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Apple Irks iPhone Developers With App Store Restrictions

The iPhone's App Store--the simple, click/tap-to-install catalogue of add-on programs, available in both iTunes and on the iPhone and iPod touch--is one of that device's greatest advantages compared to other smartphones. But Apple's management of the App Store risks destroying the store's appeal among an important group of users: those who write iPhone software.

When Apple first announced the App Store, chief executive Steve Jobs described it as a marketplace that welcomes any third-party application that wasn't illegal, obscene or an outright bandwidth hog. But Apple's recent conduct suggests it's become a lot pickier about what it will consent to display in the Store, which happens to be the only easy way to add third-party software to an iPhone or iPod touch.

The most high-profile casualty of Apple's newfound discrimination is a small program called Podcaster, which, as the name suggests, downloads podcasts over the air directly to the device. Apple rejected this application earlier this month, saying it "duplicates the functionality" of iTunes.

To compound the problem, some iPhone programmers have also begun reporting that Apple is trying to place its rejection letters under a non-disclosure agreement, a pushy move even given Apple's obsessive secrecy. (Whether this "NDA" gag order is for real is not settled; Mac developer and blogger John Gruber suggests it may not amount to anything in practice.)

The prospect of having their work rejected from the App Store--the equivalent of a death sentence in the iPhone software market--and then being ordered not to talk about it, has infuriated some of Apple's most creative developers.

Brent Simmons, developer of the NetNewsWire RSS reader, called this conduct "beneath Apple."

Photo-software developer Fraser Speirs bluntly declared his own opposition in a blog post:

I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted.

Delicious Library developer Wil Shipley was no more forgiving:

I have to be clear: it simply will not stand for Apple to prevent applications on the iPhone from competing with Apple's own applications. Besides chasing away all decent developers, besides hurting their customers by stifling competition and innovation, besides it simply being evil, it will, shortly, be illegal. This kind of behavior is illegal when you hit a certain point in market saturation for your product; Microsoft was slapped for it constantly in the late '80s. If the iPhone is the success Apple thinks it will be, they will find themselves the target of a huge class-action lawsuit.

Panic, Inc., co-founder Steven Frank sounded only a little less irate, contrasting the economic appeal of the App Store with all that it asks developers to surrender:

What I have here is a list of what I consider to be basic developer rights and a distribution model that uses that list as toilet paper, while in return presenting me with an equally long list of genuine and tangible benefits. How do I respond to that?

In case you're not familiar with these names: These are the developers whose work consistently wins praise as an example of what the Mac can do, and which Apple has honored with its own design awards. These aren't the folks Apple should want to lose.

There's more on this mess in this MacWorld essay (which, along with Gruber's blog, pointed me to most of these developers' postings).

The problem for Apple isn't just annoying some indie software developers, but of persuading them to devote their efforts to a competing mobile-phone operating system, Google's Android, which promises no prior review of third-party software.

Ultimately, smartphone users will cast the deciding vote--by buying iPhones or shifting their spending to Android or another platform. So let's hear from you all: Do you trust Apple to govern the App Store? Or do you not want that kind of help?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 29, 2008; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Gripes  
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Massive jailbreaking of the iPhones is what's going to happen if Apple keeps on this track...

Posted by: Ferhat | September 29, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I would have bought an iPhone and jailbroken it, except I didn't want to deal with the constant need to work around every one of Apple's software updates that re-jails the phone. I doubt most iPhone users would be willing to put up with that either. I'd rather get a phone that either just works the way I want, or that I can modify ONCE to get it to do what I want from that point forward.

Posted by: BR | September 29, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse Welcome to E3iPhone! Free wallpapers for your iPhone

Posted by: michael | September 29, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Quality control on existing software in the store appears lax as well. Numerous applications work only sporadically, including the awesome Cannon Challenge from Discovery Channel.

I'd ask for my money back, but it was free. Still, someone....anyone....bring by my timewasting apps!

Posted by: BobT | September 29, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Apple has only rejected less than 0.1% of the apps.

Only the ones that were VERY clearly bad:

Illegal. (Tethering)

Violated the NDA (Duplicating built-in apps)

Violated copyrights. (Star Wars)

Vulgar/obscene. (Farting programs)

Rip-offs ($1000 programs that do nothing)

Posted by: Susan | September 29, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I've asked AT&T and they claim for the record that they have nothing to do with which apps Apple allows/bans from the AppStore.

Re: Susan's post.

"Illegal. (Tethering)": what makes this "illegal"?

"Violated the NDA (Duplicating built-in apps)": Podcaster duplicated a built-in app? Every calculator and every contact management program does this. Don't see Apple banning them all.

"Vulgar/obscene. (Farting programs)": even the courts have given up on defining vulgarity, obscenity, pornography, etc. Since when did Apple get appointed as censor? And Apple didn't even claim "vulgar/obscene" as their reason for banning Pull My Finger: they claimed that it was of "limited utility"! How could Apple know this a priori?

