The iTunes App Store has been exceedingly successful for Apple, but the past 12 months haven’t gone off without a hitch. Since its inception a year ago, the iTunes App Store has been embroiled in controversy, and it often seemed that the unprecedented breadth and popularity of the app store left Apple confused, and unsure as to how it should police its online marketplace, if at all. More often than not, Apple erred on the side of caution and implemented what many might call a draconian rule over the app store. Many applications were inexplicably rejected from the app store, some were outright banned, and at the same time, a number of questionable and sometimes illegal apps were able to sneak by the Apple censors. For a while, It seemed that almost every week there was some new controversy regarding Apple’s submission policies regarding the iTunes App Store.
Here, in Part III of our iTunes App Store retrospective, we take a look at some of the more controversial and interesting app store rejections over the past 12 months. From the “I am Rich” and “Baby Shaker” apps, all the way to Trent Reznor calling out Apple on its BS, we have all the greats listed below for your reading pleasure.
I Am Rich
Apple’s first experience with app store controversy began early last August, less than 1 month after the iTunes App Store went live. In a story that garnered a tremendous amount of press, a German developer by the name of Armin Heinrich wrote a simple iPhone app called “I Am Rich” which had a shockingly high-you gotta be kidding me-are people actually going to spend this much money- price tag of $999.99.
And the kicker was that the app essentially did nothing. When activated, the app simply displayed a glowing red gem on the screen in an attempt to let onlookers glancing at your iPhone know just how rich you were. The developer advertised the app thusly,
The red icon on your iPhone or iPod Touch always reminds you (and others when you show it to them) that you were able to afford this. It’s a work of art with no hidden function at all.
After word of the app got out, Apple quickly removed it from iTunes. But the question everybody wanted to know was, “Did anyone actually buy the app?”
As it turns out, yes, some people did purchase the app. In an interview with the LA Times, the developer wrote that 8 people bought the “I Am Rich” app, presumably netting him $5600 in profits after Apple got its 30% cut of the loot. Not surprisingly, a couple of souls who were brave enough to admit they purchased the app by accident had their money refunded by Apple.
Apple’s next app store controversy went down last September when it decided not to accept an application known as ‘Podcaster’ into the iTunes App Store. Podcaster allowed users to stream and download podcasts over an Internet connection without having to access them via iTunes, a useful feature if you happened to be away from your home computer, and thus iTunes, for a while.
Apple, however, wasn’t as enthusiastic and rejected the app on the grounds that it duplicated functionality already present in iTunes – namely, the ability to download podcasts. Critics immediately shot back and pointed out that Apple had already accepted a number of apps which mimic Apple’s applications. But not only did Apple refuse to budge, it soon added some of Podcaster’s functionality to iTunes! Talk about chutzpah.
A few months later, in January, Apple finally came to its senses and accepted ‘Podcaster’ into the app store, though by then, it had been re-named RSS Player. Why the name change, you ask? Well, in order to get the app into the app store, the developer had to make certain concessions such as precluding users from searching for podcasts via the app itself. Instead users would have to subscribe to the RSS feeds of the podcasts they wanted to download. Hence, the name.
Netshare was a tethering app that allowed users to establish an Internet connection on their laptops via their iPhones. It initially appeared on the iTunes App Store last July, and over a period of a few weeks, would reappear, and then disappear. People weren’t quite sure what was going on, and the logical assumption was that AT&T and/or Apple weren’t big fans of the app. Eventually in mid-September, Apple officially banned the app. To be fair, the App was banned because AT&T at the time wasn’t allowing tethering apps on the iPhone.
Hey, wait a minute, AT&T still doesn’t allow tethering on the iPhone!
Over the past few months, rumors of AT&T tethering plans have abounded on the web, but AT&T has remained curiously silent on the matter. What makes matters even more confusing is that iPhone users are more than willing to pay an extra fee for the ability to tether, yet AT&T, for whatever reason, keeps on dragging their feet.
