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What’s sherlocking? (And why it needs closer scrutiny)

Apple is pretty well known for its sherlocking practices, but what does this term mean? Let’s talk about it, and why regulators are keeping a close eye.

An iPhone in a dimly lit room open to an app screen with apps that have experienced sherlocking before.

Sherlocking—the developer’s worst nightmare. 

While you may typically associate “sherlocking” with the utilization of deductive reasoning skills, when it comes to Apple, this term doesn’t hold true. When this major tech giant is involved, sherlocking refers to the introduction of a new feature that renders a third-party tool obsolete

The Origin of Sherlocking 

During the era of Mac OS 8 and 9, the Sherlock feature primarily focused on searching for content on a user’s computer. However, with the advent of OS X, Sherlock gained the capability to retrieve information from the internet using plug-ins, as mentioned by How-To Geek.

In 2001, developer Dan Wood created Watson, an accompanying application priced at $30, which expanded the range of information that Sherlock could access. Watson enabled users to retrieve movie showtimes, exchange rates, weather reports, and much more.

Nevertheless, when Apple introduced Mac OS X 10.2, Sherlock acquired the ability to perform almost all of the functions previously exclusive to Watson. Wood asserts that Steve Jobs himself made a comparison, likening developers like Wood to individuals manually propelling a handcar along railroad tracks that were ultimately owned by Apple. 

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Ever since, the act of Apple displacing a third-party tool by incorporating its functionality has earned the term “sherlocking.” Here are some additional instances of sherlocking:

  • Various apps in the domains of medication management and sleep tracking being sherlocked by Apple, resulting in displacement.
  • Apple’s Pay Later, a service that could potentially serve as an alternative to platforms like Klarna.
  • The introduction of Sidecar, enabling iPads to function as secondary monitors, disrupting competitors like Duet Display and Luna Display. 

Keep in mind—Apple isn’t the only company that engages in these practices, and the term “sherlocking” has been applied to other major players as well. For instance, Google faced similar criticism when it discontinued a volume mixer similar to EarTrumpet. 

It’s only fair to assume that in certain cases, this is just a natural progression of offerings supplied by the company. 

However—numerous smaller companies, such as Astropad, the creator of Luna Display, and multiple health-monitoring enterprises, have alleged that Apple engaged in actions such as holding initial meetings with them or, in more severe cases, recruiting their employees or attempting to invalidate their patents.

Are we surprised? After all, Apple is constantly under scrutiny for antitrust allegations.

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Macie LaCau is a passionate writer, herbal educator, and dog enthusiast. She spends most of her time overthinking and watering her tiny tomatoes.


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