The State of Independent Consumer Contact Products on the Macintosh

The anti-competitive practices of Apple, Inc.

The power of
independent CRMs

The effectiveness of independent CRMs to give users the power they need to control their own sensitive personal and business information and where it ends up going to isis now well understood after the American company Apple, Inc., has made efforts to control the CRM market for both the macOS and iOS platforms. Unfortunately there is evidence to show that some of the efforts does involve anti-competitive practices.

Prior to this, SUNRISE Contacts caused some concerns for Apple by providing an independent contacts organizer for consumers (rather than being restricted for in-house business or personal use). Being the product that Apple, Inc. (the makers of FileMaker Pro from which SUNRISE Contacts was developed) did not want you to have, considerable effort was made by Apple to keep consumers away from third-party Filemaker-based contacts solutions. Methods employed to achieve this can be seen here. And it is all because of the fact that Apple wants users to use its own free, simple and non-encrypted contacts tool on iOS and OS X systems.

Why the effort from Apple? It has to do with the way the company has figured out a way to gather and push your personal information through Apple's own servers as automatically and quietly as possible, allowing the company to learn who you are, what you do, and anything else it likes. Of course, the perception we are presented with by Apple is that it upholds your privacy and the servers are only there to help sync your personal data with Apple portable iOS devices. In reality, this information can also help the company and other third-party software manufacturers in ways you probably least expect or have no control over. Apart from registration and licensing requirements of Apple to know who is using its software and the usual marketing purposes, what about, for instance, allowing your business confidential data containing your intellectual property and ideas that you probably don't want other people to know about straightaway to be viewed quietly behind-the-scenes by a third-party (e.g., Apple, Inc.)?

Here lies the dilemma. What control do consumers have in the "push" technology? Apparently none. What can any consumer do to protect their privacy? Very little. Is there a way to balance this situation? Yes you can. SUNRISE Contacts is an effective tool to handle Apple and other people who are keen to look at everything you do in the digital world.

More about this Apple situation

There was a time, not so long ago, when Apple, Inc. purchased the source code for FileMaker Pro 6 Standard/Advanced from the original creators ¡ Claris Corporation.

Then, after version 8, a conflict of interest developed within the company thanks to whatever certain FileMaker developers were doing. The problem concerns Apple's decision to develop its own free contacts, calendar, email and other apps supplied with iOS and OS X and to get people to use them for a particular purpose. However, the company realised that some FileMaker developers can supply alternative contacts management solutions made as free runtime apps using FileMaker Pro Advanced. Why would there be a conflict? Because there is the potential for third-party developers (including those who have purchased FileMaker Pro) to by-pass Apple's own servers through the familiar "push technology" currently in use on Apple's own free apps. Apple wants to see the personal data being transferred between OS X Macintosh computers and iOS devices via its servers based in the U.S. The company needs this information, presumably for marketing purposes such as learning how people use Apple products and improve the products, and to control software piracy.

The other problem with unencrypted information passing through the Apple servers is the ability for Apple to look into and gather confidential business information from competitors in order to give Apple the edge. Hence the reason for some people wanting to develop and offer to others an alternative contacts management solution on the Mac.

However, Apple does not like this, and if it can reduce the competition in any way, it will try it. So to give Apple a further edge, efforts were made by the company to directly compete and restrict what FileMaker developers can do for consumers when making their alternative products.

Among the things Apple has done to get its way, the company has decided to drop the free web publishing feature of the standard FileMaker Pro that would allow any database layout to be seen on a web browser (served up on an independent server, but not Apple's own servers). Instead, Apple has made this feature only available on the expensive FileMaker Server, and changed the name to WebDirect to make it seem like an improvement (well, to a certain extent it is, but certainly not to provide it as a free feature in runtime solutions or those who purchase the standard and much cheaper FileMaker Pro).

