An Open Letter to Phil Schiller and Apple Developer Relations

Dear Phil Schiller,

My name is Brandon Medenwald and I co-founded a small company called Simply Made Apps in Fargo, North Dakota. Our product, Simple In/Out, has embraced your developer platform since 2011. We have 3 native apps for iOS, a tvOS app (making us one of the few business apps in the tvOS Store), and a native app in the Mac App Store. I mention this to bolster my credentials as exactly the kind of developer Apple hopes to foster.

I write you today to share my frustration with the sporadic nature of App Store reviews and to offer what I believe is a great solution. I hope by the end of this letter to convince you of the merits of my idea.

The Problem

The problem is the uneven application of the approval rules, the root cause being that individual App Store reviewers have broad discretion and finite time to check apps for every single one of the mounting guidelines that exist. This is understandable as reviewers are only human. The fact is that an “issue”, an item that has been approved countless times in the past, can stop our development cycle cold.

When we have a new feature to ship, many times we need to go live with all of our apps and related API services at the same time. Recently, one of our apps was rejected for violating Rule 2.3: Performance: Accurate Metadata. Specifically, we had mentioned in our app description that our 45 day free trial was available with “no credit card needed”. For any developer submitting to the App Store, these so-called “metadata” errors are perhaps the most frustrating. They are arbitrary in nature and often at the mercy of the reviewer’s interpretation. This language, for example, has been in our app description for years (plural) and has been approved every single time.

While this example stopped us in our tracks despite not being an issue in prior years, at least we were able to resolve it quickly. Other times we have not been so fortunate, like In-App Purchase demands placed on Software-as-a-Service companies like mine. In these instances, it’s weeks of work before anything else can ship even though we’ve made no changes around these “violations”.

I understand that Apple has policies that are subject to change. I also understand that Apple internally emphasizes/changes rule interpretations to clamp down on bad practices. This is all well and good, but the frustration from developers like myself is that these indiscriminate rejections appear out of nowhere and often happen at the worst possible moments. We’ve had multiple instances where bug fixes were thwarted by a seemingly-random cracking of the metadata whip.

You see Phil, I want to be a good App Store citizen and the changes your reviewers demand are not bad or unreasonable. What is unreasonable is that I cannot schedule our programming resources around rejections on existing functionality/metadata that have been approved countless times in the past. This has knock-on effects on our non-Apple developers, our customer commitments, and our marketing efforts.

The Solution

I write to you not just to complain but to offer a solution that I believe will solve this problem in a way that is both fair to developers as well as to Apple. The solution comes from the real world: law enforcement and the Fix It ticket.

Let’s say you are driving down the road and you are pulled over for a broken headlight. The police officer does not issue you a fine, you are not placed in jail, and your planned trip is not measurably disrupted. You are provided with a Fix It ticket which gives you 30 days to have your headlight repaired and you resume driving. Your travel plans remain intact while you have the flexibility to schedule the repair over a month’s time. If you do not repair your headlight within 30 days, then you suffer the consequences the next time you travel.

I believe a similar solution would work wonders within the App Store review process.

If you are found in violation of a non-critical rule and that same violation existed in the previously-approved version of the app, the reviewer would approve the app for sale and would issue a Fix It ticket. This ticket would specify the violation and start the 30 day clock. After the 30 day period, Apple would block all approvals if the violation hasn’t been resolved.

This policy would allow critical bug fixes to go through without the delay caused by rules being interpreted differently from review to review. The 30 day warning would be on the developer’s account, making it easy for your App Store reviewers to see what other reviewers are doing and reject those that haven’t complied. Fix It tickets would reduce animosity towards the review process by creating a system where the only ways to have updates rejected is by creating new violations entirely or ignoring Fix It tickets for longer than 30 days. Apple can change emphasis on the guidelines without placing the hammer to all updates big and small.

Most importantly, this would allow developers like myself to schedule these fixes without arresting our entire development process.

