Accessibility Software Suffers Following Apple's Faceshift Acquisition

Back in September, MacRumors uncovered evidence that Apple had acquired Zurich-based real-time capture firm Faceshift, in a move possibly related to the development of biometrics for unlocking devices or authorizing payments through facial recognition techniques. Apple later confirmed the purchase in a statement.

Before the acquisition, Faceshift worked closely with game and animation studios on technology designed to quickly and accurately capture facial expressions using 3D sensors.

One of the lesser known aspects of Faceshift's business was licensing out its face tracking SDK to other companies, one of which was Xcessity, a small Austrian firm that specializes in designing human-computer interaction software to improve accessibility.

xcessity
One of the most popular products made by the firm is KinesicMouse, which enables disabled people and those with degenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease to control a mouse through facial expressions. The functionality of the KinesicMouse software – which is also used in hospital settings – depended heavily on the SDK developed by Faceshift, which received a royalty fee for every purchased license.

Earlier this week, Xcessity CEO Markus Pröll revealed in a tweet and a post on the Xcessity forum that Faceshift had revoked the license following Apple's acquisition of the company, and that he would no longer be able to develop or offer the software:

The Faceshift SDK is the result of a research team that focused on this topic for several years at the university ETH Zürich. Whilst it would not be impossible to create such a software it would take way too much time and resources. Believe me after about four years of development I have tried about everything.

I don't know who or why the decision was made to cancel the existing license agreement. I want to explicitly mention that I don't make any claims that Apple or Faceshift is responsible for the cancellation. On this part I am left in the dark just as you are. All I can tell is that the guys from Faceshift have been very supportive through all those years.

The news came as a blow to users of the software, and Pröll says he has received "quite a few messages" from people who really depend on the app. One user of the software told MacRumors:

People like me depend on this affordable solution to access computer games. It brought me back to gaming although I have suffered from muscular dystrophy since I was a child. Shame on Apple for locking down such a solution.

If the license cancellation is indeed linked to Apple's acquisition of Faceshift, the KinesicMouse software would appear to be an unfortunate casualty, given Cupertino's stated commitment to accessibility. MacRumors has reached out to Apple for comment and we'll update this story with any forthcoming response.

Top Rated Comments

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Avatar
52 months ago

Apple's support for people with disabilities has always been weak.

For example?

http://www.pcworld.com/article/151625/accessible_apple_ipod.html

http://m.imore.com/apple-watch-accessibility-center-stage-new-review

http://9to5mac.com/2016/07/10/apple-accessibility-team-interview/

http://iphone.appleinsider.com/articles/15/05/06/apple-voiceover-accessibility-receives-award-from-american-foundation-for-the-blind

http://www.cultofmac.com/326793/apple-receives-helen-keller-award-for-its-pioneering-voiceover-feature/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/7801280/Apple-iPad-is-great-gadget-for-blind-people.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-ruthnum/how-apple-changed-the-life_b_9542918.html
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
I hope this reaches Tim Cook.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago

Apple's support for people with disabilities has always been weak.

I could not disagree with this more. They are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
I'd wager this wasn't a conscious or willfully planned consequence of the acquisition and Apple will resolve the issue. :)
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago

Ahh, I don't think it was a conscious decision. Again I do contest that this was an unforseen/predicted hiccup that will be resolved very quickly, as soon as it reaches Cook's ears.

I believe it was concious, and it isn't the first time Apple has done this sort of behaviour of buying up a 3rd party tech company, killing off it's existing contracts and keeping exclusive access.

For Example: The capacitive technology Apple uses and based it's glass trackpads, and touchscreens based on, was actually invented/developed by a company called FingerWorks. They were well known for gesture based devices, and other input methods for disabled people.

Apple purchased the company in 2005, All other products were discontinued and licenses revoked from any other company, and Apple maintained exclusive use of their technologies

Here's a hint. Apple does not care what damage it causes to other industries or technologies, as long as they maintain control and power over technology that they can profit from.

they did the same thing with TouchID and Liquid metal as well.
[doublepost=1470425710][/doublepost]

I suppose you don't know much about how these things work. Since the company was bought, the licenses would almost certainly need to be re-issued by the NEW owner of the technology. Who depends on a contract to license something from a company that doesn't exist anymore?

When a company is purchased, all licenses and deals are still valid and are in place without the need to renegotiate. the purchasing company, in this case Apple, must take on all contracts as they exist and current ownership.

Apple can then do what they legally have power to do based on those contracts. So if Apple bought the company, and then killed the contracts, it was likely an executive level decision, that had to go through a slew of legal steps in order to cancel.

nothing here was done by oversight or accident
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
52 months ago
Has anyone given any thought that it might not be within Apple's ability to restore the licenses?
Perhaps there is some other party involved that licensed bits of the software that they licensed?
Perhaps that party has decided to play hardball with Apple and demand lots more money for their bit of the puzzle?

The reson I ask is that I faced this very thing some years ago.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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