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April 22, 2010

18

Sorry Media, But Apple Isn’t Evil

by shiftyjelly

Update 3 June 2010: To those of you reading this post for the first time, it’s over month old. Pointing out the irony of it to me may seem novel to you, but it’s obvious. I even refer to it myself in the post about Apple removing our application. I leave it here as a piece of history, this is how I felt at the time. Those of you that want to argue with my former self can build a time machine.

As you were:

I received an email in my inbox from someone reporting on Apple and their Policies. They were basically asking about how I feel about Apple being so closed and evil…here was my response:

If there’s one thing I like doing, it’s commenting on Apple’s approval process. I have always been amused by the amount of media hype and attention that goes with it, and how people just assume that we developers must be such an oppressed people, and isn’t it terrible dealing with Apple? Do we have to check our souls at the door? How can we possible approve of and work for such a tyrannical regime? Even the questions in your email are, to be fair, quite leading.

My high level summary would be: I love the app store and the amazing hassle-free distribution it provides and I only really have a few niggling concerns with how Apple has dealt with us, as developers.

So allow me to start with my concerns. My one biggest concern is that it’s never easy having a middle man between you and your customer. If you have a critical bug in your code, it can take days (or longer) for Apple to approve, and all the while your customers are becoming angry and frustrated because they feel you’re not acting urgently on a issue that affects them. My other concern is that there’s no one to call if things go bad, you send email to an address and just hope that one day you might receive a response. So let’s say they closed my account for example, who would I call? Where would I call…I would just send emails into the void. My only other concern is that sometimes Apple let’s through things in one review, and picks them up in later ones. That can be annoying, but they are people after all.

But more importantly, let me cover the things that don’t concern me. I don’t think Apple is a ‘prude’ and I was all for removing all the spam (I love how the media referred to them as porn) apps in the store. There were developers releasing app, after app, after app with nothing but pictures of bikini clad women in them. One such developer had over 100 versions of the same thing. I’m not on some moral crusade against porn, what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own business. Safari will get all you all the porn you could ever dream of, do I want it blocked? No. If Apple runs a retail store and doesn’t want to sell bikini’s in there, I say fine, I agree with them that it ruins the look of their store. Imagine if you’re a woman, and you browse the lifestyle section, and all you see are bikini apps in there, I don’t think you’re going to be too impressed. I think trying to turn this into an Apple is restricting your freedom argument is wrong. It’s like Stephen Conroy saying we should censor the internet and if you don’t agree you are for child porn. I’m not for restricting freedom, any more than I’m in favour of child porn, but I think Apple should be free to reject applications from coming into the store in the same way I believe the Australian government should never implement mandatory filtering.

I don’t think there’s that much that is ‘murky’ about their approval process, every time our apps have been rejected it has been for a reason that is documented in either an interface guidelines document, or some other part of their documentation. In my experience (and that’s all I can comment on) it’s extremely well documented as to what you can and can’t do. I’ve seen lots of complaints from developers who were rejected for using private APIs for example, as if they stumbled into them and didn’t know better. Private APIs are something you have to hunt for, you have to dig through header files and classes that are not meant for development, looking for a call to make that does what you want. They aren’t documented and you have to try pretty darn hard to find them. They are private for a reason, because Apple may change them at any time, and there’s no way you can call them by accident. The rules clearly state that you can’t call these APIs.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but other developers I’ve talked to all agree, the app store is an unprecedented way for developers to distribute applications worldwide. There has never been anything like it in the history of mobile development, and I know, I used to develop for Pocket PC on Windows…and…well let’s not even go there. Apple’s tools, development environment and platform stability are second to none. For me it’s a pleasure to develop for their platform. It doesn’t surprise me that there aren’t more headlines that read “Apple’s Development Environment a Joy to Use” & “Apple Offers Developers Unprecedented Ease of Deployment Worldwide”, because as you well know, calling Apple ‘Evil’ sells ๐Ÿ˜‰

So to sum up, I love being an Apple developer, and I think all the hype about them being somehow ‘Evil’ is just that, hype. If you consider their actions as a company trying to ensure (where possible) that their App Store is a great place to get quality apps, then everything the’ve done makes perfect sense. Sure you can say they did it to be ‘Evil’ and ‘restrict freedom’ but that’s a much harder sell to me. The most obvious reason, while not always headline worthy, is often the most likely one to be true. Have they made mistakes? Sure. But they are making clear and obvious efforts to correct those mistakes. I’ve developed for the App Store since almost day 1, and Apple has been constantly improving things that most people would never even see.

