I wish Voice Dream Reader a bright future, but they have breached Apple’s Guidelines. Apple must protect consumers with swift action

Update, 7 April 2024


Applause Group has just released this statement.

“Hi everyone,


Following our recent announcement to transition Voice Dream to a subscription, we received an overwhelming response from thousands in our community. Your feedback, along with the impactful stories shared about Voice Dream being a pivotal part of your daily lives, has led us to reverse this change.


We will continue to provide access to the app’s existing features at no additional cost.


As we continue developing Voice Dream, some new features may be offered as part of a subscription, but the current capabilities will remain free to those who have already purchased Voice Dream.


For those who have already moved to a subscription, it’s no longer necessary to continue using the app. You may cancel your subscription, but we welcome you to keep it active to support ongoing development.


To those who wish to support Voice Dream, please consider a subscription, a one-time donation via our website, or simply leaving a positive review in the App Store.


We sincerely thank you for your passionate and loyal support of Voice Dream. Your voices have made a difference.”


I want to thank Kishin and the Team at Applause Group for being receptive to the community’s feedback. As I mentioned in my last update to this post, I have met with Applause Group, and I don’t think I am breaking any confidences when I say that they now have a deeper appreciation of the difference this app makes to many of us and what a special thing they have inherited.

Yes, of course it would have been preferable if this had been the position arrived at initially, but I suspect few of us reading this have never made a mistake.

As the title of the post says, I wish them well, and I am glad that those who paid for the app will no longer have their purchase effectively invalidated.

I want to see this app grow. In addition to features already announced publicly, there are others being contemplated that I for one would consider a significant enhancement to my productivity. I am fortunate at the moment to be in a position where I can afford to support the app’s continued development and intend to do so.

With the creation of the new group to keep in touch with our community, and this reversal, hopefully this is the start of a new chapter and improved communication. I also note that an update was released to the Store a couple of days ago with much better release notes.

My final thanks go to everyone who took the time to express their concern. Advocacy is tough sometimes. There are people in our own community who accuse those who take reasonable, legally justifiable positions of being whiny and entitled. This is another example to all of us that we can make good change. Well done to everyone.

Update, 5 April 2024


I’ve just come out of a meeting with a senior leader of Applause Group, which now owns Voice Dream Reader. It will be up to them to make their own announcements in due time, but at this stage I am confident that they will respond to feedback that they have received in a manner that many in our community will consider reasonable. They are working through the finer points of the response and given the importance of communicating the issues clearly, it’s right that they should take that time to do so.


Key points


  • Voice Dream Reader was bought by new owners last year.
  • They moved to a subscription model for new customers shortly after the acquisition.
  • There has been robust debate about whether the pricing represents value for money, but new features and greater stability are promised.
  • Unless existing customers pay, they will lose critical functions of the app on 1 May.
  • This violates Apple’s App Review Guidelines.
  • I encourage everyone to contact Voice Dream Support and Apple to ensure that the Guidelines are enforced.


If you use an iPhone and you’re blind, you’ve probably heard of Voice Dream Reader. It was the brainchild of a software developer named Winston Chen, and released in around 2012.

Winston was an example of indie mobile app developers who get it right. He engaged with his users, and seemed to understand that many of us in the blind community have certain cultural expectations around the technology we use.

It’s become a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Nothing about us without us is important to many of us. We want to be listened to. We want to have a hand in the future of the product. If a developer is willing to engage with us meaningfully, great things can happen.

Winston issued frequent updates. The app’s feature set grew in response to the feedback he got from people like us. As a result of the exceptional app and customer service, by 2013 he was making enough money from what began as a side project that he quit his job and worked on Voice Dream full-time.

He developed some other products, some of which still exist, but Reader was always the flagship.

Voice Dream Reader caters to several market segments. The app benefits those with dyslexia and other print impairments.

There are also people who are not disabled who just want to be read to.

While there are other reader apps, I have not found a single app that offers the breadth of features that are in Voice Dream Reader. It would take at least two apps to replace it. For me, having one place in which all content I want to read can be found makes things simple. There are also some unique navigation methods that make moving around a document straightforward, and it works well with Braille displays.

