A Seattle-based startup is turning its knitting needles against Apple.
Knitrino, maker of an app by the same name that helps knitters navigate tricky projects and find unique patterns, recently signed on to support Epic Games, the North Carolina-based game and software developer behind Fortnite, in its lawsuit alleging Apple is violating antitrust laws and has a monopoly on the app ecosystem.
The two tech companies have been locked in a legal battle since Epic tried to skirt Apple’s tightly regulated App Store and direct customers to make purchases on Epic’s own website, instead of through Apple’s in-app payment system.
Epic says Apple is using anticompetitive practices on its app store, while Apple argues its policies are necessary to maintain the store and protect the privacy and security of consumers.
Knitrino says Apple has too much control.
After a back and forth argument with Apple to get its knitting app on the store — and a realization that there weren’t many options if they didn’t make it on the digital marketplace — Knitrino signed on in support of Epic. Attorneys for Knitrino filed a legal brief in January alleging Apple’s policies drive up consumer costs, restrict innovation and reduce consumer choice.
“The knitters should get to decide,” said Andrea Cull, co-founder of Knitrino and a knitter herself. “The fact that Apple can say your waiting customers can’t have this, and there was nowhere else to go. To think you spent two years building something for it to never see the light of day.”
Cull and her sister Alison Yates launched Knitrino in November 2020 as a platform to help knitters go digital. They bill the app as the Google Maps for knitters by providing step by step information to users about their project, from how to videos for a particular type of stitch to the ability to match charts to your yarn colors.
The app is free to customers and features new knitting patterns for sale at $10-$17 each.
After two years of traveling to knitting shows, chatting with potential customers and potential designers and developing the software, Knitrinio applied to list its product on both the Google Play store and Apple’s App Store.
Google approved the app within hours. Apple sent the sisters a rejection, arguing it couldn’t sell both physical and digital goods through its in-app payment system, according to Yates and Cull.
After the first rejection, Knitrino made some technical changes and tried again. For the next several days, the founders went back and forth with Apple — making changes, reapplying and receiving what seemed like irrelevant portions of Apple’s policies pasted back in response.
Knitrino appealed Apple’s decision to its own review board. It was rejected in 19 minutes.
“The feeling that we had when we were going through this was like hitting a wall, but not being able to see the wall,” Yates said. “I don’t know how tall this wall is. I don’t know if I can walk a few miles that way and get around it. We were just feeling around in the dark.”
“When they are the approver and the appeals court, if they say no, we can’t go to a different app store to get to our customers,” she continued.
Apple could not be reached to comment on the specifics of the Knitrino case.
It says over 40% of apps that are rejected are denied due to app completeness, or things like not having fully functional URLs or placeholder text still taking space on the app. Apps can also be rejected because of technical bugs, broken links, substandard user interface, submitting a product that could mislead users or failing to offer users lasting value, according to a lengthy list on Apple’s website.
On average, Apple says it reviews 50% of app submissions in 24 hours and 90% in 48 hours.
Knitrino did later get Apple’s approval, though the sisters aren’t clear what led to the reversed decision.
The app is now available on Apple’s store — and has more than 20,000 downloads across Google and Apple’s stores — but Yates and Cull said the experience left them wanting to help make changes to how Apple works with app developers.
It signed an amicus brief in support of Epic in November 2021 and joined a growing group of supporters submitting their own friend of the court briefs in January, including Microsoft, several economics and business professors and a coalition of 35 states. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson signed on to the effort.
Knitrino signed its name alongside the Consumer Federation of America, Chicago-based software company Basecamp and Match Group, the Dallas-based online dating company that includes match.com.
Epic’s appeal is being heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This court’s decision is likely the “end of the line” for the Epic versus Apple lawsuit, said Margaret MacLean, a partner at Lowey Dannenberg, the law firm that handled the amicus brief that featured Knitrino.
The court will hear oral arguments sometime this spring or summer and a decision will likely come out this year, MacLean said.
At Knitrino, the sisters began selling “Unravel Apple” stickers, a partial back-up plan if their support of Epic leads to retaliation against their business.
“We invested everything in this, and for Apple to wield the kind of power where they can say whether or not we can go into business, for something so arbitrary,” Yates said.
“For us, we’re in the app store, so we really only have things to lose. But in terms of the world as a whole, I’d love to have an alternative.”