If that is not enough, Apple quietly introduced a security bug in the Data Viewer feature of FileMaker Pro Advanced from version 10 right up to version 14.0.6 to encourage FileMaker developers to keep their solutions in-house or within organisations and not to sell them if they wish their intellectual property not to be stolen by other FileMaker developers. And more importantly, Apple was not willing to fix the Data Viewer problem for more than 8 years. When the bug was accidentally discovered, several FileMaker developers tried to inform Apple through its subsidiary company handling the product called FileMaker, Inc. over a period of more than 2 years. And it is not because Apple is too busy to fix the problem. When other critical security bugs are discovered across other software products and is noticed with FileMaker Pro as having the same problem, Apple is very quick (within a week) to offer a bug fix. Not so for the Data Viewer security bug.

Then in 2016, Apple released FileMaker Pro 15. With this version, the company has decided to fix the Data Viewer bug so long as the databases are set to run on the latest app only. But there are still other bugs that Apple is taking its time to fix even when notified for a number of years.

Here are the essential things Apple, Inc. has done to get its way in controlling the contacts management market on a Mac:

  1. Creating and leaving behind a major security bug in the FileMaker Pro Advanced product that would allow anyone else to reverse-engineer and eventually steal the intellectual property of developers' own database solutions and no amount of effort by developers to request that Apple fix the problem will work. This security bug has finally been fixed in FileMaker Pro 15.
  2. Developers experiencing numerous unexpected quits during the database development phase in versions 13 to 14 of FileMaker Pro Advanced (and probably FileMaker Pro Standard) with the latter version being the worse. The problem is less severe in version 13.0v4, but does continue. We have attempted to mention these crashes to FileMaker representatives for the product engineering and development team, but there is very little interest in the problem at time of writing. However, the unexpected quits now appear to have been addressed in FileMaker Pro 15.
  3. Removing the Web Publishing feature of the cheaper FileMaker Pro standard product after version 12 that would allow consumers to access their personal database information via an iOS device and a web browser independent of Apple's own servers. Only the prohibitively more expensive FileMaker Server will provide this option and its new monthly subscription costs ensure the Server edition is only viable for medium to large companies. Thus, database developers are forced to create the solutions in-house within the companies or for personal use.
  4. Creating its own contacts management software to undercut the pricing of the cheapest independent third-party contacts management solutions from FileMaker developers. It is called Bento — a range of ready-made database files (now offered for free but with no further development of the product) as a means of directly competing and undercutting the price of these contacts solutions from FileMaker Developers. Fortunately Apple has decided to abandon the product for whatever reason (perhaps to avoid being seen as anti-competitive with those FileMaker developers involved in providing contacts management solutions).
  5. Not fixing long-standing bugs reported by developers. The classic example is the GetNthRecord function bug. Here, the function fails to grab data from a field in another record after it is in Record 142 or greater. Then the function displays "?" in the field. This bug is not fixed in FileMaker Pro 16.0.2 even despite developers mentioning this bug to FileMaker representatives for several years now.

What is really going on?

Apple has clearly found a way to quietly identify users and what they do by pushing personal "unencrypted" data gathered by the Apple applications through its billion dollar Apple servers on the pretence that this is merely designed to transfer your data to your iOS devices and vice versa. But for this to work, Apple needs to find ways to get people to use its applications. Because of this, and through our research and observation of Apple and its activities, we have discovered that SUNRISE Contacts was the product that gave Apple the impetus to create and sell its own version called Bento 1.0 - 4.0 (a set of ready-made databases built by Apple for consumers at a price designed to undermine SUNRISE Contacts 2015 — exactly half the price to be precise some years ago). As we noticed the situation and let users know online, Bento has been dropped in 2014 to avoid any chance of being seen as anti-competitive in its practices (and now you get a free contacts database from us) after finding an alternative way to give the company another unfair advantage — this time by dropping the instant web publishing (IWP) option in the cheaper standard FileMaker Pro app that would have provided ordinary consumers with an independent server on their own computer to deliver personal data in SUNRISE Contacts 2015 to the web and accessed via an Apple mobile devices in a more secure manner — Apple still wanted to stop further and direct competition with its free OS X and iOS apps by third-party FileMaker developers. Indeed, there are still enough strategically placed bugs left behind in the FileMaker Pro Advanced app to discourage FileMaker developers from selling their alternative OS X solutions to consumers. And the biggest problem was how the Data Viewer features has been quietly modified to allow anyone to peek at any FileMaker database structure, fields used, and type of data stored in any field of any table irrespective of whether the databases are password protected by the developer. This was certainly not the case prior to FileMaker Pro 10.

