What Microsoft Can Learn from Apple

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-06-09 Print this article Print


That site includes a PDF document, "Windows Phone 7 Application Certification Requirements," that breaks down Microsoft's content policies when it comes to mobile applications. Nothing banned by that paper seems terribly surprising; in addition to forbidding apps that are libelous, slanderous, threatening or discriminatory, Microsoft also bans apps that somehow promote hate speech or the use of illegal drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.

Under the "Adult Related Content" section, the inevitable bans are likewise placed on nudity and violence, including "People or creatures on fire." Interestingly, other applications storefronts-including the App Store-feature several popular games with splattery, fiery content; whether Microsoft will be more lax in admitting violence in that context into its own ecosystem remains to be seen, although being too stringent risks alienating certain popular developers.

But if Windows Phone 7 proves popular, it could create a situation for Microsoft similar to that confronting Apple. With its own heady success in the consumer space, Apple has seen its App Store expand rapidly, with research firm IDC predicting some 300,000 apps available through the online storefront by the end of 2011-but that has also brought pressure on Apple to better regulate and police its content.

In February, several third-party developers found their explicit apps banned from the store. According to a Feb. 18 report on TechCrunch, developer Jon Atherton received an e-mail signed by "iPhone App Review" stating that 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, and have changed our guidelines appropriately."

In a Feb. 22 article in The New York Times, Apple's head of worldwide product marketing Philip Schiller confirmed that the company had been receiving complaints from some groups who found content "getting too degrading and objectionable" and decided to pull those apps from the store. At the same time, however, Apple allowed adult-themed apps from established entities such as Sports Illustrated to remain in the App Store.

At the time, Apple justified its actions via 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."

But it also caused a minor furor among developers, who questioned the consistency of Apple's policies and bans on certain applications. That history suggests the potential minefields that exist for Microsoft as it gears up its own app-policing apparatus. While Watson made a nod in the blog post to transparency-something that third-party developers accused Apple of lacking-the true test will come when Microsoft finds itself confronted with apps that fall into a potential gray area, such as when Apple rejected a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist's app from the App Store for satirizing political figures, found itself slapped by protests, and then had to ask that the app be submitted.

The time for such decisions could be fast approaching. In a June 8 posting on his personal blog, "Many Niches," Watson reported that Microsoft will "start putting phones into select developers' hands next month," particularly those who have invested in Silverlight and .NET platforms, registered at Windows Phone Marketplace and begun their app-building process.  Windows Phone 7 devices are scheduled to roll out to the general public at an as-yet-unannounced date near the end of 2010.


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.

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