I hope this idea can be implemented in the future for the good of Apple and the developer community. I would welcome a dialog on this matter at any time and my email address is below. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Brandon Medenwald

Co-Founder, Simply Made Apps, Inc.

brandon [at] simplymadeapps [dot] com

Simple In/Out Mac Gains Notifications

With the release of Office Hours yesterday, what may have been lost in the shuffle was a new feature for our macOS app:  Notifications.  Simple In/Out for Mac was the last app in our family of products that didn’t have support for notifications when a user you are following updated their status.

We still have notifications built into the Safari web browser, which our Mac users have had to use to receive notifications in the past.  We plan to remove this feature in the future and rely solely on our native Mac app.  The Mac app allows you to manage the users you are following in one easy to use screen.  The Mac app also works great with Office Hours.

For those Mac users that have used Safari to get these notifications, we recommend giving our Mac app a download from the Mac App Store.  For our existing Mac customers, we hope you like the great new features we’ve added this month.

Take Control of Simple In/Out’s Automatic Features with Office Hours

Simple In/Out’s goal from the very beginning has been to be both accurate and easy, two things that are difficult to achieve at the same time.  To accomplish this, Simple In/Out has been the champion of automatic features to both keep your status up-to-date as well as keep you notified about the happenings within your organization.  These automatic features are what make Simple In/Out the best in/out board in the world.

While these automatic features are wonderful, there are times they can be a bit overwhelming.  Perhaps your work place is in a popular area of town and you end up automatically checking in/out on the weekends while you are running errands.  Maybe you have notifications sent to your phone when others change their status and they are working late in the evening.  During these times, you may want Simple In/Out to halt for a bit and pick up later when you’re actually going to work.

Office HoursWe’re proud to announce a new feature we’ve been working on for the past few months to address these scenarios and more.  We’re calling this new feature Office Hours, and it has turned out really great.

With Office Hours, you can designate windows of time that you wish Simple In/Out to perform its automatic tasks.  When you’re not within those time periods Simple In/Out will stop doing things like sending you notifications and checking you in/out.  When you enter back into a normally-scheduled work time, Simple In/Out will resume its normal behavior.  Office Hours allows unprecedented control over our most popular features.

Want to make sure you’re not checking into job sites on your off day?  No problem.

Want to stop getting notifications from other users when you’re unwinding at the end of the day?  No problem.

Want to surf the web on your work laptop without checking in on a Saturday morning?  No problem.

We know our power users will love Office Hours.  This is only the beginning of what we’re planning for Simple In/Out this winter.  We can’t wait to show you the rest of the amazing new features we’re working on.

Simple In/Out Year in Review 2016

Now that we’ve entered 2017, we wanted to take a moment to recognize the year gone by.  2016 was an exciting year for our company and for Simple In/Out.  We grew our family of customers, our family of products, and our family of employees.  Thank you to all those customers that use Simple In/Out.  You all inspire us every day to come to work and make Simple In/Out better and better.

Here are just a few of the many features we delivered in 2016.

Users belonging to multiple groups and having multiple phone numbers

This seems like such a trivial thing, but it really opened the door to a bunch of exciting new ways to organize your users.  With multiple phone numbers, we’re an even better employee directory than ever.

A new API

APIv3 allows third parties to update data for the first time, enabling countless possibilities to customize Simple In/Out.

Automatic updates from your phone’s Wifi connection

Although only available for Android and Windows Phone users, automatic updates based on the internet hardware you already have in your offie is a real win for check in/out accuracy.  Hey Apple:  could you please add this capability to iOS so we can do this for everyone?

Linked Companies

For a whole new class of customers, Linked Companies offers the strict separation to manage multiple companies under one user account.

The Simple In/Out Partner Program

For resellers, we offer a great program to share Simple In/Out and our host of solutions with your customers.

Simple In/Out for Mac

We launched an entirely new application to the Simple In/Out family for our Mac users.

Automatic Updates from your desktop

Now that we have desktop apps for both Windows and Mac, we launched another exciting way to have Simple In/Out update your status automatically.  We now can use your computer activity to determine if you are In or Out, which for users on their computer all the time is a real time saver.

