Are Apple's app policies keeping you away?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: January 27, 2013

A day after our beloved Aaron returned, he posed a simple question, in the form of a poll: What does Apple need to do to stay competitive? It’s a good question to ask, because this year is the year that Apple will hopefully unveil an iOS that is completely different from what we’ve seen every year prior. However, as we start 2013, Apple has seen a focus on their policies as of late. More to the point, what the company deems suitable for their App Store.

By now, we’re all pretty aware of Apple’s guidelines. Or, to be more accurate, we know that Apple has guidelines for submitted applications. The guidelines are there for developers to see, but it would seem that the only time the rest of us are made aware of their limitations, it’s when we’re bearing witness to an application’s removal from the App Store. And, just like we’ve seen every time, there’s a sudden uproar over the policies put in place, and how something needs to change.

The argument over Apple’s clutch over their own App Store is a varied one, and it would be easy to see someone’s position on either side of the fence. On one side, we have Apple, which believes that it is their duty to sift through applications submitted to their digital retail store, and weed out the apps that they do not find suitable for the general public. That means, primarily, applications with pornographic images, or applications that copy the core functionality of apps provided by Apple.

(Now, to be fair, the Cupertino-based company has given way a little bit on that latter policy, as Browser replacements, as well as other apps that mimic functionality released by Apple, can be easily found in the App Store.)

While there may be some give-and-take from Apple with these policies, it’s pretty clear to anyone who hears the brouhaha started from application removals that there is still a lot that can be worked on.

On the other side of the fence are those who believe a digital retail location, or a retail location in general, should just be an open area, where anything can be sold. Apple should have people checking to make sure applications work and do not break iOS or owner’s phones, but they shouldn’t be checking to see if there is any content that won’t necessarily be suitable for “everyone.”

Again, seeing one side’s argument isn’t all that hard, depending on your own personal views.

For me, and for many others, I think the issue comes from the fact that Apple doesn’t seem to keep up with their own policies. The “Iron Fist” seems to pick-and-choose which developers, and which apps, get to see the brunt of its swing, while others, which share plenty of the same functionality that gets other apps banned, go completely under the radar.

Five days ago, the popular photo-sharing application 500px was removed from the iOS App Store due to the ability to find pornographic images. In an updated version of the app, users would have been able to search for pornographic material. According to the COO, Evgeny Tchebotarev, nude images would have been kept out of the search results by default. Users would have had to log on to the desktop site and turn off “safe” settings to be able to see any nude images. So, right out of the gate, nude images wouldn’t have been readily available, without changing a few settings on the desktop side.

According to Tchebotarev, the company was going to further alter the search results in a future update, to “fix the issue,” but Apple pulled the application instead. A search through the iOS App Store conducted while writing this article shows that 500px is still not available for download. (However, ISO500 for 500px is still available.)

Twitter recently launched an iOS-only app called Vine. It’s an application that lets you take small video recordings, and lets you edit them together, then share them with friends. After its launch, my Twitter feed exploded with people talking about the app, and how great it was. (I’ve yet to try it.) But then, earlier today, my feed turned into a, “Vine is for porn!” repetitive stream. Then, sure enough, official reports started coming down the pipe, about how simple hashtags made it possible to directly filter for nude images.

As it stands right now, Vine is still available in the App Store. In fact, the first thing I see when I open the App Store is an ad dedicated to Vine, and how it’s an “Editors’ Choice” application. Interesting, to say the least.

This is exactly why no one really understands Apple’s “policies.” It doesn’t get much better as an example. You could search for pornographic images through 500px, but only if you turned off safe settings on the desktop. So, just using the app, without changing any settings, you’d be unable to see those images. They were filtered by default. But, if you use Vine and type in a simple hashtag, you can be awash in pornographic material.

The first app is pulled, and the second is still available. Even glorified “on the front page.”

Stores are allowed to sell what they want. If Target doesn’t want to sell a particular item, they don’t have to. Same for a Mom-and-Pop location. Apple’s iOS App Store is the same way. It is their store, and if they want to block some apps, essentially refusing service to a developer and their application, that’s their prerogative. If there weren’t any situations like this, where we can see a glaring issue in its effectiveness and execution, not many people would have a problem with it.

(Yes, you can look for pornographic images through Apple’s very own Safari. Yes, you can do that through many of the Browser alternatives, and those are all still available, without issue. This just intensifies the problem.)

But, I’m starting to understand where some people are coming from, when they show a general disdain for Apple’s “walled garden” that is the App Store. The consumer has to live with the policies that Apple enforces, or doesn’t enforce, and it leaves a bunch of questions to be asked. Does Apple have a policy problem? Can it be fixed? Should it be fixed?

And here’s a more direct question I’m going to ask you, Dear Reader. If Apple were to fix it, to start making sense of these policies, or even effectively take down the walled garden, would you consider switching to iOS? Is the walled garden a specific reason why you’ve chosen not to go with Apple’s mobile operating system? Or is that a reason why you’ve kept your mitts on an iPhone?

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