This is a report of my interaction with Apple Inc. I have been watching Apple’s iPhone related news lately and i remember one of the iPhone OS related event where Apple executives took questions from media and one of the questions was about how difficult it was to find the quality apps from hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store. To which Steve Jobs did not have a clear answer and murmured they are trying several things to improve the interface.
This is where my research expertise come. It was a perfect example to implement a semantic search and discovery algorithm. So i put together the algorithm and tested out on 12000 apps that were available through the RSS feed (300 x 20 x 2) and it worked well. Next, I wrote this mail to Steve Jobs:
On Apr 23, 2010, at 10:46 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I am developing a semantic solution for the iTunes App Store app discoverability problem. It would automatically find out well reviewed apps that match query semantics using machine learning and NLP. Would you be interested to support this effort?
Sure enough he was interested as evidenced from this mail I received from Apple’s manager for iTunes:
On Apr 27, 2010, at 4:56 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:
Hi Kandarp –
My name is Patrick Gates – I’m an engineering manger in the team at Apple responsible for the iTunes Store and App Store. I understand you’re interested in solutions for discoverability within the app store, and I wonder if you might have time to discuss this. It’s probably safest if we avoid talking about your specific ideas for now and instead focus on your background and how we might work together.
Would you be available for a phone call some time soon?
So we set up a time for the call. He calls me on Apr 28, 11 AM PDT (11:30 PM Indian time) and describes his role at Apple and is impressed with my research background from IIT to CMU. I tell him specifically I need the App Store data and he says like he can easily do that. Next he says that if I have incorporated the startup, Apple could acquire it or he could hire me to work with him. I tell him I am open to any instrument that will facilitate me to work on this problem. He then says he will call me the next day with more details and asks me to submit some sample search results of my algorithm in the mean time. He appeared to be genuinely interested, very eager and enthusiastic to work with me. But what followed was an awful experience.
I submit sample search outputs of my algorithm next morning and wait for his call at night. No call. The next day passes, the weekend goes, no calls or email. On Monday, I enquire and receive a response:
On May 3, 2010, at 11:58 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I hope you had received my last e-mail giving sample app search output of my algorithm.
Waiting for your response.
On May 4, 2010, at 12:45 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:
Hi Kandarp –
My apologies for not getting back to you last week – I was out sick for three days so it will take me a few days to catch up.
I believe him and wait a few days. On Friday, I send a gentle reminder. No response. Again the weekend goes by, the next week almost goes when I write and receive a response:
On May 13, 2010, at 10:10 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I am still eagerly waiting for your call or email.
I hope everything is alright.
On May 14, 2010, at 12:00 PM, Patrick Gates wrote:
Hi Kandarp –
Thanks for writing. Everything is good, I’m finally back on my feet and mostly caught up. I’ll be in contact by Monday.
I believe him and wait. Monday goes, Tuesday goes. On Wednesday I nudge him again. No response. The week goes, Google I/O goes. On Tuesday I write to Patrick Gates and Steve Jobs both:
On May 25, 2010, at 9:15 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I am still waiting for your plan/decision to support my work on App store semantic search and discovery. It has been 26 days and I am starting to get confused. It would be really nice of you if you can clarify anything I should be aware of.
A relevant observation I would like to share with you and Steve : I’m sure you would have taken note of Google’s announcements last week. Two of them were very related to my proposal – one, they will bring the Android app store (and Chrome web store) to desktop interface and two, they will focus on app search and discovery. Given that search is their strength, it will be imperative on Apple to provide a more intuitive itunes/app store search and discovery solution to its users. Such a solution could also be handy in semantically targeted iAd placements as the ad inventory and app instances grow.
After a few hours I receive a response:
On May 26, 2010, at 3:10 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:
Hi Kandarp –
(Removing Steve). My apologies in taking so long to respond – it’s been an unusually hectic here since I got back but I haven’t forgotten you. 🙂 I’m working on getting a full dump of the app XML for you. Where did you get the dump you’ve been using for your prototype?
What I’d like to do is have you ingest the full catalog and then run some queries I send you. Based on what you’ve already sent I think it’s promising.
