Since its inception, the iTunes App Store has been shrouded in controversy over what many people perceive to be Apple’s inconsistent, hypocritical, and sometimes downright confusing app store rejection policies. Over the past few months, Apple has rejected apps that improperly use Apple’s trademarks, politically based apps, and even e-book readers.
Some developers have even begun leaving the iPhone platform altogether, such as Facebook app developer Joe Hewitt who recently announced that his days as an iPhone developer were over.
My decision to stop iPhone development has had everything to do with Apple’s policies. I respect their right to manage their platform however they want, however I am philosophically opposed to the existence of their review process. I am very concerned that they are setting a horrible precedent for other software platforms, and soon gatekeepers will start infesting the lives of every software developer.
There’s no doubt about it – Apple’s reliance on iTunes as a conduit for users to download and transfer apps to their media devices leaves Apple in a conundrum. It can either let any and everything under the sun into the app store and deal with any potential consequences later, or it can look at each app on an app by app basis and make its determinations that way. Apple has obviously chosen the latter, but it’s role as the “gatekeeper” naturally leaves it vulnerable to criticism from those who take issue with Apple’s subjective app store rejection decisions.
In a candid interview with BusinessWeek, Apple VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller, discussed Apple’s mentality when it comes to how it runs the iTunes App Store.
First and foremost, Schiller makes clear that Apple’s top priority is ensuring that all the apps on iTunes work as expected and don’t compromise user security.
We’ve built a store for the most part that people can trust. You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you’d expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works.
Whatever your favorite retailer is, of course they care about the quality of products they offer. We review the applications to make sure they work as the customers expect them to work when they download them.
While some of Apple’s app rejections fly in the face of logic, Apple sometimes encounters applications that raise interesting issues that it failed to anticipate. In regards to gambling apps, for example, Schiller states that Apple had to read up on pertinent state and international laws to determine which types of gambling apps were legal and which were not. And seeing that Apple has put itself in the position as a gatekeeper, keeping a careful eye on potentially troublesome apps is a necessity.
Improper use of Apple’s trademarks is a common reason for an app rejection, and naturally something that drives developers crazy. Schiller, however, correctly points out that “if you don’t defend your trademarks, in the end you end up not owning them.”
Still, Schiller concedes that Apple is trying to handle potential trademark issues in a more reasoned manner, as opposed to blindly rejecting anything that might resemble an Apple trademark.
We need to delineate something that might confuse the customer and be an inappropriate use of a trademark from something that’s just referring to a product for the sake of compatibility. We’re trying to learn and expand the rules to make it fair for everyone.
While I’m sure that Schiller’s statements might come up short and un-informative in the eyes of many developers, but it is a refreshing change of pace to have a high-level Apple executive at least address and discuss some of the problems that have been affecting a good number of developers for some time now.
A lot of people might prefer a situation where downloading iPhone apps was possible without having to go through iTunes. This, however, doesn’t seem like something Apple would ever move towards for 2 reasons. First, funneling everything through iTunes, for all its faults, makes the entire app browsing and purchase process a helluva lot easier than it would be otherwise. With Apple in sole control, it can aggregate useful stats, break apps down into categories, and generally create a seamless shopping experience for consumers. Second, Apple doesn’t want users to leave iTunes. iTunes, in a lot of ways, is Apple’s trojan horse and as long as people find themselves “stuck” in iTunes, it remains something Apple can leverage towards its hardware business.