Posted by: Shankar | September 29, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Some people will defend the flesh-eating virus even as it is slowly eating away their flesh. Oh well...cheers Susan and keep defending away.

Posted by: anti-Susan | September 29, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

MS got sued, and found guilty, for their bundling IE with microsoft. Apple restrictions are much harsher.

Imagine your windows pc only had IE and they wouldn't let you install Firefox or Safari because it douplicated the functions of IE.

How long would that last?

Posted by: Wont last long | September 29, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

How is Tethering bad? I have At&t and tether my blackberry to my laptop all the time, at&t even has a tutorial on how to do this.

Violated the NDA (Duplicating built-in apps) You can't ban a program because it does what another program does plus more. Imagine you had your itunes and had a separate program for random functions because they weren't allowed to be bundled into one.

Rip-offs ($1000 programs that do nothing)
I quote "I walked down a market street and saw a man selling pots. He had a pot for $5 and another pot, exactly the same, for $10. I asked the man why does he have two different prices for the same pot. He replied because some people want to pay $10 for a $5 pot". If someone wants to spend $1000 of a useless button on their phone I can point them to a store that sells a clothing trunk for $750k on 5th ave. The point is that the program serves a purpose even though you don't see it.

Posted by: Susan is wrong | September 29, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"Apple has only rejected less than 0.1% of the apps.

Only the ones that were VERY clearly bad:

Illegal. (Tethering)

Violated the NDA (Duplicating built-in apps)

Violated copyrights. (Star Wars)

Vulgar/obscene. (Farting programs)

Rip-offs ($1000 programs that do nothing)"

Please if you don't like the rules of the playground, then don't play there. Good post from Susan above.

Posted by: slappy | September 29, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I guess, there is a solution to this problem. The developer can send the proposed application with some limited description to Apple before developing it. Apple will verify the proposal with set of public rules to accept or reject the app. The developer gets the feedback and starts his/her development activity. Its looks quite an effort, but worth investigating similar process.

Posted by: Subash Mandanapu | September 29, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Tethering = Illegal. In who's world? Only Apple's world.

AT&T allows tethering for Blackberry, Blackjack and Nokia phones. What's special with iphone. We are already paying for "unlimited" data.

Podcaster will reduce the iTunes revenue. Hence ban it!!

Make the playing field open and let the best man win.

Posted by: MB | September 29, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Slappy, "if you don't like the rules of the playground, don't play there" is a patently stupid statement.

As Panic's co-founder noted, and as many news sites have reported (re: Trism's massive cash payday), passing up the iPhone model would mean passing up some serious dough.

Just because it's Apple's playground doesNOT mean it should be allowed to behave in such a fashion (cf US vs Microsoft).

And anyone who's stared in astonished dismay at finding FOUR flashlight programs must be agog that Apple would try to convince us that the Podcaster program is bad because it "duplicates existing program(s)." The podcast program offered a feature I VERYMUCH want: to update my podcasts without having to connect to a desktop computer. For Apple to ban this out of hand when iTunes/iPhone DOES NOT OFFER THIS is unconscionable.

Hell, even if iTunes offered this, banning it would be stupid: THERE ARE FOUR FLASHLIGHT PROGRAMS, there must be room for improvement SOMEWHERE and maybe Podcast's existence would/will spur that. At this time, we'll never know.

I'm a massive Apple fanboy (typing this on my MacBook, next to my eMate, Time Capsule, several iPods and while eagerly awaiting the October release of the new MacBook design) but this behavior is infuriating enough that I finally jailbroke my iPod Touch and will no longer use the Music Store. I'll find some other way to get cash to the developers I like.

By the way, Panic guys, if you read this blog: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE -- SOME SORTA CODA PORT FOR THE iPHONE?!

Posted by: Bush -- not related | September 30, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse

I'm a big time techno geek, spend lots and lots of money on the latest gadgets. I've never owned an Apple anything, ever. That article pretty much sums it up for me.

I will not be told what software I must use, I will take freedom of choice over digital slavery. Apple can continue to rot from the core, and they will never see a lick of my cash.

Posted by: Sooman5000 | September 30, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Tethering = Illegal. In who's world? Only Apple's world.
Are Apple and AT&T turning into a NAZI?

Even my $20 Nokia allows me to connect my laptop to the Net where no WiFi available. As an iPhone user, I have already paid $30 a month for the data plan, is it too much to ask?

And what about Flash content? iPhone is such a web tool and Flash is so ubiquitous, why doesn't Steve Jobs do something about the Flash content?

Apple and AT&T seem to think that your iPhone is theirs'

In the first two weeks I bought the iPhone, I almost returned it. Then I jailbroke it, like it so much better so I decided to keep it.

iPhone is a great technology wonder, but what good is it when Apple and AT&T keep developers away from improve it? This is disgraceful and disgusting!!!

Posted by: rich | September 30, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I bought an iPod touch thinking that with wifi installed I would have an Internet radio - a view implied by AppleĀ“s UK ads. Nothing doing, as Real Audio does not work with Safari. Through a discussion group I was promised a solution through Apps, but so far nothing. The views of your other correspondents seem to sum up AppleĀ“s view of its customer base.

