In the Kill Zone - An update for SPACE on iOS

On the 2nd November, SPACE was removed by Apple from the App store.  They decided that the location-based approach which we use is no longer allowed.  We use this approach to show our users where they activate their phone and also to calculate screen time.  We’ve used this approach for 3 ½ years. We developed it in discussion with Apple.

Our existing iOS users will still have access to SPACE, but won’t be able to update it.  Their experience will slowly degrade. Thousands of other future users - people looking for solutions to help curb their phone addiction - will never be able to experience SPACE.  

We won’t be able to help them to find their phone/life balance.  

SPACE is not alone.  We believe that Apple is systematically targeting apps which compete with their own Screen Time functionality (released in September).   We are, in effect, in the kill zone.  

How do we know this?  Because our industry has a social purpose - to help develop healthy relationships between humans and technology.  And we all talk.

We’re in contact with most of the leading screen time and parental control apps.  Everyone we have spoken to is affected. Some, such as Freedom, were removed from the store and have been public about that.  Many others are in a nasty no-man’s-land, on notice from Apple, or in a situation where their updates are being blocked.  Others have caved and rebuilt apps without 90% of their previous functionality, just to keep something in the store. For those companies - with employees and investors - going public is a hard thing to do.  And then there’s the fear of Apple. After all, Apple control 50% of app distribution.

“Perhaps one-day they’ll change their mind, we’d better not get blacklisted for life…..”

If the issue really was with the use of location - based services for background-mode, then all apps using this approach would be removed from the store.  But many continue to prosper - such as daily tracker apps like Life Cycle. SPACE operates under a strict and transparent privacy policy. We don’t record or store location based data.  And yet we are being targeted. This inconsistency is something that is particularly hard to swallow.

Not only will our existing (and future) iOS users be impacted, but so too will our cross-platform solutions.  Our Android users won’t be able to add friends and family from iOS. Our corporate customers won’t be able to offer SPACE for all their employees.  We will struggle to raise funding for our business. We will struggle to support our ongoing academic research into phone addiction - research which relies on a cross-section of the market.  

The industry will suffer.  Digital wellbeing and the development of solutions to support it is just starting to be understood. SPACE (formerly Breakfree) has been a leader in this marketplace and is the most accurate of all the screen time trackers on iOS.  But we know that SPACE has a long way to go to be great. Innovation is critical. Just like with healthy eating, we need a variety of voices, solutions and brands that resonate with users in different ways to support the movement towards a more conscious relationship with technology.  

And yet we are approaching a situation where one of the two biggest providers of the devices to which we are trying to find balance with, is also in sole control of the solution.

Given the closed nature of the IOS platforms, these apps have relied (in some cases for four years) on location-based services, VPNs or MDM to deliver screen time statistics as the foundation for a diverse array of functionality.  Given there is no alternative method for these apps to function, the recent u-turn on policy eradicates the industry. Until Apple opens up an API for Screen Time, so that we can build exciting, supportive and game changing products off the back of it, it is the only way that digital wellbeing providers can exist across platforms.  

Our ask to Apple: keep us up until a point in time that you open up your Screen Time API for us to build even better products.

For now, we’re collecting our thoughts for the best next steps.  We are helping hundreds of thousands of users across our products on their journey to a healthier relationship with technology, and we’ll continue to do that for as long as we can.   We are so grateful to all our users who have helped us grow, who love SPACE, and who have shared with us how SPACE has changed their life.

We believe in a world where phone/life balance is achievable for all.   We will not give up on that mission.

Want to help?

Moved by what your hear?  Then get in touch

Know anyone at Apple?  Share our story...we’re trying to understand more.  We want to talk. We want to help Apple get serious about digital wellbeing.   

Want to support SPACE?  If you’re an Android user, upgrade to SPACE Pro today - it’s how we’ll keep the business alive.