Being sherlocked by Apple

An old side project called VisionHelper was sherlocked by Apple

App icon of VisionHelper 2012
Jelle De Laender
03 October 2022

The word sherlock is defined as: ’a person who investigates mysteries or shows great perceptiveness’. In the context of Apple, it has a different meaning. Sherlock is a file and web search tool introduced by Apple in mac os classic. A tool that allowed the user to search on the web quickly. Today, it’s fully embedded in Spotlight, by default available on macOS and iOS.

However, the term sherlock also has a more negative meaning. As Apple did add more features to Sherlock, an application with similar features called Watson was getting useless. And as every Mac user already had access to Sherlock out of the box, the need to download and use Watson was down. Hence the introduction of the term ‘sherlocked’. It is defined by the Urban Dictionary as: 'to have developed a product and just started shipping it, only to have Apple come along and provide exactly the same functionality in a system update. It happened to Karelia Software twice. Once with Sherlock and again with iWeb.'

When Apple is sherlocking a company or product, they add a feature to macOS or iOS that was initially offered by an existing application, making this application useless, less popular and putting the company behind at risk.

WWDC, the World Wide Developer Conference of Apple, is a yearly event where Apple is giving insight into the next hardware and software updates and is often the fear of many indie developers being sherlocked 😬

This happened, for example, in 2017 with F.flux when Apple introduced Night Shift on macOS and iOS. Luna Display with Sidecar on macOS. Overcast with Apple's own podcast app and more. When this happens, you have two options: a) You stop, or b) You think of new features and improvements to make your app better than Apple’s offering...

In 2012, I started a side project which I never finished. Luckily, otherwise, it would have been sherlocked by Apple, partly in iOS 11 (2017), in iOS 14 (2020), and now entirely in iOS 15 (2021), with more improvements in iOS 16 (2022) 🤯

The project name was ‘VisionHelper’. The main objective was to make the printed text more readable by using the iPhone camera and applying transformations like zooming, changing the colours, increasing the contrast, and performing OCR and Voice Over.

I never released VisionHelper due to performance issues. I never managed to get a decent framerate. Maybe I was a bit too nitpicky on this... but I wanted to have a high framerate for a smooth experience and to remove frustration. While I did not manage to fix this, I had a logo ready 🤩

VisionHelper icon

In iOS 11, Apple added a feature like VisionHelper as an accessibility feature, hidden in the accessibility settings of iOS.

With the release of iOS 14, Apple did release a fully standalone application, ‘Magnifier,’ with a new interface and features. Covering the basics we had in mind with VisionHelper.

With the release of iOS 15, Apple did add OCR support in all images. This allows the user to select the text, copy it, and get it spoken by VoiceOver. iOS 16 improves this support even more.

Apple Magnifier app (source:

We are happy that Apple did address this and added those features to iOS, as we did identify the need for this to support people with disabilities.

We are happy Apple addressed this and added those features to iOS, as we identified this need to support people with disabilities 🙇‍♂️ We are happier that we did focus on other projects like Semonto, our Website and Server Monitor Tool, so this sherlock move of Apple did not hurt our business. In the end, the remaining is a nice logo to put on the wall of our office 🤷

Though, the final question is... when will MijnLijn, another project of Coding Mammoth, be sherlocked by Apple. Apple Maps already supports party the data of De Lijn, showing the stops and real-time schedule of the trams. The moment buses are supported, MijnLijn will be useless and obsolete.

PS: Some interesting reads about the term sherlocking can be found at the blog of Kerelia, DaringFireball and the economist. More info regarding Apple Magnifier app can be found on the support website of Apple.