Developers Talk about Getting ‘Sherlocked’ by Apple as the Firm Copies Their Products Directly into Their Platforms

BY Dennis D. Bednarz

Published 6 Jun 2019

Developers of popular macOS utilities have stepped forward and complained about getting “Sherlocked” by Apple. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened either. If you’re familiar with iOS jailbreaking, you might be familiar with the concept already.

For those who don’t know, Sherlocking is a term used to describe a company creating an OS or device, implementing a feature of a third-party program or accessory directly into the product it was made for. This, while convenient for many, has caused developers of popular utilities to lose their livelihoods due to Apple making their products obsolete.

On a smaller scale, this has also been seen within the iOS jailbreak community, where tweaks were copied and integrated directly into iOS. With iOS 13, for example, tweaks like Noctis would be obsolete due to the new dark mode being built-in. We could instead see tweaks previously meant to provide their own dark mode, hook into Apple’s implementation and improve upon it.

Developers have stepped forward to AppleInsider in a new interview and complained about this issue.


PCalc iPad App

PCalc is a popular calculator app for Apple devices, and literally any Apple device you can think of. Since it’s original release in 1992, the app now has versions for even the Apple Watch and the Apple TV.

James Thomson, developer of PCalc, comments on the matter:

 “We already compete with the built-in Apple calculators on iOS and macOS […] so this is just one more. I think the best plan is just to build a deeper experience than Apple.”

With watchOS 6, Apple is bringing a calculator app to the Watch, but it wasn’t the first to do so. A lot of developers have left the watchOS and tvOS platforms, making James Thomson one of the few left.

watchOS 6 was supposed to encourage more developers to develop for the platform, yet it’s Sherlocking one of the most popular ones out there.

“I’d heard rumours for a while that there was going to be a calculator app for the Apple Watch, […] And it’s pretty much what I was expecting. The tip calculator was a surprise though. It did get quite a cheer at the keynote, which wasn’t the greatest feeling since I’ve had exactly that in PCalc on the watch for years!”

PCalc continues to be available on virtually every Apple platform if you need a more advanced experience than what Apple currently offers already.

Duet Display

With macOS Catalina and iPadOS 13, Apple is introducing a feature called “Sidecar”. The feature is an almost 1:1 copy of a tool called “Duet Display”, founded by Rahul Dewan. Duet Display has been around for many years, however, it might come to an unfortunate end if demand suddenly falls.

“We have expected Apple [to get] into this space since day one […] As we have been a top 10 iPad app for five years in a row, we were able to prove the market. So it isn’t surprising that Apple wanted to provide their own solution.

Since we expected Apple to get in to the space, we knew they only way to compete was to keep innovating.

The best analogy here is Spotify to Apple Music: although both are great, third party developers can provide a differentiated product and move faster.”

He’s told AppleInsider that Duet Display already includes support for more resolutions than Apple’s Sidecar does and works with Windows too.

Luna Display

Luna Display, co-founded by Matt Ronge, is yet another tool that allows you to connect your iPad and use it as a display with your Mac. Ronge is not surprised that Apple copied their product but he’s disappointed and hurt by how they went about it.

“Apple used us for market research, […] In February 2017, we were invited to demo Astropad Studio to Apple’s iPad product marketing team. They expressed their support and told us to contact them if they could help (we emailed multiple times and never heard back).

After launching Luna Display in 2018,” he continued, “Apple purchased dozens of Luna units. Looking back, we now realize that this was market research for their team and not Apple’s genuine interest in supporting our business. “

He notes that Apple has an unfair advantage over competing products due to their access to private API’s third-party developers aren’t allowed to access.

“Apple… has access to APIs that third-party developers are locked out, […] In the case of Sidecar, they use an API to create second screens that no one but Apple has access to.

They are using a peer to peer Wi-Fi stack that is dramatically more performant and prioritizes their Sidecar traffic over others, […] This is certainly not a level playing field for developers.”

Both Ronge at Luna Display and Dewan at Duet Display say that their companies are continuing to develop their products.

“While Apple builds features to satisfy the masses, we’ve always committed to building products with rich features and deep customization for professional creative workflows, […] We’re going to double down on serving the creative pro community.”

Our Take

Some features certainly make sense to implement directly into the OS, but not everything has to be. Things like the tip calculator could be the selling point of a third party calculator app, however, it does make sense that Apple wants something essential like that to be included in the stock app.

Sherlocking has always affected developers, but if it wasn’t for it we’d have really bare-bones OSes nowadays. A lot of features we take for granted started off as third-party programs. This is a necessary sacrifice, however, treating the developers like Apple has treated Luna Display or artificially limiting third-party options needs to stop.

As long as Apple keeps opening up new markets like third-party keyboards in iOS, and plays fair unlike its story with Luna Display, Sherlocking is ultimately a good thing for the most part.

What are your thoughts on the matter? ‘Let us know in the comment section below.