If this is not enough, just to make life more difficult for FileMaker developers, SUNRISE has noticed the way FileMaker Pro 13 will regularly crash during launch and while working for a period of time in a field or developing a layout. The problem is more likely to occur when additional applications are loaded followed by FileMaker Pro Advanced. It will also occur during the running of multiple scripts, as is commonly achieved using the OnTimerScript function to run a specific script as well as clicking various buttons or accessing menu commands at the same time. According to the OS X reports we have recorded, this is caused by a bug in the libdispatch.dylib and other areas of the FileMaker Pro 13 application, which doesn't exist in any previous FileMaker Pro version. Here are some of the messages OS X crash reports will reveal about these bugs:

Crash 1
Application Specific Information: BUG IN LIBDISPATCH: flawed group/semaphore logic.
Crashed Thread: 23 Dispatch queue: com.filemaker.PSConversionHelper.xpcq
0 libdispatch.dylib 0x98bf599f _dispatch_semaphore_signal_slow + 73

Crash 2
Application Specific Information: *** error for object 0x1: Non-aligned pointer being freed.
Thread 0 crashed with X86 Thread State (32-bit)

Crash 3
Application Specific Information: Java information: Exception type: Bus Error (0xa) at pc=0000000081120069.
Crashed Thread: 0 Dispatch queue:

NOTE: This occurs even when Java is installed.

Fortunately for consumers, the runtime solution we have created for SUNRISE Contacts does not appear to have these bugs (we are currently testing one of the bugs with the introduction of the auto-updating clock function). The problems are more specifically targeted toward developers running FileMaker Pro 13 and 14 Advanced.

NOTE 1: There are more bugs introduced into FileMaker Pro 13. For example, the GetNthRecord() function does not work after the 157th record, displaying data as a '?'. This is despite the FileMaker Pro 13.0v4 updater where Apple claims it has "Addressed an issue where, under certain conditions, calculations may incorrectly evaluate to '?' ". SUNRISE has notified FileMaker, Inc. (the branch of Apple, Inc. handling all issues relating to the FileMaker Pro product). The representative has accepted this bug report and allegedly was sent to their product development team. As of FileMaker Pro 15.0.3, the problem is not fixed.

NOTE 2: Also using the Trim() function to strip leading and trailing spaces will trim the text at the end to fit within a 734,851 characters limit. Using Length() function will not show a higher character length in the trimmed text field beyond 751,415. It could be a display issue, but on copying and pasting into a text application, the text has been trimmed back inappropriately. Please note that we have introduced alternative solutions in SUNRISE Contacts 2015 to avoid these issues..

NOTE 3: It is also possible Apple wants to introduce more bugs to determine how many people use FileMaker Pro 13 thanks to the more superstitious version number. However, our experiences suggest otherwise. The length of time to fix the problems suggest there is another reason for creating the bugs.

NOTE 4: Apple has made considerable effort to tighten up the integration and ease of transferring your personal data to iOS devices using Apple's own free apps in the latest OS X "Yosemite" release and iOS 8. In this way, it is hoped the public will stick to Apple's own free products and not consider any other alternative and more secure solutions from third-party developers. Not long after, Apple released FileMaker Pro 15.

