Figure out rubbish Windows phone store to win rubbish Windows phone.

VLC Remote has been available in the Windows Phone store since 2012. The last update was in August 2014. It has 36 reviews with an average 5 star rating.

Microsoft have unpublished it from the store because

…it does not accurately reflect the source, functionality, capabilities or features of the app

They haven’t given me much more information than this. In fact, they seem to have made it impossible for me to even change things if I can figure out what the problem actually is.

So I’m launching a competition. If you can figure out what I did, and how to get VLC Remote published again, then you win a rubbish windows phone. (Full competition rules at the bottom!)

I’m not really expecting much – so this is probably a farewell  rant as Hobbyist Software exits the windows store, with only a little regret.

ScreenPlay

The background

When Microsoft launched windows phone, I assumed they had enough money and commitment to make the ecosystem work, so I had VLC Remote ported to run on windows phone.

The OS has some great design features, and we tried to make use of them to build a great remote.

Sadly, the store has not delivered in terms of revenue. VLC Remote has earned slightly less than £2000 over it’s lifetime, which makes it a pretty rubbish investment for me.

Nonetheless, I like the app, and while it is live, then I want it to be good. A month or so ago, we kicked off a smallish project to support windows 8.1 and the new larger screen sizes. This was triggered by an invitation by myappfree.it to be their free app for a day.

Updating was unexpectedly painful, and came with minor annoyances and ‘windows-isms’ such as some disappearing core http support which only shows on the device (fortunately, I had bought a new windows 8 device to test on), and requirements like the app tile called SquareTile71x71 which of course has to be 170px by 170px.

Adding the new version to the store seems to delete all saved app information and screenshots requiring an annoying re-uploading of images and text – but all that can be overcome, and I finally pressed submit.

Importantly – when I submitted the new version, I set things so that the new version would not be automatically published. I wanted to wait until myappfree were ready before releasing the new version.

Within 24 hours, the new version was approved.

Congratulations! VLC Remote app has successfully passed certification to be included in the Windows Phone Store.

I wrote to myappfree to tell them I was ready.

Note that at this stage, the new version is still waiting in the wings ready for me to click ‘make it so’. The version in the store is the one that has been there since August 2014.

Unfortunately the day after VLC Remote was approved, I got an email to say that the existing app had been unpublished.

Microsoft has unpublished one or more of the apps registered to your account as they do not comply with Windows Phone and Windows Store Policy Requirement 10.1. The app metadata does not accurately represent the features, functionality, and capabilities of the app.

Section 10.1 in full:

Your app and its associated metadata must accurately and clearly reflect the source, functionality, and features of your app.

  • The screenshots, app name, developer name, tile, category and app description, and any other related metadata you provide with your app, should make it easy for a user to understand the functions, features, and any important limitations of your app.
  • Your app may not use a name or icon similar to that of other apps.
  • You should not represent your app to be from a company, government body, or other entity if you do not have permission to make that representation.
  • If your app contains content or features restricted to certain languages, markets or geographies or has other important limitations, they should be clearly described.
  • Your app must be fully functional and offer customers unique, creative value or utility.
  • If your app declares an association with a given file type or extensibility point, it must provide the functionality that a customer would expect, given that association. For example, if your app declares an association with the .jpg file type, the app should be able to open the image for viewing or editing.

I’m not sure which of these I have broken.

My first version of VLC Remote was released on iOS in 2008.

It is a remote control for VLC, and the description in the store is more or less exactly the same as the description I use on iOS and Android.

The 5 star reviews seem to support the notion that it works.

My first assumption was that this was a stupid error, so I wrote back in perhaps not the most conciliatory of tone.

I am extremely unimpressed.

Why has my app been unpublished?

You say that the metadata is inaccurate, but I can’t see any inaccuracy – and you have given no specific details.
This app has been active and in good standing in the windows phone store for years without issue. The last update was in August last year (although I have a new update which I have not yet chosen to publish).
I lose money on the Windows store – I keep my app here because I have already invested the time to build it, and hope that some day Microsoft will make a go of Windows Phone. This kind of treatment doesn’t encourage me to continue investing.
You can call me on [xxx] to put things right and apologise.
Rob Jonson
Needless to say, I didn’t receive the hoped-for apology.

