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Ice Cubes, a new and splendid client Mastodon

In the early days of Twitter, I wrote an article titled “Twitter Clients Are a UI Design Playground.” That playground dried up in a few years because Twitter closed the doors. Part of what made Twitter a great platform for new iPhone customers was the nature of Twitter itself: a small post timeline is optimal for consumption on a small screen. But one essential aspect was that the Twitter APIs were open.

Today, Mastodon’s explosive growth in the face of Twitter’s collapse has made it a new UI playground, especially on iOS. I’m following, and using, at least half a dozen great new Mastodon iOS clients, each one distinctive.one Mastodon has that small nugget timeline nature like Twitter, but it’s a truly open platform There are no limits to what developers can choose to do with the Mastodon APIs. However, there are limits to what iOS developers can offer users – App Store review.

Ice Cubes is a very fun new Mastodon client, written in SwiftUI, by Thomas Ricouard. It works great on iPhone and iPad, and while I still wouldn’t call it a good Mac client, it’s surprisingly believable on Mac for a cross-platform app designed for iPad. I would call your Mac status promising. It’s open source and has an open beta version of TestFlight (which is how I’ve been using it).

But in what can only be described as Kafkaesque and unfortunately all too familiar: Ice Cubes 1.0’s submission to the App Store has been sitting in limbo for an entire week. Clumsy faceless reviewers looking at Ice Cubes repeatedly reject it for utterly absurd reasons, mainly violating guideline 4.2.2, “Minimal functionality”:

We noticed that your app only includes links, images, or aggregated content from the Internet with limited or no native iOS functionality. Although this content may be curated from the web specifically for your users, because it is not sufficiently different from a mobile web browsing experience, it is not appropriate for the App Store.

Now it’s six days, a week! — after that initial rejection and Ricouard keeps hitting his head against the Apple hole. Seven rejections in six days. It’s enough to make one start pricing Pixel phones.

Ice Cubes is not only a Mammoth customer. It’s nice and rich, fully embracing iOS platform-specific features and design expressions. You can jump into the TestFlight beta and experience it yourself, but it’s easy to see from the screenshots alone. For God’s sake, just look at the app icon. It’s the complete opposite of a thin wrapper around a web app: it’s truly native, painstakingly designed, and built using Apple’s declared framework of the future, SwiftUI. It exemplifies what Apple encourages developers to do, and it’s exactly the kind of app that makes the iPhone, iPad, and Mac the platforms they are. Native apps are what make Apple platforms stand out, yet App Store reviewers who repeatedly reject Ice Cubes apparently think iOS and Mac users are better off using the same cross-platform web apps available on Android, Windows and Chromebooks.

I don’t usually ask for anyone to be fired, but an App Store reviewer who can’t see how ice cubes “differ[s] from a mobile web browsing experience” is an embarrassment to the company and provides fodder for all the frustrated developers who think Apple has completely lost its way as a steward of the company and the platform that respects the work of independent developers.

iPhone Twitter clients were the bright lights in that design playground a decade ago. The best interfaces for Twitter, on any platform, were all native apps on iPhone and Mac. Now we’re on the cusp of a new frontier with Mastodon, and it’s Apple’s App Store red tape reviewers, completely clueless, who are doing their best to close the gates to the new playground before it even opens.

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