Apple is restoring a feature in its upcoming version of iOS that had plagued makers of geolocation apps.
The feature allows the apps to continue tracking users’ locations in the background, even if the app is switched off. Apple’s current version, 1.7, disconnects geolocation features when users kill a running application in the Switcher.
And it appears to be the result of a letter sent by an app maker to Apple chief executive Tim Cook.
Life360 chief executive and co-founder Chris Hulls recently sent Cook what he called a “Hail Mary” letter diplomatically complaining that Apple’s iOS 7 wouldn’t allow users to successfully run his company’s geolocation safety app.
Hulls was floored by what happened next.
“I guess he was listening,” Hulls told VentureBeat, noting the letter was sent to Cook February 1. “They fixed it.”
This is good news for Life360.com, a San Francisco-based company that lets users automatically track the locations of children and family members via wireless geolocation sequencing. The company, launched in 2008 with a $300,000 grant from Google, now has over 30 million users, with 50,000 more registering daily. Users pay $5 a month for the service, with over 400 million virtual locations tracked every 24 hours.
Previous Apple operating systems ran the app fine, Hulls said, but not iOS 7. And Android, he said, has never had problems running it. Now, Hulls says, a tweak of Apple’s iOS 7.1 beta version — said to be gearing for official release in March — has restored the capabilities.
Hulls, now 30, at one point had to move into his parents’ home in Marin, Calif., after he launched Life360 due to financial concerns. So he’s breathing a sigh of relief over the quick fix from Apple.
“We’re very happy with Apple’s decision,” he said, adding that Life360 engineers noticed that when iOS 7 was released in 2013, it changed how the operating system functioned. If a user killed the app from the switcher, all geolocation background services stopped working. This affected both desktop and mobile users.
As a result, he said, geolocation software developers saw up to a 50 percent decrease in app use.
In other words, iOS 7 was bad for Hull’s business.
“Our team had to spend lots of time finding ways to work around the problem,” he said.
After Hull sent the letter, Apple reached out to Life360 to give them a heads-up the function was being restored in OS 7.1.
Hull’s letter, signed by numerous developers, opened:
Dear Apple iOS Development Team,
We are a group of Apple developers who rely on iOS geolocation services for core parts of our businesses. iOS 7 was hugely exciting to us, as new features such as Location Beacons, Background Networking, and Multi-Peer Connectivity give us the ability to do things we never thought were possible.
In previous versions of iOS, if a user killed an application in the app switcher, developers were still able to get geolocation in the background. With iOS 7, once a user kills an application, all processes are terminated until the user manually restarts the app. We appreciate the intent behind this change, which we realize was done to give users more control over what is running on their phones, but it has caused major unintended consequences. … Many developers who rely on background geolocation have seen their app ratings fall by over 3 stars.
Life360 has raised $25 million in two rounds of venture funding to date. Hulls said business is good and that he spends part of his days reviewing — and fending off — acquisition requests.
An Apple spokesperson said the company maintains communication with many app developers but referred this reporter’s questions to a section of the Cupertino-based firm’s website outlining how bugs and developer requests are officially handled. Apple declined further comment.
“We’re very appreciative to Apple,” Hull says. “They listen to their developers.”