Apple published its App Store Review Guidelines, meant to give app developers clarity when building for the company's mobile products. But many of its rules still seem arbitrary.
Apple has published its new App Store Review Guidelines. The
question is whether that'll curb the arguments that periodically erupt over the
suitability of certain App Store apps.
document, released Sept. 9 and almost instantly
published on tech blogs such as Gizmodo, details the requirements for
developers who want to create the next Plants vs. Zombies or Angry Birds.
Written in the folksy vernacular that defines much of Apple's corporate copy,
the introduction breaks down the "broad themes" that define an acceptable app:
"We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls
don't work unless the parents set them up (many don't). So know that we're
keeping an eye out for the kids."
"If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to.
If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."
"If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you're
trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends,
please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who
don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour."
Other "themes" seem deliberately vague:
"We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over
the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, -I'll
know it when I see it.' And we think that you will also know it when you cross
"We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart
apps. If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting
entertainment, it may not be accepted."
The Store Review Guidelines are "a living document," the
introduction concludes, and "new apps presenting new questions may result in
new rules at any time."
Apple apparently reserves the right to reject games that
feature "realistic" violence and weapons, enemies that target a specific
demographic, and Russian roulette. Apps that "are primarily designed to upset
or disgust users" will be rejected, along with those that feature "excessively
objectionable or crude content." Adult content is also a big no-no.
With the App Store's expansion-research firm IDC predicts it
will reach 300,000 apps by the end of 2010-controversies have predictably risen
about some developers' products. In February, for example, several third-party
developers found their explicit apps banned from the storefront. In that
developer reportedly received an email, signed by "iPhone App Review," that
stated one of his applications contained "Content that we had originally
believed to be suitable for distribution. However, we have recently received
numerous complaints from our customers about this type of content."
In a Feb. 22
article in The New York Times, Apple's head of worldwide product marketing
Philip Schiller confirmed that the company had received complaints from groups
who found some content "too degrading and objectionable" and decided to yank
those apps from the store. Apple has justified its taking-down of certain apps
by pointing to a clause in the iPhone SDK agreement, which states,
"Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or
defamatory content or materials of any kind."
Some developers objected, questioning the consistency of
Apple's policies and bans; others openly demanded the company offer a more
transparent reasoning behind some of its app decisions. The fact that apps from
established entities such as Sports Illustrated were allowed to remain in the
App Store, despite featuring content similar to that of the pulled apps, was
another cause for third-party consternation.
Apple further muddied the waters by retracting some of its
decisions. In April, the company rejected a
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist's app from the store for satirizing political
figures, only to restore it in the face of
Apple's competitors have taken not-so-subtle digs at the
company for its App Store controversies. "We're giving the developers the
respect they deserve in our use of transparent and uniform policies," Brandon
Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote
in a June 7 posting on The Windows Blog, "that still give developers the
necessary information and flexibility to explore creative sales and marketing
Over the summer, Microsoft posted a full list of its
policies on the Windows Phone for Developers Website. Those policies are
similar to the ones present in Apple's App Store Review Guidelines, with
predictable bans related to violence and explicit content.
In any case, Apple seems to be taking steps to formalize the
app-approval process-even if many of its "rules" remain firmly arbitrary.
"Thank you for developing for iOS," reads the conclusion of the App Store
Review Guidelines. "Even though this document is a formidable list of what not
to do, please also keep in mind the much shorter list of what you must do."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.