c1c6e9_370b99a45fc0858eee2bc56d71f27b66.png_srz_120_105_75_22_0.50_1.20_0If you’ve ever driven anywhere during rush hour, you know that texting while driving turns people into a menace on the road.

OTTER, a Bainbridge Island-based company, aims to alleviate that problem with an eponymous app that allows a user to cede his or her texting to an automated system while driving — alerting people who text the driver that the recipient is behind the wheel — as well as silence notifications and the ringer while the car is in motion.

The company’s app is already available on Android. But, because of restrictions placed on iOS developers, OTTER can’t make the jump over to iOS. To try to get Apple to budge, OTTER has started a petition on Change.org to ask the iPhone maker to open up its platform to apps that prevent texting while driving.

Apple offers a hands-free texting solution in the form of Siri, but a recent study has shown that hands-free texting doesn’t do anything to ease the distraction brought on by texting. OTTER says there’s no speed-activated, texting auto-reply software available on the iPhone today.

“Now, more than ever, it’s time take on this epidemic on a large scale and Apple has the ability to tackle it like few other companies can. Our goal is to give bicyclists, motorcyclists and all drivers an easy way to let Apple know that this is a priority – and it takes less than 30 seconds to sign the petition,” OTTER Co-Founder John Lam said in a press release.

It’s worth noting, however, that OTTER is asking a lot from Apple. Allowing apps to automatically text on a user’s behalf opens up a lot of potential abuse cases for malicious devs to turn unsuspecting iPhone users into text spamming machines. That’s not to say Apple won’t end up doing what OTTER is asking for, especially in light of Tim Cook’s remarks at D11 when he said that he was interested in potentially opening up iOS, but what OTTER wants is a tall order.

If you want to sign the petition, you can find it here. As of press time, 91 people had signed the petition.

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  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I just wish there was more specific detail about the Apple restrictions.

    I totally get there’s a potential benefit here but the Otter folks aren’t making a good argument for making a change that has security ramifications. Any change like that needs to be based on an assessment that weighs the risks of the change against the benefit.

    By not telling us what the specific restrictions are and what they protect against, I can’t tell if this is something that is a smart trade off or is fixing one problem by introducing another equally bad (or worse) one.

  • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

    For safety, users can always mute their iPhone or turn it off. With iMessage the sender will know that their message (from another iMessage user) has been received – just not read. Isn’t that an appropriate level of useful feedback? Seems like it’s basically the same as if an automated service sent back a canned message. I can’t think of too many instances where it would be critical that I inform the sender of a text that I can’t reply because I’m driving. I’d simply not reply – because I’m driving!

    • J Riele

      Hello, I have a 17 year old daughter who, like most teens, texts constantly. Teens are so connected with texting, that if they don’t reply instantly, their peers make assumptions about their whereabouts and think that there must be some problem since they didn’t get right back to them. The app. we need for the iPhone allows the user to CUSTOMIZE a reply, so that the sender knows WHY the user has not replied. It’s not enough for a teen to have an automatic message that a text was received. They want a custom reply, especially when they are driving. The app. we need for the iPhone is not only a safety tool which can be used when driving, but it is also a text management tool which allows people to “turn off” for a period of time in order to focus on something else. Examples of custom messages include: “studying now…text you in an hour” so that a teen can get some homework done without interruption, or “at dinner with my family…text you at 9” so they can put their phone away at dinner. And most importantly, “driving now…call you in 15”. All of my daughter’s friends are eager for this iPhone app and say that they will use it, especially when driving.

    • Troy Niehaus

      David – knowing a user has only read your text is NOT an appropriate level of user feedback. What if you are a parent trying to reach your teen, or a wife trying to reach your husband? What if you don’t have iMessage? My own family always texts me until I reply, and they would be even more determined to keep texting if they knew I read the text but didn’t yet reply! If they knew I was driving or in a meeting they would stop texting me, and I would not have to interrupt what I was doing to reply. It’s an easy change for Apple, and one that can help save thousands of lives…

  • http://www.OTTERapp.com/ ErikWood

    @ Chris and David:

    Gentlemen – you are missing the point. First, with
    some of the most talented programmers on the planet, we feel confident
    that Apple can maintain its level of security to its customers and
    address the No. 1 killer of teens in the US. Maybe its not an app.
    Maybe OTTER’s functionality just becomes a feature on iOS? Its easy to solve – think big… its a big issue.

    Next – teens and tweens are texting
    3,000 to 5,000 times a month since about 2010. If a they don’t reply to a
    text within 30 seconds their blood pressure mounts and they feel like
    they are being rude. Sure – go ahead – be an old fuddy duddy
    who says something like “just make them turn off the phone” but you would be
    out of touch. Statistics are rising in the epidemic of Text and
    Drive. We need to offer drivers of all ages the option to feel
    connected while also making safe choices. Maybe you can borrow a
    friend’s Android phone and check it out… its free and it works in the movie
    theater, while you are in a meeting or most importantly while you are on
    the highway. Its a habit changer and not a quick fix…

    Thanks for providing this forum, GeekWire.

    Erik Wood, Founder
    OTTER apps

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      Thanks, that doesn’t really answer my question but I think I found it in the article. You’re asking Apple to create an “allow app to send on behalf of” permission for text messages, correct?

      If so, I understand the problem you’re trying to solve and applaud that. But as a security person can’t support that request as SMS premium service abuse is one of the (myriad) of security problems on the Android platform (over 718K pieces of malware and counting).

      To be clear I think what you’re doing is great. I just think there needs to be a different approach because that permission exists on Android and is heavily abused there.

  • Dorian

    NOt to be that guy but that’s why I use TOTs Parent (Google Play), it sends out a text to anyone trying to text me while I’m driving letting them know I’m busy and I’ll get back to them….and I don’t get distracted. I can activate it remotely on my wife (or kids’) phones too

    • RayPC

      I set up a keyboard shortcut “ddd” and then it prints out a message “I am driving right now and will message you later”. It would be nice if the iPhone had this a built in feature in messaging. They offer something like that for phone calls. Where you can respond with a message. You have a few messages to pick from.

    • tfwn93

      Dorian – We realize advertising a new app with less than 10 downloads is expensive but this discussion is about why Apple does not allow GPS based texting auto reply apps on the iPhone – and your app is only available on Android since 9/2013. Let’s stay on topic!

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