Apple continues App Store pruning as developer agreement emerges
It's been a confusing few weeks for developers of software for Apple's iPhone.
First Apple purged the iPhone's App Store of "naughty" and "sexy" applications that offered users more than a peek at female bodies--or, presumably, male bodies, though somehow we never hear about those apps. (Note that the App Store imposes age restrictions on applications, allowing them to be locked out with the iPhone and iTunes' parental controls.) At the same time, Apple kept around salacious applications from such name-brand sources as Playboy and Sports Illustrated. That double standard infuriated some iPhone users.
Not long after a round of wireless-networking tools got yanked--but in this case, Apple could point to its long-standing rule against developers using "private frameworks," elements of the iPhone's operating system that it's reserved for its own use. (Keeping some "application programming interfaces" private for stability, security or performance reasons is a routine policy in the software business, although in most cases an OS developer can't enforce these rules the way Apple does on the iPhone.)
However well-intentioned, that sort of conduct--like Apple's earlier excesses of App Store oversight--would seem to fall outside the rules of the App Store. But it turns out that the rules allow just such a thing.
Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation posted a report on Apple's iPhone developer-program license. The San Francisco-based digital-liberties group obtained the confidential document after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA, which shipped its own iPhone app last year, and it contains some interesting provisions.
As the EFF summary explains, and as the 28-page agreement (PDF) itself spells out, this agreement is more one-sided than the average software license. Beyond a variety of common-sense restrictions (for instance, an iPhone application must display "a reasonably conspicuous audio, visual or other indicator" anytime it's recording audio or video), it bans iPhone developers from disclosing the contents of the agreement or distributing their work to the public outside of the App Store, allows Apple to yank applications at any time and for pretty much any reason and caps Apple's potential liability in any situation at $50.
It's defensible to interpret Apple's intentions as curatorial--it wants its App Store to look as clean and polished as its real-world stores. But it's more than a tad impractical to suggest that the company can keep exercising such tight control as the App Store's inventory keeps increasing--it's now at 150,000 titles.
Developers of iPhone software, meanwhile, have to factor in the odds of their investment in an app vaporizing with a press of a "delete" key somewhere in Cupertino. On competing platforms, they can keep distributing their work through secondary channels--unless a phone vendor locks out those options, which AT&T just did on its new Android-based Motorola Backflip.
Users, however, may not care all that much about App Store politics, to judge from the iPhone's steadily-escalating sales numbers. And something tells me these App Store revelations won't do anything to stop sales of the upcoming iPad when it ships April 3.
Am I wrong? You can explain why in the comments.
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