The developer of the email management app Blue Mail is suing Apple for allegedly infringing on its patent and violating antitrust laws.
Blix filed a lawsuit against Apple at a federal court in Delaware last week. The app maker claims that the Cupertino-based tech company took many of the ideas behind Blue Mail and used them to create its own "Sign in with Apple" feature.
Apple's Alleged Unfair Practices
Apple has had its fair share of legal battles against app developers, mainly centered on the iPhone maker's liberal use of concepts borrowed from other apps. The company has also been accused several times over the years of engaging in unfair practices to compete with other firms that rely on the App Store.
However, many of the app developers who've taken on Apple were known tech companies themselves. Spotify, for instance, filed a complaint to the European Union earlier this year about Apple's supposed use of the App Store to push its own music streaming service over other apps.
Blix's lawsuit is an example where a smaller company would challenge the bigger Apple to protect its rights.
Blue Mail Versus Apple's Sign In Feature
Blue Mail allows users to create and use random email addresses to protect their privacy. People can use the service to exchange emails with others without having to reveal their actual email address.
The app was only launched in 2015, but it has already accumulated as many as 10 million users worldwide, according to research company Sensor Tower.
In 2017, Blue Mail received considerable national exposure when it was featured on NBC's Today Show. Mario Armstrong, Today's resident digital lifestyle expert, named the app as one of the must-haves for the year.
Apple's Sign In service shares some noticeable similarities with Blue Mail. Just like Blix's app, the iPhone maker's offering allows users to use their Apple credentials to create multiple accounts across the internet.
It has provisions were users can randomly generate email addresses and share them with other companies instead of their real ones. Apple forwards all of the messages sent through the random addresses to the user's actual accounts.
If users want to stop receiving forwarded emails, such as when they get too many spam messages, they can simply have the service discontinued.
In its complaint, Blix doesn't claim to have come up with the idea of using random email addresses. Several other companies also offer the same service to their customers. However, the Blue Mail creator believes Apple took advantage of its patented method of providing masked email addresses.
Blix also alleged that Apple deliberately caused Blue Mail's standing in the App Store to plummet, especially after the app introduced an "anonymous share" feature.
While Blix's suit doesn't provide any specific evidence that point to Apple's role in damaging Blue Mail's downloads ranking, it does offer a potential motive. The company believes the iPhone maker did so because it was already preparing to debut a similar service to Blue Mail in less than a year at that point.
Earlier this year, Blix launched a desktop version of the Blue Mail for Mac. When it started to climb up the App Store rankings, the company said it received an email from Apple claiming that the app violated the marketplace's terms of service. The iPhone maker claimed that Blue Mail was spammy, and that it had too many similarities with other apps.
Without Blue Mail in the App Store, Blix said people are less inclined to download and install it to their Macs. Apple also discourages users to install apps to their devices from sources outside of the App Store.
The app developer asked Apple to provide more details on Blue Mail's supposed infractions. The iPhone maker said the app was too similar to TypeApp, a product owned by Blue Mail's parent company and was no longer offered in the App Store.
When Blix tried to challenge Apple's accusations, the iPhone maker allegedly went on to remove Blue Mail from the App Store entirely.