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Steve Jobs lectures devs, dodges antitrust action

Weeding the walled garden

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Comment Over two years after the debut of the iTunes App Store, Apple has finally provided developers with guidelines describing what apps are and aren't acceptable for inclusion in what Steve Jobs has called Cupertino's "curated platform."

Apple also removed restrictions from its iOS developer license that brought good news to Adobe, Google, and any developers squeezed by Cupertino's draconian coding and data-collection restrictions.

But balancing that good news were the App Store Review Guidelines, which make it abundantly clear — as if more clarification were even needed — that Jobs & Co believe that it's their role, not yours, to decide what you can load onto your iOS device.

In Apple's paternalistic world, you're an unsophisticated child, unable to make your own decisions. It's not up to you to decide what you want. Apple will take care of that for you.

Apple advises developers that "If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted."

Caveat emptor has been replaced by caveat developer.

Apple decides, not you, what's innovative and what's not: "Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them."

Apple decides, not you, whether a complex app is worth learning: "If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected."

Developers are also warned that although a Review Board is available to which rejections can be appealed, "If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."

Apple refers to the guidelines as a "living document, and new apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time," but follows that with what could well be regarded as a thinly veiled threat. "Perhaps your app will trigger this."

Inconsistencies

In addition to its overall "we know what's best for you" tone, the guidelines are also at odds with many apps currently available on the App Store. Either Apple will have to remove a host of existing apps or grandfather them in.

There are over 250,000 apps in the App Store, but even a cursory review points out items that now run afoul of the finally-explicit App Store Review Guidelines:

  • "Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript." Opera Mini works by downloading compressed versions of web pages from its proxy servers rather than using WebKit in what seems now to be a direct violation of the guidelines.
  • "Apps involving realistic depictions of weapons in such a way as to encourage illegal or reckless use of such weapons will be rejected." Apps such as Shoot-iT, which promotes "solving life's little annoyances one bullet at a time", and which includes realistic depictions of a Smith & Wesson pistol, .357 Magnum Colt Python, AK-47, and more run afoul of this directive.
  • "Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected." What about iBeer, which simulates a frosty beverage being quaffed when the iOS device is tipped to lips, Beer, which offers "a rich symphony of burps, belches, chugging, slurping, gurgling and crushing cars with your face," and over a dozen Beer Pong apps.
  • "Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected." It's time to get rid of Wooo! Button, Ka-Ching!, Poop Machine, and hundreds — thousands? — of others.

While some of these examples may seem petty — who really cares about such silliness as Poop Machine, after all? — they point to a larger issue. Namely, have the App Store police had any formal guidelines over the past two years? How have they made their decisions?

If there have been no specific guidelines, and the App Store police have been approving and rejecting apps by the seats of their collective pants, isn't that an inexcusable failure in leadership? And if there have been specific guidelines, why did Apple wait two years to share them with developers?

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