Bret W. Lester

Multiple Threats to My Apps in iOS 17

As if being an indie developer wasn't hard enough already, some of us have to deal with the constant threat of being crushed by Apple. It's known as being "Sherlocked".

GPT-4 says:

Being "Sherlocked" refers to when a small independent developer creates a product or feature, only to have a larger company, like Apple, introduce a similar or identical feature in an update to its own software. The term originated from a situation where an app called "Sherlock" was made obsolete by an Apple update. This can lead to the indie developer's product becoming irrelevant or less valuable.

Unfortunately for me, this year, with iOS 17, Apple is threatening to Sherlock me in three different ways.

First of all, my app, TTS Phone has more or less been rendered completely obsolete by Apple's introduction of Live Speech. This was not that much of a shock to me, one, because the app isn't really making money, and, two, it was a small project with minimal time investment.

Secondly, Apple is introducing "Listen to Page" in Safari which lets you listen to certain text-rich web pages. This is a limited version of what WebOutLoud does, and it uses the Siri voices that aren't available to developers. This is a significant threat in that it provides functionality for free which directly overlaps with WOL, an app of mine that I've put a lot of time into, and comprises the majority of my app income. I wrote about it in more detail here.

And lastly, Apple is making it possible for third party speech synthesis providers to integrate with iOS directly. This is not as direct a threat to me as Listen to Page, but it definitely has the potential to eat away at my revenue. What this means is that people could theoretically buy premium voices from another provider, and while they will be able to use those voices in my text to speech apps, I will potentially miss out on the opportunity to sell them my own premium voices--which is, again, a significant amount of revenue for me.

While I don't think that iOS 17 is rendering WebOutLoud obsolete as I believe it is original enough that it will continue to survive for some time to come, at the very least, it is threatening to eat away at my revenue. Although it can be an effective strategy, it's a reminder of the risk you face when building an app whose selling points are based around filling gaps in the system's features.

This leads me to believe that some of the most powerful app ideas are those which have more to do with the creativity of the developer, ideas that are less obvious than filling gaps, ideas that are unique to the developer as an individual; works of art. I think a lot of games have this property. This can be harder to pull off however, because the competition is much greater for stuff like games, and it's not as obvious why people would want them. So you have to do some convincing. Or sometimes you don't, and you can have a viral hit like Flappy Bird. But it's rare. Successful apps of this nature are much less common.

Basically, when thinking of an app idea, or a digital product, if possible, it is better for a developer to do something that is unique to their strengths. It's harder for others to copy, and it is less likely to get Sherlocked. This is not to say however that you should never consider an idea that has some overlap with either existing system functionality or gaps in it that are likely to be filled. That can still be a successful strategy. You just need to go into it with the right expectations.


Listen to documents and web articles like this one using lifelike text-to-speech. Try WebOutLoud free.

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