Sorry for the long email, happy to answer any more questions you may have ๐Ÿ™‚

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kras
    Apr 22 2010

    Finally, a piece on the upside/s of Apple’s App Store and it’s approval process.

    I don’t see this as a rant, but an informative piece by someone who actually has first-hand experience with dealing with the App Store.

    And I concur that dealing with Windows Mobile isn’t the greatest โ€” not before, and not now.

    Keep up the great work there! Still looking forward to my iPad version of PocketWeather AU! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Apr 22 2010

    Well said! As another iPhone dev (though with not any of the cred you have!)โ€ฆcouldn’t agree more!

  3. Prez
    Apr 22 2010

    TESTIFY!

  4. Zenmaster
    Jun 2 2010

    Ummmm how do you feel now that your app has been rejected from the App Store? Do you feel the same way?

  5. Jun 3 2010

    Obviously not the same, which you’d know if you bothered to read on a few blog posts. A lesser man would have taken this post down before posting the other one, but I don’t believe in changing the past. At the time I wrote this I believed it. I no longer do. There is no shame in gathering new facts and changing ones mind. I regret nothing ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. DrPizza
    Jun 3 2010

    But the thing is, there are no new facts. The unfortunate rejection of your application isn’t a result of a new Apple policy–it’s the exact same policy that you were defending in this post.

    The developers who have complained about the App Store policies were not making complaints that were substantively different from your own. It’s just that back then you felt that the complaints were somehow unjustified. Now you’re on the receiving end, turns out they were justified after all!

    Why exactly did you not believe that the issue was genuine in the past?

  7. Jun 3 2010

    The Jelly has Shifted … ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Jun 3 2010

    Which case exactly are you talking about, you need to be more specific. Let’s take the bikini app example. It was easy to agree with removing bikini apps because all the ones I saw were spam. As a developer I didn’t consider people pumping out all those apps to be developers, more just opportunists looking to make a quick buck. Is that a moral judgement, sure. The new fact is they don’t allow desktop apps, so yes it is a new fact.

    I think you need to read the post above carefully, I defend Apple based on my own experience, not vague speculation. Now that my experience has changed my opinions have changed. That’s not selfish. I didn’t ignore the other cases, I agreed with them. Not because they didn’t affect me (though no doubt that helped) but because I personally was annoyed when all those apps starting filling the top 100 of the store. Are they double standards, perhaps, but I stand by them.

    Let me be more specific. When the Queensland developer of ‘Wobble iBoobs’ got kicked off the store, I stuck up for him. He had actually put a lot of time and effort into a novel little app. I supported his plight. Guess what he got re-instated on the store, and Apple acknowledged there mistake. Hence why I continued to defend Apple. They made a mistake, they fixed the mistake.

  9. Former Iphone developer
    Jun 3 2010

    ironic I got to this post from an article about how your app was banned. You are one of the few speaking, do you have any idea how many more have lost businesses due to apples ironclad blocking policies. Thank God I only kept iphone dev to a hobby time to get android dev hobby

  10. Jun 3 2010

    Also note the update I just put onto this post at the top:
    Update 3 June 2010: To those of you reading this post for the first time, itโ€™s over month old. Pointing out the irony of it to me may seem novel to you, but itโ€™s obvious. I even refer to it myself in the post about Apple removing our application. I leave it here as a piece of history, this is how I felt at the time. Those of you that want to argue with my former self can build a time machine.

  11. Jun 3 2010

    I do have to say that you are coming off as arrogant and cynical. Any sympathy that I previously had for your case has been lost in the tone of your response.

    It would have done you well to have shown humility in your responses instead of attacking those who have asked the above questions.

  12. Jun 3 2010

    Hey Steve. Sorry if I sounded ‘arrogant’ and ‘cynical’ all I actually am is ‘angry’. You might be too if you’d seen the kind of emails I’ve been getting from people lately. The comments I’ve approved on here are the tame ones ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Anyway I get the picture, I’m sure in a few days I’ll calm down…as with anyone my first reaction to being attacked is to become defensive. It could be that I was taking out some of my anger on the posters above, and for that I apologise.

  13. DrPizza
    Jun 3 2010

    First, I would dispute that “no desktop apps” is either a meaningful rule or a genuine policy.

    OK, bikini apps. For a start, your branding of them as “spam” is nonsensical. They might have been low-value, but they had to be explicitly chosen and installed by iPhone users. That alone precludes any allegations of being unsolicited, and hence precludes the “spam” branding.

    I don’t intend this to come off as personal, but isn’t it perfectly possible that other developers might regard a digital picture frame application as similarly opportunistic and lacking in any real substance? I admit, I haven’t used your particular application (and now I cannot, because it is no longer available), and so you may indeed have some excitingly novel and unique features, but fundamentally, we’re talking about an application that shows pictures and overlays some data. With the best will in the world, we’re not talking Office 2010 or Bad Company 2 here.

