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Editorial

Apple, Grow up: It’s Time to Fix App Store Approvals

We've all heard or read the recent stories regarding Apple and their "policies" regarding the iPhone's App Store -- applications being refused out right, held back for long periods of time with no notice to the developer as to why, much needed application updates and bug fixes languishing, and plenty of other delays where developers are left in the dark.

For me, the Tweetie incident was the last straw.

For those of us on Twitter, we are always in search of an application that allows us to access our Twitter feeds more efficiently on our iPhones. I don't use the Tweetie app personally (I'm a big fan of the free TwitterFon), but I know a lot of folks do and they like it a lot.

So when news came that the latest update to version 1.3 of Tweetie had been refused by Apple, users were up in arms, and understandably so. But what caught my attention was Apple's reasoning behind the refusal.

By way of background for those of you unfamiliar with Twitter or with the way some aspects of it works, there's a feature of Twitter that tracks topics -- basically what words are apearing most often on Twitter. Various apps show this in various ways, for example TweetDeck has a panel dedicated to these "word trends." They can be kind of interesting and a way of finding a lot of tweets on the particular hot topic of the moment.

Why did Apple refuse to allow the latest update to the app in their store? Was it because it was badly written or it was too expensive or it was of "limited utility" (an excuse Apple has used in the past)? None of those things: It was because Tweetie showed you "bad words."

Read that last sentence again, finish shaking your head and then continue...

Tweetie's developer, Loren Brichter (@atebits on Twitter) announced this stunning news on Twitter, and I immediately called BS because... well, that would be stupid of Apple to do something so asinine....

My bad...

Now, understand this. Tweetie doesn't randomly throw "naughty" words into your Twitter stream. It doesn't replace your typed words with obscenities. It in no way creates or inserts offensive words into Tweetie or Twitter. It simply reports what the word trends are on Twitter at any given moment.

Keep in mind, these word trends are generated by the Twitter community. Tweetie has abolutely no control over them. The app is simply the proverbial "messenger." If the Twitterati happen to be talking about the Kindle 2 or the new iPod shuffle or pork pies, that's what gets reported by Tweetie. It is "word agnostic."

OK, OK, I hear what you're saying. This is probably the work of some low level flunky at the App Store, overworked and underpaid and maybe a tad bit too zealous in their quest to ensure the purity of the App Store or, at least, make their boss happy and not get fired. I get that.

But to refuse an app because it can potentially show you a "bad word" is ludicrous in the extreme. By that benchmark, Apple shouldn't allow Safari as an iPhone application, or any number of other applications that can perform similar word trend analysis.

A lesser issue is why is an employee reviewing an application when said employee doesn't understand the functions of the application? It's obvious to all who use Twitter what the word trend feature is, how it is generated and how applications have no control over that feature. It's also obvious that those words will change over time. So rejecting the app based on functionality it has no control over makes no sense. It's not Tweetie's fault that at times Twitter users can be a foul mouthed bunch.

What about apps like the completely ridiculous iFart or Pull My Finger? Those meet the very definition of "limited utility to the broad iPhone and iPod touch user community" and yet they were allowed on the App Store eventually.

Apple seems to have a knee jerk reaction of "NO!" like a parent scolding an unruly child but then, "after further review," allowing the child to go right ahead and continue the behaviors -- and it simply makes Apple look foolish.

Because, like so many times in the past, Apple has relented. Tweetie 1.3 was eventually approved and is available on the App Store.

Does that mean this is all a tempest in a teapot? Perhaps, but it also goes to once again show that Apple's methodology for approvals on the App Store is fundamentally broken and is in desperate need of an overhaul. There is simply too much confusion as to what Apple's "rules" are -- and those rules seem far too mutable and often capricious. A developer doesn't know from application to application, and even revision to revision, whether or not his effort of time, energy and money will be allowed to appear on the App Store. And that kind of uncertainty could drive away some developers and make the App Store less useful to all of us.

Is the simplest solution for Apple to open a new "section" of the App Store, one where anything goes? Restrict it to those over 18 or 21 and, except for obviously hard core and illegal apps, let developers have at it.

The problem with that approach is proving the age restrictions and what happens when, not if, something truly objectionable makes it into the "Over 21" section of the store.

A better solution is for Apple to do what it has historically been unwilling to do: offer more transparency to its developers. Instead of a knee jerk refusal, why not contact the developer, explain what the issue is and work together to address Apple's concerns? This has the advantage of developers not immediately "going to the mattresses" and trying to use the media to badger Apple into conceding.

By communicating better with developers, Apple can waste less time on these silly issues and backtracking on decisions made in a vacuum.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an application gets refused entrance to the hallowed (and lucrative) iPhone App Store. But Apple's decisions are obviously not consistent, not well understood (even by people at Apple) and simultaneously confusing and frustrating for both the users and the developers.

And it's particularly egregious when it doesn't have to be this way.

 

6 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

gopher said:

As a webmaster who deals with Apple subject material on my website, I occasionally get badgering by Apple what I put on my website since I use my website as a means to give support on Apple’s Discussions.  So it is amazing they will contact me, where they won’t contact the iPhone developer.  I suggest any iPhone developer not happy with the situation contact Apple directly and appeal to them via http://www.apple.com/contact/feedback.html

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Bosco (Brad Hutchings) said:

When the South Park app was rejected, I took a month off buying from iTunes Store. I think that month might be about up now. But I don’t know if I go back. I like my iPod Touch and have been thinking about biting the AT&T bullet and getting an iPhone. But I’m tired of the extra chromosome right wingers at Apple censoring developers. If I could stomach a BlackBerry, I’d get one in a New York minute.

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David said:

I agree that Apple needs to do a better job with these Apps and especially with the developers. My problem is that as soon as I see the photo of Shawn King, with his sunglasses on, his too cool for you bald head, and him kissing the air, I can’t buy into anything he says. Even when I agree, I can’t get past that ego-centric photo. Come on.

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YodaMac said:

Oh yeah! Brilliant! Smut is just what the iPhone needs to be truly useful to people.  razz

Maybe the twitterer’s are the ones who need to “grow up”.  Keep taking the trash out, Apple.

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geoduck said:

Or simpler yet
If it doesn’t break something, or carry malware let it in. Apple shouldn’t be censoring apps. Have an over 18 section if you must, but other than that let the market decide.

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Thomas von Hassel said:

Shawn makes some good points, and Apple really need to work on it’s communicatons skills, not just when dealing with iPhone developers ...

But, David, are looks and appearances really that important to you ?

/thomas

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