Apple: Stuff Ups, Mistakes, and Finally Moving Forward?

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With the announcement that Apple recently made, a number of developers will jump for joy: Apple has released the Review Guidelines publicly, displaying the rules by which apps will be judged before they make the App Store (if indeed they make it there at all). Apple has also loosened restrictions on using Adobe Flash to build iPhone apps (which, for a while, has been banned).

For a long time, the Review Guidelines were kept secret, and the fear of the iPhone developer was that, after spending time, energy, and money building an application, they may never see that app accepted to the store. Apple’s stranglehold seemed to be random at best; “fart” apps would be accepted while high-quality apps were denied.

The Review Guidelines, thankfully, are written quite informally: “We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps.”

Some of the guidelines are more or less common sense. For example, “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.” Others urge developers to polish their apps by stating that “amateur hour” apps will be excluded. One of the good news items of the guidelines, mixed with a warning, is: “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.”

Previously, apps were being denied for innocuous reasons: Pulitzer-winning satirist’s apps were denied for being “defamatory”, while Apple’s Director of Applications technology could release “fart, poop, and wiz” apps to his heart’s content.

This issue is not about which app gets approval over others; it’s more that Apple has held its cards too close to its chest. The people being punished were the developers, who were made to jump through hoops to build and expand Apple’s quite lucrative app store.

Then along came Google.

The Android Market delivered a free, open marketplace for which we could build apps. This double-edged sword means two things: the quality may waver, but nobody has big brother deciding what goes live. Moreover, with an open marketplace, app development can better take its course: if bugs are found, or improvements are made, the application can be distributed to its users more quickly, without needing another round of approval — and with it, the risk of having the app pulled from the App Store.

Secondly, the restrictions on the use of cross-device, non-Apple development platforms promises to bring about a new range of mobile applications. The develop-once-deploy-many model makes sense for large organizations: it leaves developers to write the app once, and deploy to iPhone, Android, Symbian and any other devices the platform will support.

In my opinion, this was obviously a ploy by Apple to close the App Store to Adobe Flash-originated apps, and an attempt to shut Adobe out of the market.

But there were other exciting platforms (rhomobile, Appcelerator Titanium), that showed much promise. At the time, these weren’t options for developers — since they weren’t written in Xcode, those apps may never have seen the light of day.

Google’s company ethos is “Do no evil”. Apple, however, has shown its colors by making the lives of its platform’s developers difficult. This seems to be changing — undoubtedly in response to Google’s significant entry into, and success in, the market. Kudos to Apple, but it took a long time to get here.

What do you think? Is it Google or Apple for you?

Mark CipollaMark Cipolla
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Mark Cipolla is a web guy at heart; front-end design and coding (with xhtml/html5/css with a touch of javascript) meets programming (Ruby on Rails and a touch of PHP).

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