Changing of the guard

Last year, Winston Chen sold the app he created to a company called Applause Group. I was pleased to speak with Kishin Manglani, one of the Founders of Applause Group, for a recent episode of the Living Blindfully Podcast. When I asked him to explain what Applause Group does, he said,

“Applause Group operates mobile apps, and we typically work with independent developers who want to hand over their reins after working on the app for many years, oftentimes for over a decade. You know, these apps often take a lot of time, effort, and passion to build and maintain. And sometimes, the owners want to stop working on them for personal reasons, or to go work on something else, and they want to pass the torch to someone else who can build and maintain the app. We continue where they left off and build, maintain, and support the apps for the communities that they serve.”


Unfortunately, the relationship between Voice Dream Reader’s new owners and its engaged user base got off to a rocky start. Members of the online blind community did not find out about the sale of Voice Dream Reader last year from either the buyer or the seller. Instead, they found out because an indie developer who offers a product that competes in some ways with Voice Dream Reader discovered a new subscription option in a just-released build of Voice Dream Reader. He, not anyone associated with the app, broke the news to the blind community that subscriptions were on the way.

When a developer moves from a one-off purchase model to a subscription-based model, it is always controversial, even if said company makes great efforts to communicate it thoroughly. When you add an unpopular change, the departure of a popular indie developer, and nonexistent communication together, those ingredients add up to an inevitable firestorm. In the absence of information to the contrary, existing customers were concerned that they were about to be charged.

Applause Group must have heard about the depth of feeling on the issue because they posted to a forum topic discussing the matter on AppleVis.

This is what Applause Group wrote back in 2023:

“Hi all,

Voice Dream team here.

Existing users should not be affected and will continue to have access to the app. We are migrating to a subscription model only for new users.

If you have any issues, please feel free to contact our support team.”

Having described this as a firestorm, I will mix my metaphors and say that this was the oil that needed to be poured on troubled waters. The fuss died down, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most people felt that this was a reasonable approach to take.

Changing of the mind

Towards the end of March 2024, word started coming through that there had been a policy change. Starting on 1 May, all Voice Dream Reader users would be charged a subscription. For existing customers who had paid for the app in the past, they said a subscription would cost $59.95 USD per year, which they say is a discount on the $79 price they will usually charge. For that, you get all the voices they have to offer, plus it will work on iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch with the one subscription. They promise that a more consistent revenue stream will help them do many things, including expanding developer resources, keeping the app maintained, improving the app on Apple Watch and helping fund substantive new features including Amazon Kindle support, which is almost ready to go.

What’s it worth?

$60 USD a year, let alone the full price, is high by Apple subscription standards.

Some will decide that they don’t get $60 worth of value from the app, and that’s a reasonable, rational economic decision. If someone is selling something at a price point we don’t wish to pay, then there’s no sale. If sufficient people feel that way, then perhaps Applause Group will need to think again about their pricing model.

However, we should not forget another important category of users. Given the nature of our community, where far too many of us are overlooked when it comes to employment, it’s a category that is far too large. There will be some who will feel the loss of the app, but genuinely don’t believe they can scrape up that kind of money.

It is to Applause Group’s credit that in response to feedback, they have introduced a monthly option as well as the annual one. Paying by the month works out slightly more expensive, which is typical. Companies usually incentivise paying by the year, which helps a company with its annual planning.

Applause Group has actively been engaged in trust-building measures with the community in recent days. They didn’t have to appear on Living Blindfully and face tough questions, but they fronted up, to their great credit. They have now also established a group on Groups.io. As I write this, the group is very new, but it has already received a contribution from Kishen, and that is encouraging.

Having run my own company and worked in several others, including in the blindness technology space, I’m sympathetic towards Applause Group and their need to find a sustainable business model for the app. If it were shut down because Applause Group considered it not to be viable, I would miss it. Not everyone can do so, but for now I am able to pay the subscription, and almost certainly will.

There is, however, something that is leaving a sour taste. Users who are unwilling or unable to pay a subscription will lose the ability to add new content to their Voice Dream Reader library, thus rendering the app useless once they have read all the current material they have uploaded to the app. To put it clearly, Applause Group wants existing customers to pay a second time to retain functionality they already paid for.

Breach of Apple’s App Review Guidelines

When a developer publishes an app in the App Store, they must comply with Apple’s App Review Guidelines. Apple gives unambiguous direction to developers about what to do, and most important in this case, what not to do, if they choose to change business models. Here’s what Apple says in their own words.

