Sherlocking, explained

When it comes to Apple, Sherlocking is a nail-biter for app developers.

You might assume “sherlocking” means using deductive reasoning skills, and that’d probably be true most of the time — but when it comes to Apple, in particular, that’s not the case.

Sherlocking, explained

Sherlocking is when Apple introduces a new feature that renders a third-party tool irrelevant.

How it started

Mac OS 8 and 9’s Sherlock feature could search for content on a user’s computer, but with OS X, it could also pull info from the internet using plug-ins, per How-To Geek.

In 2001, developer Dan Wood made Watson, a complementary $30 app that expanded what Sherlock could pull — movie showtimes, exchange rates, weather reports, and more.

But when Apple unveiled Mac OS X 10.2, Sherlock could do nearly everything Watson could. Wood claims Steve Jobs himself called, comparing devs like Wood to someone pumping a handcar along railroad tracks — tracks Apple owned.

From that point on…

… Apple upending a third-party tool has been known as “sherlocking.” Other examples:

  • Apple’s Pay Later, a potential replacement for services like Klarna
  • Medication and sleep-tracking tools, sherlocking… a whole bunch of apps, actually
  • Sidecar, which sets up iPads as second monitors, upsetting Duet Display and Luna Display

Apple isn’t alone in this, and the term has been used when other large companies do it — like when Google dropped a volume mixer akin to EarTrumpet.

In some cases…

… new features may simply be the natural progression of a company’s offerings.

Yet many smaller companies, including Luna Display maker Astropad and multiple health-monitoring companies, say Apple took meetings with them first or, worse, poached employees or tried to invalidate their patents.

Apple is frequently under antitrust scrutiny from regulators worldwide. In the US:

  • The DOJ is investigating if Apple favors its own products (e.g., AirTags over Tile).
  • Sherlocking came up in a 2021 Senate hearing. Apple’s chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer said it wasn’t copying or killing apps, but offering “a new choice and… innovation.”

But what will regulators say?

BTW: Astropad published some tips for sherlocked companies.

Topics: Apps

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