A lot of people already have sounded off about Apple’s most recent changes to its developer guidelines, but after reading over the App Store Review Guidelines, I can’t resist throwing in my 2 cents, even if it’s a week late and a dollar short.
There’s probably something in there to bug just about everyone for some reason or another. For me, it starts in the introduction where Apple lists some of the broader themes to keep in mind: “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.”
I guess that’s Apple’s way of charming developers and the press and shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, it’s annoying and for reasons that I can’t explain very well other than to cite the First Amendment. (So there!)
Other than that, kudos to Apple for composing a set of guidelines that is actually interesting to read and mostly easy to understand. While I’m pretty sure plenty of lawyers had their hands on it, it doesn’t sound entirely like a legal brief or even remotely like the undecipherable terms and conditions you find on consumer credit card statements.
(I have to hand it to Steve Jobs. What other CEOs do you hear using words like “crap” and “suck” in public venues? He gets points for straightforwardness, even if it is inflammatory at times. I still chuckle about his reaction three months ago to the Wi-Fi debacle during his keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference. Priceless.)
Like the man himself, some of the rules in Apple’s store handbook reflect the competitive nature of the beast, like “Apps with metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected.” Actually, that’s not that dissimilar to publishers/newspapers that avoid referencing their competitors, but usually that doesn’t involve an outright ban.
Others make it clear that Apple has discovered something that wireless carriers have experienced (yawn) – and that is to say, getting too many submissions for things that are not very useful or unique. According to Apple: “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.” I’m not sure why the first letter of that category gets uppercase treatment, but I guess these are the days of categories, along the lines of News and Weather. (?)
At least one of the rules appears to be targeting that section of the population who is just plain crazy. Under the “Violence” section, there’s this: “Apps that include games of Russian roulette will be rejected.” I can only guess that Apple had a situation come up where company executives felt this needed to be spelled out.
Under “Legal,” there’s this criteria: “Apps that enable anonymous or prank calls or SMS/MMS messaging will be rejected.” So knock it off, you practical jokers. Don’t call or text me and ask if my refrigerator is running.
On a more serious note, some of the guidelines guard against personal attacks (professional political satirists and humorists are now exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary). They protect children and religious, cultural and ethnic groups, all of which are to be commended but I’m not sure how “new” they are. Carriers have had best practice guidelines in place for mobile content for quite a while.
Interestingly, in Section 18 of the guidelines, Apple relies on Webster’s Dictionary to define pornographic material, which is “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings,” which, of course, will be rejected.
The guidelines are subjective and sometimes leave a lot of ambiguity, and in an ideal (re: open) world, you wouldn’t have one company determining what people are going to like or dislike before it gets to market. On the other hand, Apple is reinforcing its closed system of doing business, and why not? It’s got the right. It doesn’t want frivolous or crappy apps. Someone’s got to do quality control. Over at the Android Market, where freedom reigns, I don’t see a lot of quality control going on, but I guess that’s the price you pay for an open ecosystem. Come one, come all, even if you’re a little sketchy.
Apple notes that its guidelines represent a living document, so it will evolve as new apps and situations come up. The company has shown it can listen to developer feedback and is open to changes (lots of them over the past six months, I’d venture to add.) So, there’s that.