“If you are changing your existing app to a subscription-based business model, you should not take away the primary functionality existing users have already paid for. For example, let customers who have already purchased a “full game unlock” continue to access the full game after you introduce a subscription model for new customers.”

There is no wiggle room here. By taking away primary functionality users already paid for, such as adding new material to the Library, Voice Dream Reader does not comply with the Guidelines.

How to do it right

If you’re connected to social media and monitor the mobile app scene, you’ll know that when any company moves from a one-off purchase to a subscription model, they are going to get some hostile reactions. Two apps I recall making such a move in recent times are the word processor called Ulysses, and the calendar app called Fantastical. Did those apps comply with Apple’s requirements?

Ulysses removed the old, one-off purchase app from sale, but it remained in the App Store for people who had purchased it. It was even maintained. This was seven years ago, so I don’t know if existing one-time purchase customers are still able to use the app given that operating systems evolve and can implement new features that cause third-party apps to break. The fact remains though that Ulysses customers, at the time of the transition, did not lose any of the functionality they bought. If customers wanted the shiny new features, then quite reasonably they had to subscribe.

Fantastical transitioned to a subscription model in 2020. Again, those who had bought the app retained all the features they already had. There were even a few more thrown in. This generated goodwill, and for some, the new features being offered in the new subscription were compelling enough that people upgraded.

Who knows whether these companies would have done this because it’s the decent thing, but I am sure they did it because it’s an Apple requirement. It is there, as clear as day, in Apple’s Guidelines.

Voice Dream Reader’s release notes make no mention of the subscription being forced on people who paid for the app already if they want to retain the functionality they paid for, and I suspect this has simply flown under Apple’s radar.

Even if you intend supporting the app by paying a subscription as I do, there is a moral issue here, as well as the need to speak up for those people who can’t afford to subscribe right now and should not have their app rendered useless.

What you can do

I encourage everyone to do two things.

First, contact Voice Dream Support and respectfully request that they comply with Apple’s App Review Guidelines. They agreed to do so when they put the app in the Store.

Second, let Apple know what is going on. The Guideline relating to how to handle a change to a subscription model is put there unequivocally to protect us, the consumer. We need Apple to step up and enforce the Guideline.

There are a couple of ways to alert Apple. Unfortunately, the best way appears only to be available to those with a developer account.

If you have one, you can visit the Apple Developer Contact page, and sign in with your Apple ID. You can choose to contact the App Review Team. After doing so, choose Report an App. Unfortunately, like many Apple websites, accessibility is not the best, but it is useable.

If you do not have an Apple Developer account, there appears to be no perfect way to convey your concerns to Apple. The best way I have found is to open the App Store, search for Voice Dream Reader, double-tap to bring up the page for the app, scroll to Report a Problem, and double-tap. You’ll be taken to a web page which will know the app you are reporting. There is not a Guideline violation option there, so you will need to choose the option you think most closely reflects your concern.


I wish Voice Dream Reder every success for the future. I hope it is around for years to come, thriving. The trust-building measures taken by the company recently are encouraging, and I’m willing to pay for the next year to see if they deliver meaningful, regular updates.

But, they must do the right thing. If they don’t, I feel sure there will be some so put off by the mistreatment of existing customers and the breach of the Guidelines that they will withhold their subscription.

I close with a message, perhaps even a plea, to Apple. One of the things you tout about the walled garden that is the App Store is that you can protect consumers. So please, do so now, to help get one of the apps that has won an Apple Design Award back on track. If this Guideline violation is allowed to occur without reprisals, it will encourage others to do the same.

12 Comments on “I wish Voice Dream Reader a bright future, but they have breached Apple’s Guidelines. Apple must protect consumers with swift action

  1. The thing that turned me from disappointed about this to really angry was when I went to suvscriptions in the app, as a loyal subscriber, for a limited time, I can pay $99 instead of $79. So if I did want to subscribe, it would be 25% dearer, not 25% cheaper as they mislead people to believe. That’s a dick move and has ensured I will never deal with Voice Dream again, and an actively encouraging others not to as well. Attempts to contact the company were ignored as was the resulting 1 star review.

  2. Jonathan—thank you for advocating on behalf of the community. Based upon your update, it seems that this will end well. It was truly baffling that they thought they could revoke features already bought and paid for. I am sure you are under a ton of pressure due to being high profile within the community and I really appreciate that you took this strong of a stand and took the time to advocate as you did. Thank you!!!