 

Hello Rob,

Thank you for your reply.

The app was unpublished from the Store because it does not accurately reflect the source, functionality, capabilities or features of the app. Please refer to the related guidelines in this blog.

Best Regards,

Windows Phone and Windows Store Team

I challenge you to figure out from the blog post where my mistake lies.

A final insult

When I log in to the store, I now see the two versions (the current, and pending release), with all key functions hyperlinked to this generic contact page.

 

2015-01-31 06.23.22 pm

As far as I can tell: Even if I can figure out why Microsoft have unpublished my app – there is no way for me to edit it and resubmit!

The competition

So – here is the challenge:

  1. If you can figure out what I need to do to get VLC Remote published again, then email me and let me know.
  2. The winner will win a somewhat rubbish second hand windows phone.
  3. In the spirit of windows rubbish-ness, I will pay for postage only if you are in the UK.
  4. If multiple people figure it out, then I shall capriciously pick a winner based on criteria which I shall not disclose.

Until then, this is Hobbyist Software signing off from Windows Phone.

 

PS – No Microsoft rant would be complete without referencing the importance of developers to their flagging platform

 


 

Update 1 – Sunday 1 Feb 2015

Most of the emails I have had from users suggest that the issue is probably with the name VLC Remote or the icon.

That certainly seems like the best guess.

Of course, if Microsoft were to tell me what the problem is and how to fix it, then that would be best. Moreover:

  1. The app has been live in the Windows Phone store since 2012 – they could have emailed me to request a change rather than simply ‘unpublishing’ the app without warning.
  2. They have not told me what is wrong, or what I would need to change.
  3. There is no way for me to make any changes. The app is locked, and the links where you would normally edit things simply link to the generic contact page.

If Microsoft were to contact me with details, I could let them know my thoughts.

I have been using the name VLC Remote since 2008 across various mobile platforms. It has generated millions of downloads (mostly for the free versions sadly!).

I have been using the name VLC Remote on the Windows Phone platform since 2012 without issue.

The logo incorporates the VLC cone which is itself released under GPL. There is no formal approval process from Videolan, but I did ask some key people before I started using it in 2008. As far as I am aware, there has been no complaint from Videolan (and I’m a moderately active member of the Videolan community)

Hobbyist Software owns the UK trademark for VLC Remote.

The succession of 5* reviews don’t indicate a set of users who feel misled about the apps functionality.

No word from Microsoft, but it is a weekend.

Update 2, Monday 2 Feb, 5pm 2015

One of my emails generated a response:

Thank you for your email. I see that you are inquiring why your app VLC Remote was removed from the Windows Phone Store without being given a clear description of why it has been removed. I understand your concerns and I wanted to inform you that I have proactively began the process to investigate this issue with our policy team. You will receive direct communication from the policy team in regards to the status of your app and what steps you may need to take to get your app back in to the Windows Phone store. Once you have communicated with the policy team you should be able to make changes to your app based on their instructions. I ensure you I will continue to monitor your app and will let you know of any new information until your app is placed back in the Windows Phone Store.

In the meantime, please let me know if you have any additional questions.

The app is still unpublished, and un-editable in my developer account.

 Update 3, Tuesday 3 Feb 2015

This morning, I got a very polite email from a program manager at Windows.

VLC Remote is back on the store.

I am a program manager on the Windows Developer Platform team and came across your blog on Reddit.

I had the store team look into what happened and they confirmed that your app has been restored.

I do not have the details of what led to this but will share once I have them. Please let me know if you are still running into issues.

We do care about our developers! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any question or concerns!

This gentleman is of course the competition winner, and is now entitled to a second hand blue Nokia 800! I don’t know if he’ll chose to pay the shipping…

The 8.1 update is now ready to go and will go live on the 18th February.

 Update 4, Tuesday 24 Feb 2015

I submitted an update on Monday to remove a single line from the app description

VLC Remote is App of The Day on myAppFree, don't miss your daily deals http://get.myappfree.it

This seems to have triggered the same problem again.

App Policies: 10.1 Metadata

Your app and its associated metadata must accurately and clearly reflect the source, functionality, and features of your app.

