They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.
Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps.
In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store.
Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.
“They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” said Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, the top parental-control iPhone app, with more than three million downloads. In February, Apple pulled the app, which accounted for 80 percent of OurPact’s revenue, from its App Store.
“They are systematically killing the industry,” Mr. Moussavian said.
The screen-time app makers are the latest companies to suddenly find themselves both competing against Apple and at the mercy of the tech titan. By controlling the iPhone App Store, where companies find some of their most lucrative customers, Apple has unusual power over the fortunes of other corporations.
Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, a popular parental-control iPhone app, said Apple had yanked his company’s app from the App Store, crippling the business.John Francis Peters for The New York Times.
Tammy Levine, an Apple spokeswoman, said Apple removed or required changes to the apps because they could gain too much information from users’ devices. She said the timing of Apple’s moves was not related to its introduction of similar tools.
In response to this article, Philip W. Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said in emails to some customers that Apple “acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”
Executives at the app makers believe they are being targeted because their apps could hurt Apple’s business. Apple’s tools, they add, aren’t as aggressive about limiting screen time and don’t provide as many options.
“Their incentives aren’t really aligned for helping people solve their problem,” said Fred Stutzman, chief executive of Freedom, a screen-time app with more than 770,000 downloads before Apple removed it in August. “Can you really trust that Apple wants people to spend less time on their phones?”