Monday, September 15, 2008

Apple AppStore Bans The Competition

Apple continues to keep a tight hold over which applications will and won't be available via their AppStore banning crude apps (iFartz and Pull My Finger) or flat out harmful, spammy apps. However last week Apple denied a developer's app because it “duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes,” according to a note the developer received from Apple.

The removal of the app led to many questions and the suggestion that Apple is banning apps that are in direct competition with their current offerings. A move prompting some iPhone programmers to vow to never write another AppStore program for the iPhone, and from the sounds of it they are dead serious about it.

One of the apps in question, Podcaster, allows users to download podcasts on their iPhone and listen to them at their leisure. The app also streams podcasts so you could listen to your favorite show anywhere you have an Internet or data connection without storing the podcasts on the iPhone to free up space. It allows you to do so without syncing to your computer - which until yesterday was a 20-60 minute affair for some customers.

Last week the developers over at Nullriver, makers of the controversial NetShare application that lets you use your iPhone as a modem for your laptop, reported that their application has also been officially banned from the App Store. A post on the company’s website reads:

"Looks like Apple has decided they will not be allowing any tethering applications in the AppStore. As such, NetShare will not be available in the iTunes AppStore. We are seeing a lot of similar reports from various developers who’s applications were abruptly removed and banned from the AppStore without any violations of the terms of service. This is all unfortunate news for the iPhone platform end-users."

Developers are angry about Apple’s unclear and sometimes downright silly AppStore approval (rejection) policy. A policy which has left numerous developers of already complete iPhone apps pondering how they should distribute their programs after getting an official rejection letter.

For example, Fraser Speirs, owner of Connected Flow the developer of the popular Exposure program for the iPhone writes “I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted,” although his own application was approved and does remain in AppStore.

In his blog he goes on further, stating what would make him change his mind, and the list of his demands to Apple goes a little something like this:

  1. Publish clear and unambiguous rules for what will be accepted and what will not. I don’t even care if this is a long and detailed document, but it needs to be The Rulebook from which both sides play.
  2. Defend those rules against external pressure from carriers (NetShare) or the media (Slasher).
  3. Design a process by which developers can be given official pre-approval of their idea. Possibly a general nod, possibly conditional on certain criteria. If developers are going to go and borrow money to hire talent or build out services, they need more confidence than “call us when you’re done”.
  4. Loudly and conspicuously hire an App Store Evangelist. Preferably someone with an already high profile who does not already work for Apple. In fact, it might even be best if this person was not paid by Apple but an independent developer to whom Apple would give deep access to work with the App Store team. This is an investor trust issue.
  5. When controversies arise, let the Evangelist get into the conversation and lay out a clear rationale for Apple’s actions.
  6. Send the App Store Evangelist to every corner of the earth where iPhone developers gather. Unshackle them from the usual Apple constraints on public speaking. Get them on podcasts. For better or for worse, Apple has to start talking to the iPhone developer community.

He does not intend to pull his current app Exposure from the store, clarifying that by "out" he means he is not going to invest time and money into new ideas for the iPhone until this mess is resolved.

Mr Frasier is not the only one that shares this sentiment — a quick look around the web and several developers forums shows that his ideas are shared by many. If this would become a mass movement towards better and clearer policies, Apple would probably cave in, but it remains to be seen whether the rogue developers will be organized enough.

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