Schedule future statuses

A big request over the years was to be able to set a status that would automatically take effect when the time comes.  We delivered on this in 2016.

Notifications for Windows Desktop and Windows Phone

For our Windows users, we now deliver notifications when other users you are following update their statuses.  This has long been a feature of our other phone apps and now Windows receives the same love.

Spanish support

We translated our Simple In/Out apps and the logged-in website to our first foreign language.  This is no small feat and for our Spanish users it’s like having a new solution entirely. We hope to make more gains in internationalization during the new year.

Simple In/Out TV for Amazon Fire TV

Simple In/Out TV can now be downloaded for free on the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which at $39.99 is the more inexpensive way to show your users on a big screen in a common area.

New reports

We shipped a couple of new reports this year.  We also focused on improvements to our date and languages to make them even better for our overseas customers.

 

 

It is also worth noting a few non-feature things that happened in 2016.

Started Wednesday Webinars

We now have a webinar every single week for users to see new features, ask us questions, and provide us feedback.  In its first year, it has been a resounding success.

Moved to a new office

In September we moved to our new office, still in the heart of downtown Fargo North Dakota.

Hired a web developer

For the first time in Simply Made Apps history, we hired another web developer.  It’s hard to imagine what life was like with only one, and the pace of fantastic updates will be noticeable in 2017.

 

It was a busy year, and 2017 promises to be an even busier one.  We can’t wait to share the great things we’re working to bring to our customers.

New Reports for Simple In/Out

Hot on the heals of yesterday’s announcement that Simple In/Out TV has arrived for Amazon Fire TV (and Fire TV Stick), today I’d like to talk about some of the great changes we’ve been making to reports within Simple In/Out.  For many of our customers, reports are the life blood of their in/out board.  Customers use them for payroll, to find discrepancies, and to simply see what happened in the past.

Today, we’ve launched a new report within Simple In/Out that has been a big request among our current users.  We’re calling it the Weekly Activity report.  This report allows you to see every status update for a particular user across a week or two.  This is helpful for those that wish to have a printed report they can take with them.  It’s like the Weekly Timeline, but instead of charts (which don’t print with the same detail), you can get daily breakdowns of all the activity for a user over the week.  We think our admin users are going to love this new report.

With the Weekly Activity report, you can see a couple of new features we’ve implemented everywhere.  You can run the Weekly Activity report for 7 or 14 days.  We’ve expanded our other weekly report, the Weekly Timeline, to also allow for 14 days of data.  This is super-helpful if you’re running these reports for payroll, as many times payroll is a 2 week issue.

Finally, we’ve added another advanced feature for a bigger customers that exist across multiple time zones.  Under the Advanced link within all our reports is now a drop down for Time Zone.  It will always select the time zone you’re in by default, but if you wish to run your reports in a different time zone (say you’re traveling), you can now do that via this option.

We hope these report additions make it easier than ever to see your data with Simple In/Out!

Simple In/Out TV Arrives for Amazon’s Fire TV

Fire TV Stick

In the early days of Simple In/Out, we knew we needed to build a product that allowed users to quickly see the board no matter where they were.  This meant building a fast, easy to use app right on your favorite phone.  Soon afterwards it became clear that Simple In/Out also needed a great way to display your board for the world to see.  For this, we’ve built many features like Public Links, Fullscreen Mode, FrontDesk, and Simple In/Out TV.

Simple In/Out TV is perhaps the easiest to use of the bunch. We built Simple In/Out TV to look great on your television, which you can set up in common areas for your users to see as they come and go.  We first built Simple In/Out TV for Android TV, and added AppleTV support with the release of tvOS.

The only downside to using Simple In/Out TV has been the cost to entry. Android TV devices are getting harder to find and even Google has killed its Nexus Player.  AppleTV is a neat platform with room to grow, but the lowest cost device that supports apps in $150.  For some businesses, this is a lot of money to spend for an in/out board.