<snip – list of policies>

Notification/Action Requested:

The app and its associated metadata do not accurately represent its source, functionality, or features. Please refer to the blog post for additional policy guidance: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/buildingapps/archive/2014/05/13/enhanced-windows-store-app-discoverability-refreshed-user-experience-and-policy-updates.aspx.

I’ll email back and copy in the chap who helped out last time.

This will be my last update to VLC Remote on Windows Phone, it simply isn’t worth it for me to carry on.

 Update 5, Wed 25th Feb 2015

Things are moving much more quickly this time. The chap who helped me last time bounced my email onto somebody else who first offered to try to create an exception, then wrote again instructing me:

I got some help from one of our certification experts. Please prepare your re-submission and include the text below in your ‘Tester Notes’.

“Do not fail for 10.1 – please escalate to <named person>”

(<named person> is going help us get your app approved. )

Unfortunately, unless I’m missing something – there isn’t a tester notes field available when I submit an update.

I have submitted anyway and am crossing my fingers.

Update 6, June 2016

 

The same nonsense is happening again

 

Translations please…

VLC Remote and VLC Streamer rely on you to translate them into your native language.

If you’d like to help – please click through to http://translate.hobbyistsoftware.com and translate some strings.

The site isn’t really mobile-friendly, so you probably want to do this on your laptop.

I’m always happy to provide free copies if you help with translations – email me at rob @ hobbyistsoftware.com if that would help.

Thank you!

Dolby codecs, software patents, legal threats

Short version:

If you copy movies to VLC Streamer using iTunes, then as from version 4.12, you’ll get a warning message and no sound for movies using these Dolby codecs.

  • Dolby Digital (AC3)
  • Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3)
  • Dolby TrueHD (MLP)

The reason for this is that Dolby claim that playing sound encoded in those codecs would breach their patents. Although this is arguable – it isn’t in practice something I can fight.

The workaround is fairly simple; Instead of copying your movies via iTunes, you should stream them from the helper app (the helper app uses the desktop version of VLC to do the conversion).

In the paid version, you can also copy movies using the helper app so that you can watch them when you are away from home.

Long version:

Before I get into the details, I want to be very clear that Dolby’s representative was a pleasure to work with. He was perfectly reasonable and courteous. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer legal shakedown. I don’t believe that Dolby’s demands were valid – but he was doing his job in a perfectly professional manner.

On the 22nd November, I got a notice from Apple via the AppStore.

On 10/14/2014, we received a notice from Dolby Laboratories that Dolby Laboratories believes your apps listed below infringe their intellectual property rights. In particular, Dolby Laboratories believes you are infringing their copyright. Please see their comments below.

You can reach Dolby Laboratories through [redacted], copied on this email.

We look forward to receiving written assurance that your applications do not infringe Dolby Laboratories’s rights, or that the parties are taking steps to promptly resolve the matter.  Please keep us apprised of your progress.

[snip]

Comments from Complainant: The App(s) indicated contain and/or practice Dolby’s intellectual property, including patents and copyrighted source code and/or pseudocode, namely Dolby Digital (AC3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3), and/or Dolby TrueHD (MLP) without authorization.

The ability to play this kind of movie was a fairly recent addition. In version 4.0 (released at the start of October), I added MobileVLCKit to VLC Streamer to handle movies copied through iTunes that don’t play in the system player.

MobileVLCKit is the engine that powers the VLC app on iOS, so it is capable and powerful. You can tell that VLC Streamer is playing something with MobileVLCKit if you see an orange screen at the start of playback. It is MobileVLCKit which plays these movies, and MobileVLCKit which I eventually had to hobble to stop VLC Streamer from being removed from the AppStore.

I asked how much it would cost to licence the patents. Playing these movies was a new and smallish feature – but clearly valuable to some people, so I’d have been willing to pay something.

…I’m glad you’re interested in becoming properly licensed.  We have a standard process for that which begins by filling out this online form (it just captures generic info like contact data, etc):

http://www.dolby.com/us/en/professional/licensing/apply-license-consumer.aspx

You should also know that there are fees associated with becoming licensed.  Specifically, there is a $25,000 one-time initial fee and a recurring $5,000 annual maintenance fee.  There is also a per-unit royalty that has a tiered structure, due quarterly, based on annual total usage, as follows:

0-100,000 downloads at $0.99 per download

100,001-1,000,000 downloads at $0.67 per download

1,000,001+ downloads at $0.45 per download

Remember that this would apply to the free version of VLC Streamer as well as the paid version. Clearly this is not an option.

