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Apple Demands Removal of PCalc’s Today View Widget

[Editor’s Note: A day after the company’s initial demand, and possibly due in part to the firestorm of press and social media criticism, Apple has reversed its decision to force PCalc developer James Thomson to remove PCalc’s Today view widget. -Adam]

One of the most intriguing aspects of iOS 8 is how Apple has opened up Notification Center’s Today view to widgets from outside developers. These miniature apps provide access to common app features, without having to open the entire app. One of the coolest Today view widgets thus far is the one provided by James Thomson’s PCalc.

Unfortunately, Apple has demanded its removal. Thomson took to Twitter on 29 October 2014 to announce that Apple has informed him that Today view widgets cannot perform calculations, and that the feature must be removed in 2 to 3 weeks. Thomson said he will challenge the decision, but that it appears that it was made high up in
Apple’s ranks
and won’t be changed.

(Full disclosure: I beta tested the iOS 8 version of PCalc, and included several screenshots of the widget in drafts of “iOS 8: A Take Control Crash Course”. Apple’s decision forced us to replace those screenshots, which has slowed down production today.)

What’s insane about Apple’s move is that the widget was introduced the same day as iOS 8, on 16 September 2014, making it over a month between its arrival and Apple’s demand for it to be removed. And it’s not as if Apple was unaware of PCalc’s existence: it’s still one of Apple’s featured Extensibility apps in the App Store. To rub salt in the wound, Apple provides its own calculator widget in OS X 10.10 Yosemite.


I thoroughly read the Extensibility developer documentation while researching “iOS 8 Third-Party Keyboards Explained and Reviewed” (2 October 2014) and found nothing that would specifically bar a widget like PCalc’s. In fact, the developer
documentation even hints that a graphics-intensive game might be allowable in the Today view, even if it’s not encouraged:

…for example, a Today widget that runs a graphics-intensive game might give users a bad experience.

Agile Tortoise’s Greg Pierce suggested to me that Apple’s reasoning is that it’s a “resource constraint issue on iOS.” That’s the most likely explanation, since the developer documentation repeatedly emphasizes that widgets need to be resource efficient.

But there’s nothing to indicate that Apple doesn’t allow inefficient widgets in the App Store. For that matter, when has an app ever been pulled from the App Store for poor performance? Besides, widgets are purely opt-in: they will not display unless you enable them. And it’s hard to imagine a calculator being resource-intensive (the widget works fine on my aging iPad 2).

The bottom line is that if I were an iOS developer, I would be leery of investing significant resources into a Today view widget. Arbitrary decisions like this harm Apple’s relationship with developers. If Apple wants developers to keep creating innovative Today view widgets, then it needs to publish detailed, specific guidelines of what widgets can and cannot do. When blood, sweat, tears, and livelihoods are on the line, “I’ll know it when I see it,” doesn’t cut it as an App Store approval policy.

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