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It was just a few short weeks ago that we linked to this article about Luna Display using the light sensor in the iPad to simulate a hardware button. I thought it was a really clever idea and I couldn't see a downside with the way it was implemented, but unfortunately it didn't make it through review. 😢

Did it break a rule? Yes, and that rule is written in black and white which the developers almost certainly knew when they submitted it. Did the App Store lose a neat feature in an app by not allowing this to get onto the store? I think that's also a yes. The bigger question is whether these policies have a net positive or negative effect on the store? Yes, it's easy to point to examples like this and say "APPLE IS STIFLING INNOVATION WITH POLICIES LIKE THESE" but how many bad UIs are we being saved from? We'll never know as it's only really talked about when something really cool gets rejected.

The reality is, the rules (guidelines? 🤣) are documented and that's a good thing. Apple have also showed that they can and do compromise on issues like this before. Remember Camera+ and the rejection for using the volume button to take a picture? Apple not only reversed that decision but then ended up adopting that technique in their own camera app.

It's tricky to say where the line should be drawn. Yes, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been confused by this feature in this app but the App Store is massive, and mainstream. Just because I (who spends tens of hours a week immersed in the iOS world) wouldn't get confused by this app doesn't mean my Dad also wouldn't if the BBC news app suddenly started showing a menu when he randomly put his hand near the top of the phone covering the light sensor he's probably not even aware exists.

Overall, I think the App Store still moves mostly in the right direction, if a little slowly, but that comes with being mainstream and I'm still very happy that iOS is a mainstream platform.

Dave Verwer

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