Pull My Finger
What’s that you say? How can “Pull my Finger” be banned when you just downloaded 4 farting apps last week? Well, it wasn’t that long ago that Apple refused entry for a bevy of vomit and farting apps, noting that they “lacked utility”. By early December, however, Apple had changed its mind, and in came the farting and vomit apps by the dozens. Pull My Finger was never the most popular farting app (that honor belongs to iFart Mobile), but its rejection and subsequent acceptance into the iTunes App Store made quite a story at the time.
In early February, Apple rejected an iPhone game that let users select their politician of choice, and subsequently use the built in accelerometer to tilt the device and determine in which direction their favorite (or most hated) politician would bounce. Users could even get politicians to do acrobatic flips and use them to “pop some balloons in the White House or the Oval Office” with their heads. Some of the politicians who were featured in the game included Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and Hillary Clinton.
Why was it banned? Well, because Apple claimed that it ridiculed public figures, which is in violation of iPhone SDK guidelines.
Here’s a video of the app that no one got to play.
In early March, Apple rejected an updated version of the popular Twitter client Tweetie because one of the trending topics on Twitter at the time of review was “FuckItList.” Following ‘trends’ via Tweetie was hardly a new feature in the program, and there were a number of other Twitter clients that, at the time, also had the same offensive topic on their trendlists.
You would assume that the people Apple entrusts to review submitted apps would be tech savvy enough to know what a trending topic on Twitter is, wouldn’t ya?
And in case you’re wondering where the word “FuckItList” came from, we’ve got you covered because we happen to be big fans of the comedian who started it, Michael Ian Black. Michael Ian Black, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, was a cast member on the hilarious early 90’s MTV sketch comedy show The State, and went on to star in the cult comedy film “Wet Hot American Summer”, and the short-lived Comedy Central series “Stella”. But most people probably recognize him best as the sarcastic talking head from VH1’s “I Love the 80’s”.
Anyways, Black had tweeted that he was creating a list of all the things he didn’t need to do before he dies. An anti bucket list of sorts that he aptly titled the FuckItList. Some of the initial items on the FuckItList included touring Europe’s great cathedrals, learning about birds, and attending a MLB baseball game in every stadium. Ian Black proceeded to ask his 71,000 followers to come up with their own FuckItLists, and they apparently responded en masse, causing the term “#FuckItList” to rise to the top on Twitter Trends and causing Tweetie’s update to be rejected from the app store.
Thankfully, the rejection was only temporary as Apple soon realized the error of its ways and soon accepted the updated Tweetie app, FuckItList and all.
In late April, an called Babyshaker notoriously snuck its way onto the iTunes App Store. As the name implies, the app displayed drawings of babies accompanied by “annoying” sounds such as crying and screaming. The stated purpose of the app was to see how long you could endure the “annoying” sounds before quieting the baby down by “shaking it.” Naturally, when people got wind of the app, they were outraged.
Apple, to its credit, was quite responsive and quickly removed the app from iTunes that same day. It later issued an apology for even allowing it onto iTunes in the first place.
“This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention.”
Less than a week after the Babyshaker debacle, Apple’s flip flopping tendencies were in full effect as it rejected an update to the popular Nine Inch Nails iPhone app due to “objectionable content.” Specifically, and according to a tweet from Trent Reznor, Apple found the app offensive because users were able to use it to download the album “The Downward Spiral.” Never mind the fact that the update was a simple bug fix.
Still, the rejection was a clear example of Apple being way too trigger happy with its app rejection pistol. The fact of the matter was that the questionable album wasn’t actually contained in the app itself, though the song of the same name was available as a “podcast that could be streamed from the app.
And the annoying irony, of course, was that the album was available in all of its explicit entirety on iTunes for anyone to download.
