By John Gruber
Sky Guide brings the beauty of the stars down to Earth.
In the early days of Twitter I wrote a piece titled “Twitter Clients Are a UI Design Playground”. That playground dried up within a few years because Twitter locked the gates. Part of what made Twitter such a great platform for new iPhone clients was the nature of Twitter itself — a timeline of small posts is optimal for consumption on a small screen. But an essential aspect was that Twitter’s APIs were open.
Today, Mastodon’s explosive growth in the face of Twitter’s collapse has made it a new UI playground, especially so on iOS. I’m following — and using — at least half a dozen excellent new iOS Mastodon clients, each of them distinctive.1 Mastodon has that small-nugget timeline nature as Twitter, but is a truly open platform. There are no limits to what developers can choose to do with the Mastodon APIs. There are, however, limits to what iOS developers can deliver to users: App Store review.
Ice Cubes is a very fun new Mastodon client, written in SwiftUI, from Thomas Ricouard. It works great on iPhone and iPad, and while I wouldn’t call it a good Mac client yet, it is surprisingly credible on the Mac for a cross-platform app designed for the iPad. I’d call its Mac status promising. It is open source and has an open TestFlight beta (which is how I’ve been using it).
But in what can only be described as both Kafkaesque and, alas, all-too-familiar — the Ice Cubes 1.0 submission to the App Store has been held up in limbo for an entire week. The hamfisted faceless reviewer(s) looking at Ice Cubes are repeatedly rejecting it for utterly nonsensical reasons, primarily violating guideline 4.2.2, “Minimum Functionality”:
We noticed that your app only includes links, images, or content aggregated from the Internet with limited or no native iOS functionality. Although this content may be curated from the web specifically for your users, since it does not sufficiently differ from a mobile web browsing experience, it is not appropriate for the App Store.
It is now six days — a week! — after that initial rejection and Ricouard is still banging his head against Apple’s orifice. Seven rejections in six days. It’s enough to make one start pricing Pixel phones.
Ice Cubes is not just a Mastodon client. It is a good and rich one, fully embracing iOS’s platform-specific design idioms and features. You can jump on the TestFlight beta and experience it for yourself, but it’s easy to see just from the screenshots. For chrissake just look at the app icon. It is the complete opposite of a thin wrapper around a web app — it is truly native, painstakingly designed, and built using Apple’s avowed framework of the future, SwiftUI. It exemplifies what Apple encourages developers to do, and is exactly the sort of app that makes the iPhone, iPad, and Mac the platforms what they are. Native apps are what make Apple’s platforms stand apart, yet the App Store reviewer(s) repeatedly rejecting Ice Cubes apparently think iOS and Mac users are better off using the same cross-platform web apps available on Android and Windows and Chromebooks.
I don’t generally call for anyone to be fired, but an App Store reviewer who cannot see how Ice Cubes “differ[s] from a mobile web browsing experience” is an embarrassment to the company, and providing fodder for every frustrated developer who thinks Apple has completely lost its way as a company and platform steward that respects the work of independent developers.
iPhone Twitter clients were the shining lights of that design playground a decade ago. The best interfaces to Twitter, on any platforms, were all native apps on the iPhone and Mac. We’re now on the cusp of a new frontier with Mastodon, and it’s Apple’s utterly clueless bureaucratic App Store reviewers who are doing their best to lock the new playground’s gates before they even open.
Postscript: Unsurprisingly, about two hours after I published this, Ice Cubes was approved by the App Store. If you’re using Mastodon, you absolutely should check it out. And if you’re not using Mastodon, you should consider checking that out, too. It’s where the all the good action from Twitter is going.
Alas, there is not a single even tolerable Mac client yet. That’s a dark story unto itself. ↩︎