Today, we’re happy to announce that Simple In/Out TV has come to Amazon’s Fire TV platform.  With this addition, businesses have a great low-cost option to get Simple In/Out on their televisions.  As of today, you can purchase a Fire TV Stick for only $39.  Now it’s significantly less expensive to place Simple In/Out TV in all sorts of places, right where your users are located.

DDoS Attack and Simple In/Out

Today is a dark day for internet here in the U.S., as there has been a massive internet DDoS attack underway most of the day.  Simple In/Out was affected this morning in some areas, but this afternoon the second attack seems to have hit us much harder.  This has affected many of the big sites on the internet today, like Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Github, etc.

In terms a non-geek can understand, Simple In/Out’s servers are still working great, but your phone/computer’s ability to connect with our servers may be not working.

We apologize for the intermittent problems connecting to Simple In/Out, and we hope that the DNS community can squash this soon.  We also hope that these culprits are found and prosecuted swiftly.

In the meantime, if you need access to Simple In/Out, this article lists a way at the bottom you can change your device’s DNS settings to another provider that we’ve had some luck with here at our offices.

The New Simply Made Apps HQ

Last month we moved into a new office. We were looking to have a bit more space for our expanding team. Our only requirement was staying in downtown Fargo, which is a developing technology hub that we wished to remain a part of for the foreseeable future.

Our new office is only a few blocks from our original spot, still on Broadway.  Our new space is in a historic building, over 100 years old, that originally was a factory. The history is soaked into every cement column here, giving it an industrial vibe. The moment we saw this space, we instantly knew this was our new home.

Below are some images of our new space. We can’t wait to build some great new software in this inspiring location.

Brian Pattison Joins the Simply Made Apps Team

Brian Pattison
We’re happy to announce the newest member of the Simply Made Apps team. Today, Brian Pattison is joining Simply Made Apps as a web developer.

In the Fargo technology scene, Brian is well known for his passion, his problem solving capabilities, and his eagerness to try new things.  His curiosity regarding new technology is something that really separates him from others in our field.

As a full-stack web developer, Brian can do everything from back-end database to user interface design.  With his help, we’re going to be able to create even more features that delight our Simple In/Out customers.

We’re thrilled to welcome Brian to the Simply Made Apps family.

Board Improvements for Simple In/Out

We’re excited to announce a few changes to our most fundamental piece of Simple In/Out, the Simple In/Out board.  These changes are incremental updates that not only address feedback from our great customers, but also set the foundation for some exciting things we’re planning for the future.

More Space for More Information

The new Simple In/Out board uses a “fluid” layout.  This means the board will grow to take up more space.  This allows us to display more information, which allows Simple In/Out to provide a few more options.  For the first time, you can display user details right on the board.  For users that use details to display things like titles or shift information, this is a welcome update.

Fullscreen mode also takes advantage of this new space by allowing more information to be optionally displayed as well.  Users can add phone numbers, groups, and/or details to Fullscreen boards, allowing our users to tailor an experience that makes sense for specific use cases like common area displays.

Board Settings Improvements

For a while, our board options have been located under a small menu accessible by clicking the gear icon above the board.  While this worked, more and more studies show that menus can be a difficult thing for users to navigate.  We’ve replaced the settings menu with a panel that appears when you click the Settings icon (and disappears if you click it again).  This allows us to add more complicated settings to save the user time.  For example, font size can be set now by choosing a size instead of having to click over and over again to make the font larger.  All changes to board settings are reflected immediately so it is easy to see exactly how changes affect the board.

We’ve also added a multi-column sort option to the settings.  We’ve had multi-column sort since the beginning of Simple In/Out, but in order to use it users needed to hold down a key on their keyboard when clicking the column headers. This was a hidden power feature that is now much less hidden.

Public Link Parameters

With these changes, we’re updating all of Simple In/Out’s web boards, including our Public Links.  Public Links also get another upgrade:  more URL-based parameters.  Users can now specify options like sort order right in the URL they are sharing.

This is just the beginning of some great new things we plan to focus on for the end of 2016.  We hope all our customers enjoy these changes and keep that feedback coming our way.

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