Posted by: ValenciaDave | September 30, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Remember when Disney built a model town in Florida? All the streets were perfect and neat, all the children were above average, etc.? Some people were drawn to that vision and others repulsed by it.

Apple is the technological version of that. It's controlled, it's managed and certain things aren't allowed. If you want the obsessive attention to details and high-level engineering of an Apple product, you have to put up with their micromanagement of everything, you buy into their vision or leave. On the other hand, if you want maximum freedom/anarchy and the inevitable, periodic blue screen of death that follows from a wild west, open model you know where you can find that.

Apple is giving developers a shot to make some money by getting easy access to a large group of technologically sophisticated and affluent customers. Some people will live with their rules and profit, some won't. But you might as well complain about what it takes to be Catholic as complain about Apple's core business model. They ain't a changin' it, and it's been working for them so far. The developers may chafe a bit, but they want access to Apple's customers, and so I doubt they are walking away in droves over this.

Posted by: Nonsense | September 30, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I used to have an iPhone. I got one a little over a week after it first came out. Due to the restrictive nature of the device, and the lack of support for common things like flash in the browser I have since taken the "switch" challenge and have been happier. I do look back, when things like the app store come out, but this is just Apple playing catch up since WM devices have countless free and paid apps out there, and so does my new symbian device (well, not new, almost a year old now). Looking at how Apple is handling the app store, it's just more of the same "do what I tell you to do" from Apple. I prefer to use things that allow me to do what I want to do. Apple is behind the curve, playing catch up, and worst of all, so restrictive that is degrades the user experience to the point where it is intolerable.

Posted by: diesel | September 30, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Although having basically no rules like the G1 will produce a ton of crappy apps, and obviously it will take some time until decent apps are written for it, at least though the rating system you'll have some kind of idea of it's value. on the other hand with the iphone there will be a lot of really good apps that you'll never see. Even though I'm sort of an apple geek I'll probably go with the G1 because I'd rather buy a product that isn't stifled due to either greed or shortsightedness, maybe both.

Posted by: Al | September 30, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Will the Apple cultists ever stop apologizing for Steve Jobs domineering ways?

Posted by: Chris | September 30, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I've been an Apple disciple for about 18 years and the jail-like behavior of the iPhone just simply hurts.

Posted by: luigi | September 30, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

1) Help? Please define help. (-;

2) Partnering w/ AT&T was a big mistake for Apple. Ask anyone who has their landline w/
AT&T. AT&T DSL doesn't support Thunderbird as an email client. What was Apple thinking?

3)Does Susan work for Apple?

Posted by: Kfritz | September 30, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@rich: Thanks for confirming that Godwin's Law still works!

@KFritz: Define "doesn't support." Does AT&T somehow stop this one POP client from working with its servers when it lets others function properly? Does it not provide setup instructions for Tbird? Or if you call for help with an e-mail problem and say you're using Tbird, do they hang up on you?

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | September 30, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

On tethering, complain to AT&T. Apple pulled the app at ATT's request. Rumor has it that Apple and ATT are working on their own tethering solution, with a premium in monthly fee, most likely.

The compromise would be to carve out another playground for those who are willing to adventure, i.e., make it legal to jail-break as long as the users give up rights to tie up Apple's resources if something goes awry. And Apple should make updates compatible to jail-broken iPhones.

Short of that, Apple is helping its competitors.

Posted by: SaGe | September 30, 2008 8:18 PM | Report abuse

I almost bought and iphone. I actually had one order and cancelled it upon hearing the stories trickle in about buggy 3g and lock in. I bought a nokia E71 and I love it!

But you know, people complain about lock in, and then buy into apples iphone whole bit. Buying carrier lock-in and then apple lock in for a phone that apple is intentionally holding back on with features??

Steve jobs needs to get the turtle-neck slapped out of him

Posted by: chritipurr | September 30, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

So, forgive my ignorance, but what's to prevent developers from writing whatever app they want, and making it available for download directly from their own website through a simple store interface? Not quite the ease of the one-click model, but would that really chase away customers for an app that they really wanted?

Posted by: Sparkadelic | October 1, 2008 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Yet another reason to buy NOTHING Apple.

Posted by: rg019571 | October 1, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I have emailed, called both AT&T and Apple. AT&T says, on the record, that they don't have anything to do with what apps are allowed or banned by Apple's AppStore, including specifically NetShare the tethering app.
This may come as a surprise to Susan et al., but even Apple is subject to laws meant to protect consumers by preventing anti-competitive practices. And just cos Apple sticks in some legalese doesn't make the legalese legal or enforceable. Non-compete clauses for example. Apple of course says they don't talk to the unwashed.

Posted by: Shankar | October 2, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

BTW, if you care to DO something, rather than just whine. You can write the FCC, your state consumer protection agency, your state regulator(a), your state Attorney General, your elected representatives. In CA try the DCA, the CPUC, Atty. Gen. Brown.

Posted by: Shankar | October 2, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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