App Store Can Be a Thorn in Apple's Side
I've said it before, Apple's iPhone App Store is the technology innovation of the year. Apple has distributed over a billion applications over the service and now has over 50,000 applications to choose from. That is more than its creators probably ever dreamed of.
It is a boon for developers, too. From the little crossword type games and tank shooters that give developers six figure incomes to the multinational game companies like Vivendi that are turning out hit after hit, it is an unmitigated success
The industry knows this as well. Every single one of Apple's iPhone competitors is scrambling to put together its own mobile device store with varying degrees of success.
But is it all roses having your own app store?
Apple has been plagued by what seems to be an endless string of controversies surrounding the App Store. Clearly, they hadn't planned to be sorting through 50,000 applications and updates at any given time.
This week's issue is an app called Hottest Girls. The app was submitted to the App Store with clothed models only. But the app's developer started uploading topless models to the app through a Web server (the "app" is mostly just a picture browser). The Web, as it usually does, went nuts and Apple took it down. Apple needed to protect its image, even though anyone can get a lifetime's worth of much raunchier stuff with the Safari browser. If it wasn't "Apple's App Store" they wouldn't have to troll through all of these apps to keep the developers honest.
Can you imagine Apple trying to sensor an application for the Macintosh? The lawyers at the EFF's heads would explode!
To this end, there has been talk in the developer community about building easter eggs into apps to circumvent Apple's approval process. The problem is that as soon as Apple finds them, they can kill the application.
Hottest Girls wasn't the first controversy by a long shot. An app called Baby Shaker, in which the object of the game was to kill a baby by shaking it to death, brought on rightful a storm of criticism. I only mean "rightful" in that if Apple is going to deny apps that show woman topless, they should certainly ban violence to babies applications.
But, if it were a "web app" meaning it could be played in a Web browser, no one would have cared. There are a million things on the net as demented as baby shaking ... or worse. But, because this is Apple's App Store and Apple's brand, it is on Apple to keep it clean.
There has been some consideration given to adult-themed games. Apple, with the iPhone 3.0 OS, released a ratings system to filter out more adult related content. However, the only thing going into the 17+ category so far are dirty word story website and "adult themed" apps.
On the flip side, Apple has been caught denying developers entrance to the App Store for silly problems. A NIN app got denied for updating controversial song lyrics. The very same song is available in the iTunes store.
Tweetie, the popular iPhone Twitter client was denied an update because the reviewer saw a swear word in the trends during testing. Clearly they had no idea what they were doing.
Because the App Store is such a runaway hit, Apple is having problems getting its approval process right.
And that's the point. The App store is a fantastic opportunity for Apple to distribute applications and reward developers. Unfortunately, it does have a significant downside.