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Apple Bans Sexy Apps; Small Developers Suffer

Apple is still making up its collective mind over what should and shouldn't be allowed at the app store, but the powerful company has apparently decided big developers a pass.

To quote the New York Times:

Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, said in an interview that over the last few weeks a small number of developers had been submitting "an increasing number of apps containing very objectionable content."

"It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see," Mr. Schiller said.


Not all developers were critical of Apple's stance. Wally Chang, founder of Donoma Games, which does not make sexual applications, said he welcomed the changes. He said he hoped the culling of the catalog would improve the visibility of lesser-known apps.

"There just seems to be too many of these really simple applications that do nothing but show pictures of girls in bikinis or in suggestive, adult poses," he said. "It's cluttering up the App Store."

Mr. Chang acknowledged that Apple's policies were a little opaque at times.

"Apple needs to be more transparent in how they are applying their policies and communicate that to developers," he said. "Sports Illustrated still has an application available. How come that hasn't been pulled?"

Indeed, a Sports Illustrated application tied to its annual swimsuit issue was still available for download on Monday, as was one from Playboy.

When asked about the Sports Illustrated app, Mr. Schiller said Apple took the source and intent of an app into consideration. "The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format," he said.

Let's parse this statement.
  • "A well-known company": This presumably means a brand witgh which most users are familiar. The issue here is that it creates a hurdle for upstarts to have their content promoted, nevertheless accepted by Apple. It goes smack against the claims in Apple's own promotional video that the iPad will be "the next gold rush." It's like hauling all the way to California and finding out only established millionaires could dig for the gold -- after you've spent more than a year there. The Times claims as much as 5 percent of the app store had controversial content, much of which has been taken off, without warning, since last week.
  • "Previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format": It sounds like the content must have been available elsewhere. Nice! Apple is declaring war against electronic magazines, exclusive content deliverers and thousands of other possibilities the iPad can offer. Worse, as I mentioned before, the book fight between iPad and Kindle won't be just about the big five publishers that Apple has in pocket, but the thousands, if not millions of small and medium business publishers worldwide. iBooks haven't been established yet, but there will be more ways to deliver content -- and book content won't be limited to the Apple Store, but intermingling in apps. The SMB publishers will probably be the forerunners when it comes to innovative content apps made for the iPad -- and, based on the first part of Schiller's statement, they will be judged harsher than the established guys.
As one developer said to the New York Times:

"It's an incredibly fine line they have to walk to keep the developers happy and at the same time grow the ecosystem," Mr. Klaus said. "It's going to be very interesting to see how they continue do that while clamping down on some of the areas that are not in line with the direction they want to go."

It's becoming clear that Apple itself doesn't know where it wants to go yet. If this path continues, small developers may flee to relatively open markets like Google's Android and maybe even Amazon's Kindle.


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