App Store Ambiguity
The problem isn’t even that Apple considers the source or the intent or is interested in making sure the App Store is a friendly place for kids and parents. The problem is that all its various unpublished policies of what is acceptable and what is not are applied unevenly and at times arbitrarily. From a developer’s point of view, there’s no reliable way to know beforehand if an app will cross one of Apple’s invisible lines or not.
It also leaves e-books, and iBooks, in a position of ambiguity. Is iBooks going to enforce similar family-friendly values, rejecting erotica novels and books with harsh language? Probably not.
We’ve already covered the rejection of an e-book app for making it possible to read the Project Gutenberg edition of the Kama Sutra, and the rejection of an appbook version of David Carnoy’s novel Knife Music because it contained use of the “f-word”.
But the iTunes music and movie stores contain plenty of songs with explicit lyrics and R-rated movies with harsh language. The difference? Apparently only that they’re not apps. There is no reason to expect iBooks will be different.
A Frustrating Situation
Certainly the whole situation does not make the iPhone and iPad any more appealing to developers who have no way of knowing what might cause their apps to be rejected—even long after it was originally approved. It has to be particularly frustrating for the developers of the 5,000 apps that have been rejected, given that they thought they were playing by the rules.
Who knows what category of applications Apple might decide to reject tomorrow? Mobile Industry Review has a piece that asks this question:
How sure can you be that your application won’t be removed for some weird and wonderful reason? What happens if Apple decides to move into the baby market by creating a series of products and services for mothers-with-babies? Does that mean that Apple would switch off the thousands of baby applications currently in the store?
Or maybe not.
The problem is, we don’t know.
Even though I’m skeptical of the idea Apple might actually do it, I have to admit that it is at least possible they could decide that iBooks is the only e-book store Apple users need. Just because an app was approved in the past does not mean it is safe in the future.
At the same time Apple’s behavior makes me very nervous, I’m still very happy with my iPod Touch overall. On the one hand, Apple’s restrictions are annoying and disappointing. On the other hand, it does provide a good impetus for some company to come along and produce a better handheld device—and gives such a device plenty of frustrated developers ready to jump ship.
Update: Gizmodo notices that a new category for “Explicit” apps has quietly appeared in the App Store, though there are no applications in it yet. Might Apple be reacting to backlash against its broad-spectrum removal by creating a new private sandbox where these apps can live?
Update 2: Apparently not. Gizmodo now reports that the category has been removed again. Apple told a developer that it showed up by mistake, and that while Apple was considering adding such a category, "it’s not going to happen anytime soon."