    As such, dismissal of certain programs as being essentially “too simple” just doesn’t sit well with me.

    If they started filling the top 100, well, that’s a pretty good indication that people wanted to use them. If your company had a few dozen apps and started to fill the top 100, would you regard that as a reason for banning? Or would you regard it as a natural consequence of producing applications, no matter how frivolous, that people actually want?

    Second, at the time of their creation and submission, they don’t seem to have been against any of the rules (at least, not any of the *enforced* rules). So whilst you might very well defend Apple’s right to choose what’s allowed in its walled garden, their position really was identical to your own: something that was once allowed now isn’t, with no obvious reason for the change.

    If after-the-fact rule changes and rejection of bikini applications from the store are an acceptable instance of Apple exercising its right to act as gatekeeper, why is that now a bad thing when your own application befalls the same fate?

    The archetypal “murky” rejection would be Google Voice. There’s the inconsistent rejection of “limited utility” applications, seeing some fart apps, but not others, rejected. The rejection of Podcaster for “duplicating functionality” even though it offered key functionality that wasn’t duplicated. iTweetReply 1.1 rejected for having a similar appearance to the built-in SMS application. MailWrangler rejected for duplicating functionality, even though it too didn’t duplicate functionality.

    Even if some of these problems have been resolved, it has long been clear that the process is, in fact, murky, and is, in fact, impeding real developers.

  14. Jun 3 2010

    Now that’s much better Dr Pizza, specific examples:
    – Yes I agree not approving Google Voice never sat well with me, though it didn’t bother me because I’m not a multi-national corporation with whom Apple competes.
    – I had never heard of the iTweetReply case (though I do remember them being rejected for their icon) or the MailWranger one, but they both sound murky too.

    The above post represents how I felt over a month ago, I obviously agree with you now that, yes, the app store approval process is murky. At the time I didn’t. You say that’s because it’s now happened to me. Perhaps that’s true, why are we actually arguing about this? I have forgotten already…

  15. Darren
    Jun 4 2010

    Hey ShiftyJelly.

    I was lead here by a news article. Your situtation is unfortunate. However, I’d just like to offer some thoughts on Android (which you spoke about negatively in the news article).

    I am a software engineer myself, however my experience of developing for iPhone/Android is purely academic at this stage (although I have poked around in the Android SDK a few months ago).

    I have been pondering an iPhone for over a year, but was waiting eagerly for a decent Android phone to come along. I finally have it, a HTC Desire, and boy am I blown away. In my experience using other peoples iPhones, there is nothing that the Android can’t do that the iPhone can. The Android ecosystem is very active, and almost every app I have downloaded in the last 2 weeks have been high quality.

    The app store is easy to navigate, and easy to download/purchase apps from. Your wild west analogy does not do it justice. My only (minor) problem with the Android app store is that it can be hard to find things if you don’t search using the right terms. It doesn’t split apps into categories (except for games), instead you have to search. If you know the name of an app, its dead simple. If you know exactly what you want the app to do, it will almost certainly find it. However, there have been a few cases where I was looking for something but wasn’t using the right search terms, and so was unable to find it in the store.

    But that is what Google is for. A quick google search will find any app, then you just type the app name into the app store search and it comes up straight away.

    I also don’t agree that Android as a platform is “immature”. It was publicly released over a year ago, with most gripes about the phones usually being hardware related. Android phones are also currently outselling iPhones in America.

    Just some food for thought. As a fellow developer, I don’t like seeing someone dismiss a platform based on what I believe are wrong assumptions. Give it a shot, you may be surprised ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Jun 4 2010

    @Darren you may have missed my update to that article:
    – I should have been clearer about why I thought Android was not suitable: because they donโ€™t allow Australian Developers to sell paid apps in their store. I wasnโ€™t making a comment on the Android or OS or people that use it.

  17. Darren
    Jun 4 2010

    That is a good point. My understanding is that at some point they will. I’m pretty sure at first only America could sell paid apps. But now Europe can as well.

    As I stated in my last comment, I think the Android platform is just as good as the iPhone platform.

    The problem of companies controlling the ecosystem is quite different. In the end, both Apple and Google want to make money, and there is nothing wrong with that. They have both developed fantastic platforms, and it is understandable that they both want some control over those platforms. For me it comes down to “which platform, both as user and developer, gives me the greater freedom”.

    After much deliberation, I have chosen Android. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever develop for Apple, but for the moment my attention is on Android.

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