Episode 9: Die With Me and the trouble with Apple

Dries Depoorter and David Surprenant discuss their struggle to get Apple to accept the final version of their app, Die With Me, into the App Store because it unintentionally brought attention to Apple's battery problems.

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Jon Henshaw: Welcome to the 9th episode of the Coywolf Digital Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Jon Henshaw. In this episode, I’m sharing an excerpt from my interview with Dries Depoorter and David Surprenant. Dries is a Belgian artist that focuses on themes around privacy, AI, surveillance, and multimedia, and he creates interactive installations, apps, and games. David is an interactive developer who also enjoys building interesting apps. They caught my attention online because of their collaboration on an app called Die With Me. The app could only be used if your iPhone or Android phone has less than five percent battery left on it. When you run it, it’ll connect you with people all over the world whose smartphones are also about to die and it lets you briefly chat together.

JH: I had to know more about how this app came into existence and wanted to learn more about its creators. In this excerpt from my 44-minute interview with them, they discuss the problems they had with Apple and how they eventually were able to get and keep the app in the App Store.

JH: I remember reading … I think it was either in Vice or TechCrunch or something like that where you talked about how it was actually a little difficult I think working with Apple. They were very, I don’t know, this might be overstating [crosstalk 00:01:34].

David Suprenant: The timing was bad for our app because of the stories of Apple and its battery.

JH: Oh that’s when it happened? You were doing it around that same time because that was about two years ago.

DS: It was an accident actually. It was really not planned and the day we were ready to launch it came out of the news, Apple with their battery and yeah it was …

JH: So it was like you’re poking them in the side at that time.

DS: Yeah. It was just timing.

JH: What kind of grief did they give you?

DS: The thing is we decided to launch one version of the application early in the process to be sure that okay, Apple accept our app and we are on the app store and we knew that the next update will, the process of reviewing will be less hard because the first time you release an application the reviewing time is super long. It took like one month that they open our app and decide if they want it on the App store or not and yeah, we just released an alpha version and that alpha version get accepted and when we wanted to release our final, final version for iOS they started to reject it because they found their application used this.

JH: Oh. So it worked fine. It didn’t necessarily go against their policies in general, they just thought it was a useless app.

DS: Exactly and we were like kind of fighting with them. Hey, guys, a lot of people are waiting for our app. It will work. A lot of person wants to talk about our app and no, no we don’t believe. We don’t believe, no, no, no. You need to do something else, no that doesn’t work. [crosstalk 00:03:26].

Dries Depoorter: Actually, yeah it was actually it’s in their guideline four point two. The main reason was always minimum functionality so yeah, we always got this feedback that actually I have a sentence before me, in front of me. The feedback was [inaudible 00:03:50] limited by the minimal amount of content or features it includes so that was always the feedback that they rejected for our app in the Apple App store.

JH: What they really meant to say was makes us look bad.

DD: Yeah.

JH: That’s the secret item four point eight point three makes Apple look bad.

DD: Yeah. Actually, at the time then it was super frustrating me and David where we frustrated about and they rejected us all the time and we tried a lot of different things. At a certain point, we tried and internet radios.

DD: Yeah, small games and sides. To have some functionality but yeah, that already killed a bit the concept. We really wanted to launch this app that you can’t use when you have less than five percent battery but was a long way for us.

JH: Well, it’s interesting because not that I necessarily want to go off on this tangent but when you are dealing with a platform that is closed and completely controlled, I mean it’s interesting to me because of the stuff, Dries, that you do around privacy and how companies do certain things on the internet. You’re essentially beholden to Apple in particular who likes to control everything, put everything behind the wall, approve all the things and that type of thing and so here you are this artist who makes these types of things to bring attention to it and you’re being completely denied by the platform you’re trying to bring attention to. It’s kind of a perfect mix.

DS: And also I guess, [inaudible 00:05:45] was at 400. Android doesn’t ask any questions. You just push your project and it’s live. It’s the community will rate your things.

