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App Store II: Steve Jobs sucks Mac's soul

The Human Interface Commandments

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There are plenty of restrictions in the Mac App Store Review Guideline that raise concerns, but we'll focus on a mere half-dozen eyebrow-raisers:

  • "If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected."
  • "Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them."
  • "Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected."
  • "Apps with metadata that mentions the name of any other computer platform will be rejected."
  • "Apps which appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme will be rejected."
  • "Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected."

Let's take these strictures one-by-one, and explain why we find them troubling:

Complex or "less than very good": Apple will reserve the right to define, evaluate, and enforce user-interface innovation and quality.

To be sure, Apple's continually updated, continually perfected Human Interface Guidelines have made a strong contribution to the acceptance of the Mac as an easy-to-use, easy-to-learn computing platform. But over the years those guidelines have been just that: guidelines.

With the inception of the Mac App Store, however, those guidelines will be elevated to the status of commandments. Should a developer invent a new way for users to interact with their Macs, his or her creativity must pass muster with the App Store police before Apple will allow that inventive app to profit from acceptance into the Mac App Store.

In other words, the market won't decide what's good or useful; Apple will. Innovation will have a gatekeeper.

Over the years, developers have pushed the UI envelope in many ways — Kai's Power Tools and Poser leap to mind as examples. Whether or not you find the UIs of such apps "complex" or "less than very good", however, isn't the point — what matters is that the Mac App Store Review Guidelines takes the right to make that decision away from you, and hands it to the App Store police.

Duplicate apps: Apple will decide if there are enough apps of a particular type in the Mac App Store.

If a developer wants his or her app to compete with existing apps, he or she may be S.O.L. And as with the UI strictures, Apple will decide who wins and who loses, not the market.

Take, for one simple example, FTP clients. Today, a Mac user can freely choose among FileZilla, Fetch, Captain FTP, Cyberduck, Transmit, Yummy FTP, ForkLift, FTPortal, Interarchy, and more, all with their strengths and weaknesses.

Is that too many? Maybe so, maybe not — but once the "curated" Mac App Store opens, the App Store police will decide whether or not there are enough apps of a particular type or function in the store, and when they do decide that enough is enough, they'll narrow a consumer's choices. And the developers whose apps aren't allowed into the sacred store will be at a distinct — and possibly fatal — disadvantage to those whose apps are App Store residents.

Not very useful or lacking "lasting entertainment value": Apple will tell you what's useful, and will decide whether or not an app might "entertain" you — lastingly.

One of the charms of Mac software — especially during the platform's more-carefree earlier years — has been whimsy. Examples abound, but we'll offer three: Talking Moose (now Uli's Moose), Jared: Butcher of Songs, and SimStapler.

One user's whimsical app, of course, may very well be simply pointless crapware to another user — you pays your money (or allocates your drive space) and you makes your choice. Egalitarianism, and all that.

That will now change. Up until the advent of the Mac App Store, whether to install a digital diversion that "brings all of the thrill and excitement of a 'real' stapler right to your computer screen!" has been your decision, not Apple's. The new Guidelines give Apple the right to take that decision away from you.

And what, pray tell, is "lasting entertainment value", and why should Apple define it, and not the marketplace?

Mentions other platforms: Apple will prevent developers from telling prospective buyers that their apps are also available on other platforms.

This restriction is — not too put too fine a point on it — %$#@!ing petty and small-minded.

When choosing an app, a buyer may want to know if there's also a version of it that will run on another computer that they may own — a Windows box, for example. Many apps, of course, do have such complementary versions, and knowing that info can help a buyer make an informed decision based on, for example, whether he or she wants to avoid retraining on multiple apps.

In the brave new world of the Mac App Store, there will be but one platform that can be spoken of: Apple's.

This stricture, as is true with many others in the Mac App Store Review Guidelines, is already in force in the iPhone/Pod/Pad App Store. Witness, for example, the case of developer Flash of Genius, whose test-preparation app was held back, and who received an email from the App Store police stating: "While your application has not been rejected, it would be appropriate to remove 'Finalist in Google’s Android Developer's Challenge!' from the Application Description."

While Apple can't be expected to promote a competing platform, is it asking too much for it to help its developers and their customers know of an app's range of platforms? Apparently.

Such information, of course, can be found on a developer's website, but the Mac App Store aims to make sales outside of its confines essentially irrelevant. Not allowing a developer to inform their customers of their app's platform range is at best shabby, and at worst a slap in the developer's face.

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