I contacted a senior Developer involved with VLC and asked for an opinion. His opinion was that the patent claims were bogus.

I didn’t write the code for VLC, and I’m not an expert on patent law, but I know that software patents are at the very least controversial in Europe.

The VLC legal page shows their interpretation.

‘Neither French law nor European conventions recognize software as patentable […]. Therefore, software patents licenses do not apply on VideoLAN software.’

Incidentally, this is presumably why Dolby haven’t stopped VLC from distributing the desktop player which plays the exact same codecs. The VLC desktop version is what does the conversion of your videos in the helper so that they can be streamer to VLC Streamer.

The full list of Dolby’s patent claims is given at the bottom of the list.

Nonetheless, it is clear that unless I was willing to spend ridiculous sums on lawyers, Dolby’s claims to Apple would be sufficient to get VLC Streamer closed down.

Personally, I believe software patents are a terrible idea. I’m not alone in that. Other than donating to the Pirate Party and organisations like the EFF and the Open Rights Group, there isn’t much I can do.

To round up, here is the list of patents which Dolby claims I was infringing. I did ask for a list split by patent – but my contact at Dolby was unable to provide that.

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  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 664 943
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 709 004
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 709 005
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 757 506
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 827 647
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 940 015
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 175 670
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 216 474
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 386 312
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 590 801
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 617 418
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 723 638
  • UNITED KINGDOM 2 194 528
  • UNITED KINGDOM 0 826 274
  • UNITED KINGDOM 1 173 925
  • UNITED KINGDOM 2 323 754
  • UNITED STATES 5,291,557
  • UNITED STATES 5,394,473
  • UNITED STATES 5,581,653
  • UNITED STATES 5,583,962
  • UNITED STATES 5,623,577
  • UNITED STATES 5,632,003
  • UNITED STATES 5,633,981
  • UNITED STATES 5,890,106
  • UNITED STATES 6,016,295
  • UNITED STATES 6,246,345
  • UNITED STATES 6,978,236
  • UNITED STATES 7,181,389
  • UNITED STATES 7,313,519
  • UNITED STATES 7,318,027
  • UNITED STATES 7,318,035
  • UNITED STATES 7,516,064
  • UNITED STATES 8,036,880
  • UNITED STATES 6,611,212
  • UNITED STATES 6,664,913
  • UNITED STATES 6,774,820
  • UNITED STATES 6,784,812
  • UNITED STATES 6,891,482
  • UNITED STATES 7,193,538

 

Note for media – I haven’t published the details of the Dolby representative as I don’t want him being spammed. If you need to contact him to confirm details, or seek comment, then contact me via rob at hobbyistsoftware.com

Dropbox Support (plus opening videos from other apps)

VLC Streamer 4.10 adds full Dropbox support.

Dropbox is awesome – it creates a magical folder on your computer which is backed up to the internet, and available on all your devices.

If you don’t have Dropbox, then click on http://HobbyistSoftware.com/GetDropbox to get Dropbox. It is Awesome!

VLC Streamer lets you download movies from Dropbox, or if you have already downloaded them in the Dropbox app – you can open them in VLC Streamer instantly.

Click here to read all about it (and how to open files from your email, safari, and other apps).

 

Beta testers wanted!

Apple’s new Beta Testing service is now live.

If you have an iOS8 device, then I can now add you to my list of beta testers and get your input on new features (and possible new bugs!)

If you’re interested in getting involved in testing and developing VLC Streamer, VLC Remote and Off Remote, then I’d love to have you in the group.

To sign up – please just apply to join this google group.

Or go to http://HobbyistSoftware.com/beta on your desktop.

Make sure to sign up with the email address you use for your apple id.

I’ll add you to the group and look forward to your input!

Thank you!

Why we’re not supporting Chromecast

I get asked about Chromecast a handful of times a month.

I have a Chromecast to test on, and I love the concept. I’d love to be able to support it with VLC Streamer.

Unfortunately, Chromecast just doesn’t work very well.

