After several years and 14 million users, Apple summarily removed iKamasutra from the App Store on February 20, 2012, ostensibly for adding brown hair coloring to our drawings. Then, on March 14, it was just as arbitrarily pulled from the Google Play Store. I have been trying to understand Apple's and Google's sudden concerns and address them, but with limited feedback and no real dialog from them, despite all our efforts, our options have dwindled.
In fairness to the millions of users who purchased the app and have been emailing us asking why they can't restore their purchases, why other apps have copied our designs and icons, and what the future is for iKamasutra, I'm writing this blog post. I hope to address all those concerns, and give a little insight into the daunting task independent developers face in all the app stores for mobile devices.
iKamasutra is (or was) available for virtually every mobile device on each app store, so we have a unique perspective. I understand that ultimately Apple and Google have high standards for the apps in their respective stores, and frankly so do we, so it is unfortunate to see them make decisions that undermine those very guidelines and hurt their users.
When Apple removed all our apps on February 20, we asked why via all available means: iTunes Connect, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone support—but we received no reply. Luckily, I had the direct line of someone in Apple's verification department. We had spoken previously on an unrelated matter many months before, and he explained that the app was removed because the icon was too explicit and the illustrations had too much detail, specifically brown hair color and facial details. That seemed like a minor bump in the road, and I agreed to change them both quickly.
The reason for adding the brown hair color was usability: it lets you understand the positioning more quickly because you recognize the head more easily. If you are a frequent user of iKamasutra and try enough positions, you quickly see why this is important. Though removing brunettes was a step backward, users had survived without knowing which way was up for years. Just in case, we also removed all weak gray lines and were confident Apple would approve. Take a look at the before and after here:
We revised the icon, as well as 460 individual illustrations, and requested an expedited review. We were worried about the increasing number of emails we were receiving from users who couldn't restore their app and in-app purchases and we didn't know what to tell them except "sit tight". Users being unable to restore purchases is apparently not a good enough reason for an expedited review, which I find odd considering the well-publicized expedited review that Paperlabs received solely for a PR time slot. It took 5 days to get to the "In review" status, which is normal, but that is when things started to get strange. Weeks passed without any information, and emails and phone calls went unanswered. Finally, on March 14, we managed to get someone to pick up the phone again and he hinted that some people at Apple were reluctant to let iKamasutra back into the store. He asked us to give the review team more time.
Two days later we received another startling rejection based on a whole new and completely unbelievable reason:
"Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them such as fart, burp, flashlight and Kama Sutra apps."
This response was particularly disheartening because it mistakenly couples iKamasutra with low-quality and scam apps. Those are precisely what Apple's rule is designed to protect developers like us against. Even a cursory look at iKamasutra and its competitors will demonstrate our leadership and innovation. To be clear: iKamasutra does not in any way duplicate the content of anything printed, on the web, or in another app. Our content and illustrations are written exclusively for the app by writers and illustrators with a unique artistic beauty and sense of humor. It was the first app of its kind, initially submitted in October 2008, and is still the most downloaded and highest-rated of all Kama Sutra apps. It has been in the Top Paid apps since its release with many thousands of reviews from all over the world, averaging an astounding 4.5 stars. We have updated the app bimonthly for years, adding more functionality, fresh content, with exclusive illustrations and descriptions, to inspire a modern audience while still complying with Apple's decency guidelines. We even had retina images available for the new iPad the same day the SDK was released, but we have not been able to publish that or any other update.
I phoned again and left messages, but with no response my only recourse was Apple's appeal process. We filed our written appeal on March 22, and now several weeks later we are still without any response. That is only the beginning, though.
In the meantime we have responded to hundreds of emails from puzzled customers. Ironically, even competitors have asked us what has happened and if they can help out in any way. Obviously, they are as scared as we are: if this can happen to the oldest, top-rated and top-selling kama sutra app, it can just as easily happen to them.
At the same time, less scrupulous competitors have unfairly tried to benefit from iKamasutra's sudden vanishing act. In March, one of these apps, Kamasutra Alive, renamed itself Kamasutra+ and in the process changed its icon. Take a look and see if you notice anything eerily similar:
By using the same color scheme and silhouette as our icon they are trying to dupe customers into buying the app. We have answered several emails from our users asking if we have changed the app's name and why there is a "+" version while they cannot restore the original app that they had paid for. Apple has a good policy of removing duplicate apps—why did it remove ours, which is the original and most innovative, while allowing copycats to steal our designs and profit from our hard earned reputation? I do believe Apple wants what is best for its users, but this is not it. We had commissioned the icon to be designed for us by The Iconfactory, which took several months and underwent more than 20 iterations. It was not just an icon, but rather an essential part of branding iKamasutra, recognizable both as a small icon and in larger logos on webpages, press kits, and so on. An Iconfactory representative contacted Apple as well to complain about the intellectual property shoplifting, but they received the cold shoulder.
