There are a lot of problems with Apple’s iPhone application approval process. One especially weird aspect is the fact that Apple sometimes rejects apps which can access the Internet due to the fact that there were bad things on the Internet at the time of the approval process.
One such case was Tweetie. Tweetie is a Twitter client which can show a list of «trending» words. These are words which are used by a lot of people on Twitter at the given moment. Unfortunately, during the time of Tweetie’s approval process, a lot of people on Twitter decided to use vulgar words, which then showed up in Tweetie’s list of trending words, which prompted the reviewer to reject the application.
A more recent case is the Nine Inch Nails iPhone app. This app lets its users stream songs from Nine Inch Nails’ server. When the app’s developer wanted to publish a bugfix update (which did not contain any new content), Apple rejected it. The reason? According to Ars Technica, the app allows access to a podcast which at the time of the app’s approval process had the song «The Downward Spiral» on it, which Apple doesn’t like for some unexplained reason. In an attempt to get the bugfix release approved, the song has now been removed from Nine Inch Nails’ servers.
A third case is Makayama’s newspaper reader, an application which was rejected because it allowed access to material by The Sun, a newspaper which tends to display pictures of semi-naked females. Prohibiting access to The Sun allowed the app to be made available on iTunes. Meanwhile, Apple’s own Safari web browser still allows users to access content from The Sun, including pictures of semi-naked females.
Obviously, trying to ban apps with access to the Internet for content found on the Internet is absurd. Apple might as well ban its own Safari browser, since it can be used to access pornography, or its Mail client, since people might send each other messages containing swear words. Presumably, the rejections of the two apps mentioned above were thus unintentional mistakes on Apple’s part. Still, Apple obviously wants to prevent potentially insulting applications from appearing on the iPhone.
The Entertainment Software Rationg Board
Fortunately, this problem has already been solved. The ESRB is an institution which rates the content of videogames. Games get a rating based on «age appropriateness». Apple could implement a similar system for the App Store.
This would also solve the problem of apps that access the Internet: A lot of games have online access and can’t be rated conclusively. For those games, the ESRB adds a notice saying «Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB», which clearly points out that the game may display inappropriate content.
Instead of trying to censor the Internet, Apple should simply add the appropriate labels to each application, so that parents and people concerned about naughty words could avoid them at their own will. iPhone owners could thus decide what types of applications to allow on their (or their childrens’) iPhones.
In fact, Apple already has such a system in place for Podcasts.
The Bigger Picture
Coincidentally, iFlash Touch has also been rejected today because it «requires a desktop companion app.» You know, like Apple’s own Keynote Remote.
All of this makes the App Store a bit of a strange beast for software developers. It’s unclear to me how we are supposed to find out which applications are acceptable before trying to get them approved, at which point we may already have months of our time invested in our application. The result of this is that developers will not create applications which require huge up-front investments in terms of time or money. This becomes obvious when browsing the App Store: There are very few iPhone applications which can’t be implemented in a short amount of time.
And yes, Apple is well within their rights to ban whatever content they want from their own platform. That doesn’t mean that we have to be happy about it, or that it is a good idea for the iPhone app ecosystem.
It seems Apple is telling developers to resubmit certain apps for iPhone 3.0 since iPhone 3.0 will have Parental Controls. This would at least solve part of the problem.
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