Then he promises to set up an account for me to access the Enterprise Partner Feed of iTunes data. This is the last I heard from him:
On May 26, 2010, at 8:57 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I’m glad you haven’t forgotten me 🙂 I will be really happy to have a full dump of app XML, but not sure my computer will be able to handle the 10x computational complexity.
On May 28, 2010, at 12:19 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:
Hi Kandarp –
Are you going to give the Enterprise Partner Feed a try?
Of course, I wanted to give it a try. Not just a try but develop a working solution. Why was I waiting for so long.
On May 27, 2010, at 12:18 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I am certainly interested to give it a try. You can enable the access to the feed page.
On Jun 1, 2010, at 5:24 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
Please let me know when you set up the access login for me to the EPF page.
As weeks pass, I don’t feel happy about the way things were going. It wouldn’t have taken more than 10 mins for him to keep me going, but there was something wrong. So I write again to both Patrick Gates and Steve Jobs:
On Jun 4, 2010, at 7:46 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
You might be interested to read this news : Google search for mobile now includes app store results : http://googlemobile.blogspot.com/2010/06/google-search-for-mobile-now-includes.html (cc’d to Steve)
I am unable to understand why it has been 34 days and still no tangible progress in our discussion. A lot could have been established including a semantic search index for the app store if you would have acted in earnest. Putting someone – who wants to help you solve an important problem – on hold for a prolonged time sends a wrong signal about Apple’s commitment to support innovation. Could you please identify specific measures that will be taken by Apple to support my effort? (which was the original query).
I put one last attempt after a week:
On Jun 11, 2010, at 1:15 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I hope everything is fine. After reading the news about WWDC and launch of iPhone 4 and iTunes 9.2, I can possibly relate to why you were unusually hectic recently. I only wish you take a little time to help me get going on this project. If there is any change in strategy, kindly let me know.
Seeing no hope, I finally write to Steve Jobs asking specifically if he is interested anymore and his answer was typical short:
On Jun 15, 2010, at 9:02 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
Is there any chance I will receive some update/response on this discussion started by Patrick Gates? I really don’t understand the silence after lots of early interests. I feel helpless. All I am asking is the access to the App Store data to develop the semantic search and discovery solution for the iTunes. Can Apple be a little generous to support innovation that can only benefit it?
Please let me know even if you/he are not interested in my project.
On Jun 15, 2010, at 9:38 PM, Steve Jobs wrote:
Sorry, no interest.
Sent from my iPad
I concluded the discussion with Steve:
On Jun 15, 2010, at 10:22 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
I’m a bit disappointed.
Wish you all the best and looking forward to seeing more innovative products and services from Apple.
So, what do all these mean? Well, I don’t want to speculate the reasons for this erratic behavior from Apple, but things are right in front of us. Couple of points though:
It is unethical in all cultures to keep someone waiting while you flout the time commitments. You receive a proposal, you take a decision to pursue it or not. If you say something, you follow it by action. If you commit a time, you show up. Apple has clearly failed on all such norms in this particular instance. It makes Apple look rude and I had heard Steve Jobs didn’t want Google to be rude towards it.
Secondly, it was a research project with primary objective to solve an important problem for the Apple ecosystem. Apple has snubbed apps developers in the past, but now it seems they won’t allow even researchers to use its data for technology advancement. That would be really a sorry state going further.
Getting acquired or hired was not my priority. Being a researcher with an algorithm, my primary interest was to evaluate it on real life full-size data and then improve the underlying mathematical model to better fit the data. This was a small impromptu of the many applications of the semantic algorithm. Hence the need to force a decision and move on rather than being left in the lurch.
This conversation does not fit a startup culture that Steve Jobs claims. This is a clear example of how a corporate labyrinth disallows a manager to take prompt decisions.
This publishing is not for 15 mins of fame for me, it is for public to be aware of the ugly inside of Apple corporate culture.
I used to be an Apple fanboy, but obviously not any more. I think we should not be fanboys of any companies, but rather the constitution. If they follow the ethical norms, we admire them and if they breach the code of conduct, we condemn them. This is my way of condemning Apple.
All of the above content, I sent to Steve and Patrick, waiting for one day before publishing:
On Jun 16, 2010, at 10:59 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:
Hi Steve, Patrick
I have written a report on our conversation and to be published on the internet. I would like to let you be aware of it and if you have any concerns, let me know asap. I will consider incorporating it.