Trouble in app-land - Monocolumn | Monocle


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1 July 2010

At the recent conference where Apple debuted the new version of the iPhone, Steve Jobs devoted a few minutes of his speech to the workings of the App Store. Before being made available to customers, all apps must be approved by Apple. Some 15,000 apps are submitted each week, Jobs said, and 95 per cent are approved within seven days. What of the remaining 5 per cent?

According to Jobs, apps are most commonly rejected because they don’t do what developers claim, use programming interfaces not supported by Apple, or crash.

But some developers and pundits are not content with these explanations. They say there are problems with the App Store approval process, and that greater transparency is needed.

This isn’t merely an academic issue: the store is the main or only source of income for many firms and has become a key area of growth in the tech industry. Jobs has said that there are 225,000 apps in the store and that they have generated over $1bn in revenues for developers.

Consider Appsfire, a program that lets users recommend and share apps. Earlier this month, its creators uploaded a blog post with a headline that reads, in part, “Apple, you win: we’re pulling out of the App Store.”

Ouriel Ohayon, one of the entrepreneurs behind the firm, says that after they submitted the second version of their app, they waited 56 days for an approval or denial, and still do not know its status. At the time they submitted the new version, the first version had already been accepted and was available in the App Store. Eventually Appsfire withdrew the app entirely, explaining that it had become outdated.

“If we knew what the problem was we would fix it,” Ohayon says. “We honestly have no idea.”

An Apple spokesman, Alan Hely, did not respond to queries specifically about Appsfire, although in an email he referred Monocle to a video of Jobs’ speech at the recent conference. There is no reference to Appsfire in the speech, in which Jobs provides a brief overview of the store’s approval process.

Other cases have won attention, including that of Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore. His app was rejected in December because it “ridicules public figures” – often the very point of satire – according to an e-mail from Apple that was posted on the Nieman Journalism Lab website. It was later permitted after an outcry.

While few dispute that the App Store has provided unprecedented opportunities for developers, the controversies have led to calls for clearer guidelines about what content is permitted in the store, notably from US Wired magazine. “We in the press don’t know to what extent we can retain our editorial freedom in the App Store,” a reporter wrote on the publication’s website.

The implication is that content regularly featured in newspapers and magazines – violent images, even soft porn in the case of the European press – might suddenly be deemed unacceptable.

Confusion continues to reign. Although nudity and sex are generally not allowed in the App Store, the iPad version of The Sun has made it through. “Content and images that are published in the daily newspaper are allowed in its app version,” says Hely.

As such, it features the same half-naked women as the print edition. And that is the naked truth.


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