By eric on 08/09/2016
As anyone who has developed an application for Apple’s App Store can tell you, making something that follows all of the guidelines is tricky. The tech juggernaut is notorious for policing everything that is released on their platform. In some cases, this level of scrutiny can shape the way an app is developed and even how certain features will work. This is no more true than with the failed development of Mobile Receptionist, an ambitious project that was constantly held back by Apple’s limitations.
How it came to be
In 2012, local entrepreneurs Kyle Cooper and Dony Williams had a seemingly outlandish idea for an app: if someone was in a meeting or just simply couldn’t answer a call, an app would send a custom text message to the caller thanking them for getting in contact and that the receiver will call them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the callee would receive a notification from the app reminding them to call the person back. Cooper and Williams wanted it to be the must-have application for entrepreneurs on the go; the indispensable companion for anyone with a busy lifestyle.
This was a novel idea in 2012, when everyone using an iPhone had to check their voicemail to see if they missed any calls. Unfortunately, a number of restrictions from Apple’s end came with this lofty project. Dozens of developers Cooper approached said that it just simply couldn’t be done due to the restrictions. This went on for over a year as they talked with countless teams about the project. Eventually they came to Nerdy Dragon, asking if it they would be interested in taking on such a task. Jason Dodd reviewed the project and after careful consideration, came back to them with the thumbs-up: they would show everyone that it was indeed possible to create such an app.
Dodd and a group of talented developers came together from separate companies to form the team called Life Simplefyed that was dedicated to this single project. The crew consisted of 4 leads, 2 devs, and a designer, all sharing the same passion to show that they could do what others thought was impossible.
Mobile Receptionist worked fairly simply. If the app user didn’t answer the phone call, the call would be forwarded to a secondary number which would send the caller a custom sms text message. The user could set up the text to say whatever they wanted. One such example would be “This is Joe’s receptionist. Thank you for your call and he will get back to you as soon as possible.” The app user could customize it to say anything they wanted to. The initial setup would require the user to call a phone number to create the text message the caller would receive.
As the app began to come together, it became apparent that the overall design was lacking. The function was there, but the design was less than stellar. There were 16 individual screens that the user would have to hunt through just to get to the function they needed. The lead designer was able to thankfully remedy this by turning the whole design on its head. He was turned function over form into a beautiful, single screen interface where everything was just a single tap away. Everyone on the team was incredibly impressed with the results and got a better idea for the overall vision of the app.
Throughout the entire development cycle, there was one force constantly holding them back: Apple. Compared to Google’s Android app market, Apple is incredibly strict about what their customers are able to download on their phones. There is a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts that app developers must abide by for Apple to approve an app into the App Store. Jason Dodd has gone on record to say that “Apple claims to know what their customers want,” which means that they dictate what’s acceptable on their platform. The biggest stipulation Apple had with Mobile Receptionist was it’s payment plan.
The app was intended to have a monthly subscription plan, but Apple flatout rejected it. It was originally planned that the subscription would be automatically renewed every month. Apple, however, wouldn’t allow it, which would have forced the user to go into the app every single month and manually update their subscription. This would have been a seriously deterring factor for Mobile Receptionist’s prospective customers. They knew how much of a hassle it would be to have to do this monthly, so they tried their best to find an alternative that would make Apple happy.
The team had been working for 3 grueling months when they got the news that would bring the entire development to a screeching halt. What hit them the hardest, though, was that it came from the very company they had tried so hard to appease.
Why it was never released
During Apple’s SDCC 2012 event, the newest iteration of their OS was announced, iOS 6. As they began to showcase the newest features that would come with the update, the team saw the very feature Life Simplfyed had worked so hard to bring to the app store: notifications and reminders for iPhone’s phone app would be included, effectively eliminating the need for their app entirely. The user would be able to send a quick text message to the caller and immediately let them know why they couldn’t pick up.
The small dev team was crushed. All of the time and labor put into Mobile Receptionist was now completely worthless. Apple was going to provide an extremely similar service as the free standard for all of their customers, destroying any hope that the team behind Mobile Receptionist of their app revolutionizing the market.
There are plenty of app developer success stories, but there are just as many stories about ones that never made it to the App Store. Even though Mobile Receptionist was never released, that doesn’t mean that everyone involved walked away empty-handed. They were able to prove that it was possible to build an app of that size and scope that still followed all of Apple’s guidelines. Life Simplifyed accepted the challenge and faced every obstacle that came their way head-on. There is still a lesson to take away, though: dare to build the impossible and find a way to make it happen.