JH: Yeah, you definitely have more flexibility with Android and that world. Although I think Google’s trying to reign things in there too. I will say just to be fair out of all the giant, monopolistic conglomerates Apple, even though I think it’s probably more from a marketing perspective to differentiate themselves, they are better at privacy but still at the same time it’s fascinating to me that based on the timing, other issues with batteries when you were trying to push this and the fact that you kept on getting denied because they were saying this has no utility, it has no use that you had to go through that. I think this is something that plenty of other people have had to deal with in some form or fashion. I don’t mean making this specific app for Apple but I mean when you have this idea and you create it and you’re excited about it and it’s actually functioning and then people start putting roadblocks in front of you for whatever reason because maybe it somehow goes against their own interest.

JH: It sounds like you didn’t give up, neither of you gave up and you even tried to find other ways around getting into it by adding other functionality. What kind of experience and advice would you give people who are listening right now particularly to people who are from an entrepreneurial background who are trying to make something and they keep on having walls put in front of them as far as not giving up and how did you deal with that?

DD: I’m not a really great motivational speaker but actually, I think we didn’t give up. We really believed in [inaudible 00:07:56]. We put so much time already in this and it was super frustrating but we tried a lot of things and yeah, there’s a lot of artists having this same experience and I reached out to them also like, “Hey, how did you push through?” Surround me with other people and me and David like all that we heard through a lot of stories, we did a little research about how all the process go into but yeah we just continue working on this because we believed in it. I don’t know if David has to say something.

DS: Exactly like you and it’s belief. First, believe in your things. Always believe in your things, the most, most, most important things in the world and yeah.

JH: I guess just persistence. Don’t give up.

DS: Exactly. Sure. If you’re sure about [inaudible 00:08:50] things that for sure it will work, for sure if your motivation is there, if all your energy is, it’s well placed. No way to not succeed.

JH: Did you ever doubt yourself though? A lot of times when people are in this situation they just start to doubt whether this was a good idea.

DS: We did. We passed by this feeling, both of us when we got this rejection. We were like yeah, indeed. But after that you come back and you need to take a little break, two seconds and just okay let’s go, we can do it, we will find a solution and we did.

JH: Is that because you’re both optimists? How did you come to that conclusion together?

DS: We just try to like I just told you, find other functionalities and yeah. We were sure at one point it will work.

JH: It sounds like you would just continue to regroup and-

DS: Well, actually what happened is we just decide that at one point, okay we will really start application even if it’s buggy on iOS, this we released. Even if Apple doesn’t accept us anymore we will release. That’s what happened and we went viral automatically.

JH: Well, it also sounds like not just that but you in the most practical terms you kept on trying to find another way to get in. In other words, it’s don’t accept the rejection and just be like okay so they said it’s this, what can I add that will supposedly give it more use or utility to them even if that’s not part of your vision.

DD: Yeah, and actually also I believed really in, Apple they’re not open about how the process going to the review process so you don’t know if it’s the same people watch your app. You don’t know.

DS: Yeah, exactly.

DD: And we got accepted this first version, really buggy version and then we launched it really frustrated. We launched it a month later or something because our updates were not accepted anymore but then it got pretty viral and then now when we push in updates they were super fast so that was nice to see.

DS: And really it was like one day they just decide to accept finally our application without telling us nothing. Our update was now accepted.

JH: You beat them into submission.

DS: Yeah.

JH: They were tired of dealing with you.

DS: Yeah, yeah. The other version that was set up on the platform that was really going to be to get the Apple analyzed and they took this version and they put it automatically without noticing us. They just one day just revert their mind and they accept our product. The app accepted our product.

JH: What do you think happened? Do you think that pressure from media, like you said you try to be on some radio or getting people to write about you or whatever it might be or do you think that-

DS: It’s the number of-

JH: You just got the right person that day to look at it?

DS: No, it’s the number of downloads that we got like we were super viral. Our thing was going super nuts and they [inaudible 00:12:23].

JH: It has use, it has utility.

DS: Yeah, it works. It works. I think that’s why they decided to revert their things because now they found it was not useless anymore.

JH: You can listen to the full interview with Dries and David at coywolf.io/diewithme. Thanks for listening.

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Jon Henshaw

Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @[email protected]