NOTE 5: This explains why Apple, Inc. has not developed a combo laptop/tablet device — clearly the next logical step. PC manufacturers have already caught on to this fact and are offering such devices by late 2014. However, Apple has decided, for some incredible reason, to lag behind (extremely unusual given its long-standing reputation as an innovative leader in new designs for its products). The only reason one can fathom at the present time for Apple not introducing its own branded laptop/tablet device is because all their efforts to restrict FileMaker Pro's features and put in various bugs, enhance iOS and OS X Apple apps to entice consumers to stick to these apps, and previously sell its own database solutions called Bento in an attempt to thwart the efforts of developers in delivering independent contacts management solutions to consumers would go to waste. If somehow Apple does release a laptop/tablet combo machine, the only option left for Apple is to stop all further development of FileMaker Pro (or remove the Runtime solution creation feature). The funny thing is, Apple had indeed tried to remove the runtime solution by making it the subject of a survey to FileMaker developers when FileMaker Pro 13 was out to see if there was enough interest in keeping the runtime feature. Fortunately sanity prevailed in the company when enough users told Apple to keep the runtime feature in place. Amazing that the company would even consider dropping the feature if it could by raising it in a survey to see what interest there was from others (goes to show the company does not even use its own products, instead it is more interested in getting its way and making a profit). Or better still, why can't Apple move on and actually compete with third-party software developers in a proper and legal fashion by creating better apps and give consumers the products they want without putting restrictions into FileMaker Pro? Let us all see what developers can achieve for people when everyone does their best work? And Apple can do the same too. But just don't make it obvious about restricting other developers from delivering their best. We certainly do not see Apple restricting developers from creating their own apps using Xcode (other than to remove certain features to prevent apps from running on older OS X versions).

Is Apple being anti-competitive in the CRM market?

Unless Apple fixes all the bugs identified by FileMaker developers and stops removing useful features of previous FileMaker Pro versions such as the web publishing option, then the only way to explain this is by stating that some form of anti-competitive practice is being employed by the company. All because Apple is worried about the way in which FileMaker developers can provide alternative solutions that can by-pass Apple's own servers through the familiar "push technology" currently in use on Apple's own free apps. Apple wants to see the personal data being transferred between OS X Macintosh computers and iOS devices. The company needs this information for marketing purposes, to control software piracy, and to secretly look into and gather business confidential information in order to give Apple the edge in the business world. Any other reason? We can be sure Apple will find one just to justify its efforts to monopolise the contacts management market on a Mac.

To learn more of the efforts by develops to notify FileMaker, Inc. about these problems, read this document.

Another security issue for FileMaker developers

In addition to this, if developers want to use the new data encryption option in FileMaker Pro 13 (which can help to address the security holes such as the Data Viewer security bug), Apple expects developers to leave their Admin account for developing the software intact so as to enable other users to crack the developer's password using tools such as FileMaker Password Recovery, thereby ensuring developers cannot make a profit in selling secure solutions to consumers.

In fact, try it. Here are the registration details for FileMaker Password Recovery and see how easy it is to break into a FileMaker Pro database:

Registration Name: Any User
Registration Code: 763A-WY3V-HB8R-8X3X

To put it simply, Apple prefers that you, as a consumer without the FileMaker Pro app, should not consider runtime FileMaker Pro database solutions (i.e., you don't need FileMaker to use the databases, and it is free) as an alternative and more secure form to Apple's own Contacts and other "free" products. SUNRISE Contacts 2015 and other similar solutions should only be used within organisations and not sold to consumers. That is what Apple prefers to see happen even if publicly it claims developers can sell their solutions to consumers according to their license agreement. Of course, we don't agree you should be denied the choice.

Apple giveth on one hand, and taketh on the other

While the web publishing feature is no longer a low cost option for consumers in FileMaker Pro 13, if you wish to use SUNRISE Contacts 2015 on portable devices, we recommend you purchase Android or PC tablets with a 64-bit Intel processor to enable our Runtime solution to run. Otherwise the only alternative is paying considerably more for FileMaker Server to deliver the SUNRISE Contacts database solution onto any iOS web browser, which would be well beyond the budget of any average consumer.

Is there anything Apple will not do to get its own way in this area?

As of FileMaker Pro 15, Apple has decided to be unusually friendly to FileMaker developers by allowing FileMaker solutions to become more easily accessible on Apple's own iOS devices. Now the drive from the company is to encourage developers to offer solutions on iOS in a form that the company is happy to see it (i.e., no proper encryption, can't run plug-ins etc.). Apple is just too kind for words to describe.