufactured thing.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 20
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,730member
    "In a blog post, Wood said Steve Jobs told him Apple can and will do this to developers on the platform. Here’s Wood paraphrasing a phone call from Jobs himself:

    “You know those handcars, the little machines that people stand on and pump to move along on the train tracks? That’s Karelia. Apple is the steam train that owns the tracks.”

    You could argue that the popular narrative here isn’t completely accurate. Apple blogger John Gruber stated that Sherlock’s web integrations were planned at Apple before Watson debuted, and that Apple offered Wood a job working on Sherlock two different times. But these facts couldn’t stand in the way of a good story, and the term “Sherlocked” stuck.

    https://www.howtogeek.com/297651/what-does-it-mean-when-a-company-sherlocks-an-app/

    So "Sherlocked" really means a popular cover story of some instance of outrageous Apple behavior, when in fact, Apple would be expected to be working on said feature, but delivering it later, and fully baked in integration.

    edited June 2021 randominternetpersonmattinozwatto_cobrajony0
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