In my testing – it fails to play most streams (streams that play fine on Android, iOS and VLC).

I wrote in the forum a couple of months ago with more details for the technically minded.

I assume that Chromecast will get better over time, and I’ll give it a try again in a few months.

Unfortunately, my expectation of Chromecast is not necessarily one that the Chromecast team share. I expect Chromecast to ‘just work’.

If streams play on iOS and Android, then I don’t expect to have to battle to format them specially for Chromecast. Equally, I expect integration to be simple rather – whereas the Chromecast team expect me to implement a whole complex system of searching and communication.

For the most part – the Chromecast team response has been to refer to state that vlc streamer steams don’t meet the required specification and that any crashes are therefore not Chromecast’s problem.

You can see the lively discussion here. It’s one of the most +1’d posts on the ChromeCasst developer forum.  I think that means I’m not the only frustrated developer.

As a Chromecast owner, I’m not sure what you can do. The fact is that Chromecast is hard to integrate – and doesn’t do a good job with HLS streams. Until the Chromecast developers fix that – VLC Streamer won’t be supporting Chromecast.

 

VLC Streamer – with added VLC

VLC Streamer now has a full VLC playback engine.

We use it to play back various ‘difficult’ files. You’ll know that we’re using VLC if the movie starts with the distinctive orange screen.

You can choose to use VLC for playback by tapping on the info box next to the movie and selecting ‘play in VLC’.

One major advantage of adding VLC is that we can now play most movies copied through iTunes without the need for conversion. If you’re going away from home – this may be a great option.

More details on how to copy movies available here

The playback is powered by VLCKit which is licenced under the LGPL version 2.1

VLC Streamer – brand new design

Apple just approved the free version of VLC Streamers new design (together with some fixes for the paid version).

This has been a huge project, but should now work beautifully with the new iPhone 6 and 6+ as well as iPads, iPhones and iPod touches.

We have tried to give more information,  and also to make it easier to do things like deleting or copying multiple movies.

People have been asking for the ability to organise movies in folders for a long time – and we now have something (even better) in that you can tag movies, and even give movies multiple tags.

This new build actually has VLC built into it for playback in some circumstances, but I’ll post more on that later!

I hope you like it.

There will inevitably be some rough edges -so please send your feedback. You can send email from the settings page, or head over to the forum.

Thank you!

VLC Streamer 4 – password issue (now fixed)

Update: As of 6th October, Apple have approved the update which should sort this issue and a handful of other minor problems. Please make sure you update to 4.01.


 

Apple just approved VLC Streamer 4, which is a massive redesign, and which fully supports iOS8 and the new devices.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of bugs.

The main one is that if you’re using a password on your helper, then if you can’t enter a new password. (If your old password is saved, that should continue working).

I’ll submit a fix today (4 Oct) and request an expedited review. Apple are swamped at the moment though, so this may take a while.

In the meantime, the only workaround is to turn off the password on your helper, though I understand that isn’t appropriate for everyone.

The other bug is the thoroughly ugly green background on the title in the main movie list (on iPhones only). I just want to assure you that this is an error rather than terrible taste…

my apologies for the inconvenience – I’ll get a fix out asap.

–update: 5th Oct

I submitted the fix on the 4th, and Apple have approved the expedited review request, so that should reduce the waiting time.

VLC Streamer iOS8 update

Things always break when there is a new version of iOS8, and this version has more changes than most.

I have been working on a huge rebuild of VLC Streamer which adds a bundle of new features and completely revamps the UI. Amongst other things, this makes it much easier to transfer movies through iTunes, and lets you tag movies to arrange them into groups/folders.

I had hoped to release this as a beta using Apple’s new TestFlight system. This is an excellent new system which promises to allow up to 1000 beta testers to try new apps before they are fully released. I had hoped this would mean that the new version got a thorough test, and I could fix anything I missed before pushing the update to everyone.

Unfortunately, my plans have been halted by the fact that Apple haven’t enabled this functionality yet.

This means that I need to wait for an Apple review before the new version goes live. That’s likely to take 5-10 days.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in signing up to be a beta tester when Apple does release the new system, please join the mailing list here:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/hobbyist-software-beta-testing

thanks for your patience!