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  • The App Store Rejection Column

    September 24th, 2008

    All right, does the world need another application to handle Podcasts on their iPhones? Well, Apple says they don’t, because such an application would duplicate the functions of iTunes, apparently, and thus an attempt to post such a product on the App Store was rejected.

    Now as an early adopter of the Podcast concept, in my case as an online broadcaster, I welcome all possible avenues to present my shows. However, I don’t think I’m necessarily going to lose any listeners as a result of this particular episode. Otherwise, I’d be complaining loudly.

    The main issue, of course, is whether Apple is abusing its authority as the ultimate judge of whether an application should be put up for sale at the App Store. There is no independent appeal process involved here. Apple says no, and that’s the way it is, unless you make appropriate changes to your app that might address their concerns.

    Now, since this is Apple’s playground, they have the right to make the rules, and when you sign up for the iPhone SDK, you agree to accept those rules in developing your products for display on the App Store. You aren’t going to be able to call upon your legal advisers to negotiate terms. Take it or leave it.

    While some people have complained wildly and loudly about Apple’s actions, let’s look at the practical results.

    For one thing, Apple is trying to make sure that the applications offered for download by iPhone customers are safe and reliable. That is no mean achievement. No application is ever perfect, and certainly some of the products available for download can be troublesome. But, aside from crashing, they will not impact your phone’s security or steal your private data.

    Consider the competition, such as the newly-minted T-Mobile G1 smartphone. It uses the new Google Android operating system, which is, like Linux (on which it’s based) totally open source, which means there is no central control over the platform or the software that runs on it.

    Now I suspect a lot of you might find that to be an advantage, since it means that there’s no gatekeeper to prevent you from installing and using the applications you want. I suppose there are some benefits to that, at least as far as total freedom is concerned.

    But what about the products that can crash constantly, or even impact performance of other software and perhaps the phone itself? What if they make undue demands on precious battery life? Even more important, what if they are riddled with potential security holes that would make it easy for someone to jailbreak your phone, without your permission, and install stuff on it that would compromise your security?

    That is not a paranoid scenario. Making a platform available to most anyone who wants to apply, without proper vetting of the finished products, could cause chaos. Even within the Windows environment, allowing hundreds of PC makers to buy OEM licenses and install the operating system on their products has caused no end of trouble for them, for MIcrosoft, and for those of you who continue to use Windows.

    In a large part, Apple’s vertically integrated system has resulted in products that mostly work as advertised, and perform in predictable ways.

    This isn’t to say that the iPhone, iPod or even your Mac is perfect. You know they aren’t, and certainly I’ve spent occasions silently cursing Apple or some outside company when things don’t work properly.

    When it comes to the iPhone, it’s also a large learning experience. Apple went from nothing to having the most talked about smartphone on the planet in a matter of months. The iPhone SDK wasn’t released until this spring, and has undergone regular updates since then. The first iteration of the App Store debuted on July 11th, so we’re talking about something extremely new, and not tested for a long period in the marketplace.

    Since releasing iPhone 2.0, Apple has offered three firmware updates. Some fixed unnamed bugs, while others addressed connectivity issues and application crashes. If you examine the online chatter, you’ll see what there’s still work to be done.

    So far, the promised push notification feature is missing in action. It would have allowed more seamless operation for such applications as AIM, but published reports suggest the feature was pulled from a recent iPhone developer release. Now that might be because Apple had to hunker down and address other issues first. Since the feature was demonstrated at a WWDC, I expect it will return shortly, and may still make its debut before the end of the month, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it drift until October.

    When it comes to the application review and approval process, I don’t think anyone is going to dispute the fact that it’s a work in progress too. It may even be inconsistent, depending on how many Apple employees are actually involved. In other words, one person might accept a product, while a similar product is summarily rejected by someone else.

    Over time, as the development process matures, I expect things will get better. But apps that seem to directly compete with Apple’s own may still end up in the reject bin. While Apple may be right in some situations, I don’t think they have much to lose to allow some of these applications to go on sale.

    RIght now, after all, you aren’t tethered to iWork if you want to run a word processor or a spreadsheet on your Mac. You can choose from Microsoft Office and other alternatives. You can run none of them, or all of them, and use the tool that suits best for a specific task. No harm done at all, and it would be great to also see a little more developer freedom at the App Store. But, as I said, it’s a work in progress, still, and things will hopefully change for the better over time.

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