  3. I do hope that the update is that this developer will be following Apple’s guidelines. For example, it wouldn’t be acceptable if the update is simply that they are reducing the price of the subscription for existing users or pushing the May 1st deadline until some time in the future. As you said, they must follow the guidelines that they agreed to upon submitting and maintaining the app in the App Store.

  4. I’ve been down this road before, where an app I used and loved gets their rug pulled under me. I love Voice Dream Reader, but lately I’ve been noticing red flags before they dropped the business model change. The app is always updating. There’s always a new version when I check for new updates, despite not getting any new features. Also their support suddenly melted away. They used to respond when I sent bug or feature request emails. Lately crickets.
    I wish you well in fighting this. I’m holding my nose, switching to a new app and hoping for the best (Omnivore if you must know)

  5. I believe Weather Gods is another app that initially didn’t have a subscription model but went to one a few years ago. I was a beta tester for that app, and am still happy with it. The developers of the app notified everyone well in advance. But it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting Voice Dream Reader anytime soon. BARD Mobile is good enough for me at this time. Btw, I upgraded to an iPhone 14 in February of this year and am super impressed. Weather Gods as well as all other apps are running great on there.

  6. Jonathan, since your attention is on this app and this issue, I’m curious how you feel about Voice Dream’s privacy practices. In the end, it’s an app to read your own content which syncs with iCloud, it has no business contacting a server or anything else unless you do something very specific like ask to download a voice or link up with Bookshare. But if you go to settings>privacy>app privacy reports, you can see that the app contacts an absolutely bewildering amount of sites, including analytics, tracking sites. The app links you up with a unique ID, which you can see if you contact support from within the app, and it even asks you to opt in to ad tracking. If you create an account from within the app, something that should be totally unnecessary since there’s no benefit to you, content syncs via iCloud anyway, then they can also link you up with your full name and email address. Why I think this is a problem is you are not just reading bestsellers or the latest thriller using the app. You are probably reading very personal content, personal journals and recordings, and work content as well. I don’t want them tracking me or spontaneously reaching out to servers when they have no business doing so. This is especially true for paid users! I’m curious about your thoughts on this. Posting without my real name as I also put this on Reddit. Thanks.

    • These seem like legitimate concerns to me. I would be interested to see if the developers would address them on the new group they’ve created, which at this stage seems exclusively blindness-related.

      • RE, Voice Dream Reader’s privacy practices. I’ll consider posting something to the Google Group down the road. Based on the domains it’s contacting, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has code that can change the content or features available in the app just by connecting to a server and fetching some code. For example I wouldn’t be surprised if the May 1st deadline would have actually rolled out to the current version of the app that we are using now rather than relying on users updating from the App Store. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but please take a look at the amount of places this app is reaching out to and consider whether an offline e reader app needs to be doing so. It’s also a little baffling to me that users have just accepted the need to register for a Voice Dream account? None of the current iOS features should be requiring that, at least to the best of my knowledge. It’s not like they have their own book store or storage locker. The app should be contacting Apple domains only, unless you take an explicit action like request the voices catalog and download a voice. It’s baffling to me that we’re all just throwing our most personal or work documents into this app without giving the developer some pushback about privacy. I mean no offence to anyone who does this, I am no different. But the “pro privacy” part of my brain kind of cringes. Ultimately I think in the future, an alternative accessible reader app would be very helpful. This app has some very peculiar practices.

        • I am happy to have my memory jogged if I am wrong, but I don’t recall ever creating an account for Voice Dream Reader, and I can find no evidence that I am signed into one.
          I only use it on iOS however, so perhaps it works differently on Mac.
          If someone can come up with a better app, bring it on, competition is healthy, but this app has set a very high bar in terms of functionality.

  7. Shouldn’t apps which switch to a subscription model be forced to either (a) grandfather in existing purchasers of the app to a $0 subscription permanently, or (b) refund the cost of the purchase to users who bought the app outright, or (c) freeze the full functionality of the paid-for app for those users who purchased it (in this case that would mean continuing to allow new uploads)?

    I don’t see this as too onerous and gives developers the options to do what works best for them but also gives users the confidence to purchase expensive apps knowing that they won’t, 6 months down the line, lose all functionality from the app unless they pay what is effectively a ransom subscription.