Steve Jobs lectures devs, dodges antitrust action
Weeding the walled garden
Comment Over two years after the debut of the iTunes App Store, Apple has finally provided developers with guidelines describing what apps are and aren't acceptable for inclusion in what Steve Jobs has called Cupertino's "curated platform."
Apple also removed restrictions from its iOS developer license that brought good news to Adobe, Google, and any developers squeezed by Cupertino's draconian coding and data-collection restrictions.
But balancing that good news were the App Store Review Guidelines, which make it abundantly clear — as if more clarification were even needed — that Jobs & Co believe that it's their role, not yours, to decide what you can load onto your iOS device.
In Apple's paternalistic world, you're an unsophisticated child, unable to make your own decisions. It's not up to you to decide what you want. Apple will take care of that for you.
Apple advises developers that "If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted."
Caveat emptor has been replaced by caveat developer.
Apple decides, not you, what's innovative and what's not: "Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them."
Apple decides, not you, whether a complex app is worth learning: "If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected."
Developers are also warned that although a Review Board is available to which rejections can be appealed, "If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."
Apple refers to the guidelines as a "living document, and new apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time," but follows that with what could well be regarded as a thinly veiled threat. "Perhaps your app will trigger this."
In addition to its overall "we know what's best for you" tone, the guidelines are also at odds with many apps currently available on the App Store. Either Apple will have to remove a host of existing apps or grandfather them in.
There are over 250,000 apps in the App Store, but even a cursory review points out items that now run afoul of the finally-explicit App Store Review Guidelines:
- "Apps involving realistic depictions of weapons in such a way as to encourage illegal or reckless use of such weapons will be rejected." Apps such as Shoot-iT, which promotes "solving life's little annoyances one bullet at a time", and which includes realistic depictions of a Smith & Wesson pistol, .357 Magnum Colt Python, AK-47, and more run afoul of this directive.
- "Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected." What about iBeer, which simulates a frosty beverage being quaffed when the iOS device is tipped to lips, Beer, which offers "a rich symphony of burps, belches, chugging, slurping, gurgling and crushing cars with your face," and over a dozen Beer Pong apps.
- "Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected." It's time to get rid of Wooo! Button, Ka-Ching!, Poop Machine, and hundreds — thousands? — of others.
While some of these examples may seem petty — who really cares about such silliness as Poop Machine, after all? — they point to a larger issue. Namely, have the App Store police had any formal guidelines over the past two years? How have they made their decisions?
If there have been no specific guidelines, and the App Store police have been approving and rejecting apps by the seats of their collective pants, isn't that an inexcusable failure in leadership? And if there have been specific guidelines, why did Apple wait two years to share them with developers?
The Good News
In addition to publishing its App Store Review Guidelines on Thursday, Apple issued a statement announcing that it was "relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code."
As we read the tea leaves, this means that applications created using Adobe's Flash Packager are no longer barred from iOS devices — it does not, however, mean that Flash-based content embedded in websites will be playable on iOS-compatible browsers.
Still, half a loaf is better than none — and Adobe System's stock, perhaps not coincidentally, soared over 12 per cent during Thursday trading following the news.
In its statement, Apple specifically referred to sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2, and 3.3.9 of its Developer Program License Agreement. The first of those three mandated the Apple-approved languages, the second prohibited the launching of any "other executable code by any means", and the third crimped the collection of user data from services such as Google's AdMob.
And Google is mighty happy about the removal of that third restriction. In a blog post, Google VP of product management Omar Hamoui noted that "Apple's new terms will keep in-app advertising on the iPhone open to many different mobile ad competitors and enable advertising solutions that operate across a wide range of platforms."
From Hamoui's point of view: "This is great news for everyone in the mobile community, as we believe that a competitive environment is the best way to drive innovation and growth in mobile advertising."
But from our point of view, Apple's hand was forced. By lifting its code ban, Apple removes the spectre of an antitrust inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice. By removing the AdMob barriers, Apple does much the same with the possibility of FTC or DoJ action on that allegedly anti-competitive front.
And so Apple's one-two punch both loosens and tightens restrictions on developers. Its lifting of the code ban and advertising strictures, although likely prompted by fear of legal action, allows a broader range of developer tools and — as Hamoui puts it — "provide[s] immediate clarification about the status of mobile advertising on the iPhone [that] will benefit users, developers, and advertisers."
On the other hand, by tightening content restrictions on developers with its "my way or the highway" App Store Review Guidelines — or, at minium, by explicitly spelling out what was implicit in its seemingly arbitrary App Store police's actions — Jobs & Co have shored up the fortifications of the walled garden that is the iOS ecosystem. ®