Eventually, NIN removed the song “The Downward Spiral” from its server in an attempt to appease Apple, and Apple soon responded with uncharacteristic quickness and soon approved the updated NIN app. It remains unclear what influence, if any, the public backlash had on Apple’s about face, but whatever gets the job done.
Lastly, the initial rejection of the NIN app update prompted NIN frontman Trent Reznor to leave an amusing message on the NIN forums where he heaped praise upon the iPhone while stating that Windows Mobile “straight-up sucks balls.”
You might argue that that quote almost made the banning worth it.
In mid-May, Apple rejected a BitTorrent control App called Drivetrain. In its rejection letter to the developer, Apple wrote:
…this category of applications is often used for the purpose of infringing third party rights. We have chosen to not publish this type of application to the App Store.”
DriveTrain, though, didn’t download or upload any data itself. Rather, it simply allowed users to remotely call and manage the popular BitTorrent client “Transmission” which any Mac OS X user is free to download and run anytime they want. On one hand we can see where Apple was coming from with this rejection, but it seemed a bit ridiculous that Mac users could download 20GB worth of movie files a day via Transmission, but an iPhone app which allows those same users to manage the app from afar was denied entry onto iTunes.
It’s time to get sexy, people.
This past May, Apple rejected the e-book reader Eucalyptus on the grounds that users could use it to access the Kama Sutra. Keep in mind that the app itself contained no content, and was merely used as a medium to read content downloaded from gutenberg.org, a free archive of digitized classic books whose stated purpose is to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.”
As James Montgomerie, the developer behind Eucalyptus, pointed out at the time, his program didn’t ” ‘contain’ books any more than a newly bought iPod ‘contains’ songs.”
That said, the only way to find the “objectionable” text from the Kama Sutra was to manually search for it, and that’s exactly what an app reviewer at Apple did. The app was initially submitted to Apple on April 27th, only to be followed by a rejection letter nearly 2 weeks later.
So, like clockwork, the blogosphere jumped up and shouted at Apple’s inane rejection, and after a few days of bad press, Apple finally came to its senses and decided to accept Eucalyptus into the app store with no requirement that the developer manually block users from downloading the Kama Sutra.
In late June, word spread like wildfire that Apple had accepted into the iTunes App Store an app called “Hottest Girls”, which was comprised of more than 2200 Adult images. The types of photos the app advertised included, “Topless/Completely Naked Pics”, “Sexy Asian Girls”, and “Hot Girls in Bikinis.”
Even though the “Hottest Girls” app had a “17+” rating, Apple wasn’t having it and quickly pulled the plug on the app, forcing interested porn users to retreat back to the web for their daily smut fix. Damn you, Apple!
Initially, the developer of the app wrote that he pulled the app himself due to an extremely high strain on his servers. It turns out, though, that he was full of it as Apple subsequently announced that it would not allow any form of pornography into the app store.
Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content, such as pornography. The developer of this application added inappropriate content directly from their server after the application had been approved and distributed, and after the developer had subsequently been asked to remove some offensive content. This was a direct violation of the terms of the iPhone Developer Program.
The Rest of the Bunch
The above list of banned and temporarily rejected apps is by no means exhaustive. Over the past 12 months, a number of other apps have been nixed by Apple for a variety of reasons. Some of these never attracted a good deal of media attention, so we’ll mention them here in passing.
Freedom Time – This app was basically a countdown app which counted down the days until George W. Bush’s term as US President ended and Barack Obama was sworn in. It was banned in September for supposedly “Defaming, demeaning, or attacking political figures.”
Peeps – Peeps is a great app that lets you organize your contacts in a slick coverflow-esque manner. It was initially banned from the App Store because Apple thought the developer used prohibited API’s in his implementation of CoverFlow. Alas, he did it all from scratch!
Murderdome – This was a comic book app that Apple banned back in September due to depictions of violence. The comic, penned by Infurious Comics, served as a catalyst to get an age rating system for apps implemented on iTunes.