Unfortunately, this sort of theft is not new to us, as we have witnessed applications across iOS, Android, and WP7 steal content and design from us, though usually it ends up being resolved quickly and quietly. But it has been a long while since someone tried to steal our icon on iOS. Apple has always held itself to a higher standard, and honestly I support that. For Apple to allow another developer to just steal and make money off of our users is hard to take, and honestly I don't know what to do about it. I want the users of iKamasutra to know that we will do anything to comply with Apple's rules to get the app back in the store and supply them with all the updates we have in the pipeline.
Whenever an app is rejected from Apple's App Store, the logic is that the developer can just head to Android, which is "open". Truthfully, if you've got a paid app, the place to be is Google's curated marketplace, which has its own guidelines. iKamasutra has been in the Android Market (now called Google Play Store) since December 2010, and has always been in the Top Paid apps in the Books and Reference section. Of course even so the app generates only one-tenth of what its iOS counterpart does in sales. (Just for reference, Windows Phone makes 1/100 of what Android makes, and it too has been popular since its introduction in December 2010.) All versions of iKamasutra are native applications and not web apps, so it takes major investment and time to keep them all up-to-date. We do this to deliver the best possible experience specific to every platform, and I believe our users appreciate it.
It is ironic, then, given Google's emphasis on its open marketplace, that on March 14 I received the following email from Android Market Support:
You would think it would be easy to contact Google, and they even have a toll-free number for their customers—but their customers are Adwords advertisers, and not app developers or Android users. The only way to respond or even contact Google is to reply to that automated email. Though I quickly composed a plea for them to reconsider, I received no acknowledgment that they received it, and no response whatsoever for over a week. I continued emailing roughly the same message every couple of days until, at last, on April 5, I received this reply:
The iKamasutra account has been in good standing all the time, but the idea of submitting a *new* app is not without massive difficulties for our users. Customers have already paid for the app once, and by submitting another app, as Google instructs, it means they have to pay again just to receive the updates they are due for free. I sent the following email to Google, hoping they might reconsider for just that reason:
Six days later, without any answer either way, we decided to do as they wanted and republish the app. In the process we also removed even more illustration details from the Android version so it looked like the new iOS version—no brunettes and body outlines only. In order to prevent our existing customers from paying twice for the same app, we manually processed refunds for anyone who could email us their Google order number. (This was obviously a losing proposition for us, not the least because the 30% cut Google takes on all sales is not repaid by Google but rather by us when a customer is granted a refund.) In the end, we did this for our users who bought a product and deserve the updates, regardless of Google's arbitrary actions. Unfortunately, the illustrations are now definitely less detailed than other apps in Google Play, but at least the app is functional.
What about Microsoft and Amazon? iKamasutra remains available in the Windows Phone Marketplace. During this whole period Microsoft has not shown any concern in their reviews of the app updates we continually submit to add new features for our users. The app on a Windows Phone device has the same level of detail as it did on iOS before its removal.
We also submitted our app to the Amazon Appstore recently and it has been quickly approved. Interestingly, Amazon accepted the illustrations with the same level of detail present in the Android version since launch in 2010. What they will do in the future, is anyone's guess, but I remain very hopeful. The difficulty here is that we continually improve the app, and the different level of detail between the two Android stores will be another thing to manage going forward.
I'd like our users to know that we already have future updates planned that will allow for the in-app purchase service Amazon launched last week, offering them access all the extra positions and Places challenges available for purchase on other platforms. While the paid app is already available , we will also submit a free Lite version to Amazon very soon.
Apple has created a set of guidelines that the iKamasutra team is happy to adhere to. Our problem is not the guidelines, but the mistaken enforcement of them, and the lack of dialog toward resolving any concerns Apple might have. Some of you have asked how you can help, and I think the best way is to tell Apple in your own words why you love the app, and to ask that they reconsider their decision.
One way to do that is to write to Apple at: email@example.com (Mention iKamasutra and our App ID: 297063632)
If enough of you express a sincere interest in our cause, I am sure that Apple's review team will reconsider. Thank you to all the 14 million users of iKamasutra. We're so happy to help make the world a more loving place.continue to ikamasutra.com