Apple Rejecting Apps Doesn’t Matter

by Chris Seibold Sep 25, 2008

As you've probably heard by now Apple has rejected another application from the App store for duplicating functionality. This time it is a gmail focused application and just like Podcaster the program isn't a copy of the built in stuff, it adds extra functionality.

People are righteously pissed. They want their apps as wide ranging as possible and they don't want to their choice held back by the self-serving whims of Apple. And make no mistake, these are acts of pure self-interest taken by Apple, not some oversight or boneheaded move by some newly hired lackey. To prove this to yourself note that after Podcaster was rejected the publisher came up with a workaround. Apple disabled that workaround so the only reasonable conclusion is that Apple is going out the company's way not only to reject but eradicate applications that might somehow compete with built in apps.

Which isn't what people wanted from the App store. What people wanted out the app store was an assurance that even if the app sucked it wouldn't wreck their phone. The feeling was that with Apple checking out the apps we wouldn't have to worry about the iPhone getting turned into a zombie and users would be protected against the full range of nefarious programs. Anything beyond that, if a program was just useless or whatever, people didn't really care. People, well except for Devo, never asked for freedom from choice.

Think for a moment about the number of e-mail clients in existence. How many are there? A jillion. But how any decent ones are there? Maybe a dozen. Somehow consumers managed to find e-mail solutions out of the jillion being offered. The lesson is clear, if it is so important to Apple to control how people get their mail and Podcasts on an iPhone then build a better app and win users the competitive way, don't block others from providing a slightly different alternative.

To top of all of the other behavior off, and to once again prove that this is a conscious move by Apple, Apple is now putting developers under NDAs (Non disclosure Agreements). That is nothing new right? NDAs have long been part of the deal as anyone who has ever developed for Apple (or been in on the pre releases of OS X versions) knows. If you had early versions of Leopard you couldn't talk about Leopard. Now Apple has extended the NDA to cover why the app was rejected. The developer will know why an app got rejected but the public won't. That is the move of a company scared of legit competition and ashamed of its motives

For people who constantly defend Apple as some good-natured alternative to Microsoft this is a rough stretch coming up. For those who see Apple as just another corporation that makes some cool stuff none of this is news. Unsurprising corporate governance or the last good company turning to evil, either way it isn't important because Apple stance banning legitimate applications from the App store just doesn't matter.

Doesn't matter? Can that possibly be right? Instinctively we want this to be a big deal. We want to see Apple punished somehow for this transgression of customer and developer trust. At this point, it is tempting to play the Mac card and talk about how Apple doesn't understand the power of applications. Here is the short version of what happened for those who don't remember: the Mac came out and flopped. Apple was building 110,000 Macs a month but the Mac was selling like McCain buttons at an Obama rally. Then something happened. Aldus Pagemaker came out and people went nuts. Hardware wasn't selling the computer, third party software was! What sense does it make for Apple to potentially reject some random third party software that could make the iPhone a must have gadget?

Since iPhoners can only get their apps from the App Store the answer is obvious. Apple doesn't have to worry about missing some great third party app because only Apple sells them. Apple will be the first to know if some clever developer comes up with a program that makes the iPhone a must have bit of equipment instead of a high end cell phone. Whether Apple rejects the must have app and quickly rushes an Apple branded version out or allows the developer to publish it we'll never know.

Another popular objection is that Apple is chasing developers away. This argument centers around the notion that Apple's hazy rules about what makes it into the App Store strongly disincentivizes developers from creating new apps. Why, so the argument goes, bother writing an app if you can't be sure it will show up? Think of the wasted time and effort.

A nice sentiment but the reality is quite different. Sure, there will be principled developers who eschew the chance at big dough just to make a point but most individuals and businesses are more pragmatic. They'll happily write three apps and get two rejected for a shot at the big dough. And the big dough is out there, this is like the golden days of shareware when you can go from rags to riches with a bit of clever programming and a touch of luck.

The final reason rejecting apps just doesn't matter is because consumers aren't going to do anything about it (as mentioned earlier, thanks to the NDA they extension they won't even know). Most people aren't interested in this stuff, they don't care about what is in the iPhone store as long as there is enough to keep them going. They won't notice a missing app until some other phone can do something the iPhone can't. Apple won't let that happen. Even for those who are supremely irritated by the entire situation won't really be able to do much about it because they are locked into a contract with AT&T. Add it all up and in this case Apple gets away with it.

If there is one bright side to the whole fiasco it is that it finally answers a long running question: Would the tech world be a kinder and gentler place if Apple were king and Microsoft limped along with a few percent of the market? You have your answer.



  • Couldn’t have said it better.

    I love this article. I love my Macs. I love my iPhone. I love my Apple stock. I can forgive their policy on soldered in batteries in iPods, iPhones, and MBAs. But I don’t like this trend of Apple closing the door on third-party competition.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 54
  • This whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but then I realised I haven’t actually bothered to look in the App(le) store for weeks now. The novelty has worn off (I’ve bought my token apps), perhaps as the wave of ambivalence follows through, Apple will be forced to change their tact, or perhaps if the developers boo SJ at the next keynote, it may do more, than any other action.

    barrowman had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 15
  • Nice punchline, Chris!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • A good article although it seems to reflect a lack of knowledge about the costs of building a high-class application. If you’re submitting note-pads, then sure you can afford to build 3 apps for every one that gets through. Polished applications, on the other hand, cost tens of thousands of dollars to build. You can’t expect a developer to stake that kind of money for such uncertain returns.

    And expecting them to hedge their bets by creating multiple applications is terrible. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have one App well built, then two that were hastily thrown together.

    simo66 had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 78
  • “perhaps if the developers boo SJ at the next keynote” Wow! Wouldn’t that make a statement and a half!

    However, most developers who would boo him will be long gone to Android by the next WWDC if Apple hasn’t changed this policy.

    Here’s a few apps I use that duplicate functionality in Apple’s iPhone applications:

    NetNewsWire: Includes a browser (click on the headline) so I don’t have to open Safari. (Could be just hooking into Safari via a back door, but might also have included the browser. Suspect the latter given they make no mention of that functionality anywhere)

    TextGuru: A better version of Notes

    EverNote,YouNote and other note taking apps duplicate Notes functionality.

    Rotary dialer: Duplicates the Phone’s dialing function.

    Any To Do app duplicates what you can do in Notes.

    There’s also several calculators on the App Store, which clearly duplicate the Calculator’s functionality.

    So are we going to see all these apps banned too?

    So it would seem that Apple’s real motives are about banning apps that might discourage the use of MobileMe (i.e. any other mail client or similar), or apps that they want to build themselves.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • “..,because Apple stance banning legitimate applications from the App store just doesn’t matter.”

    To say this is Naieve. Why? Because the current banning policy (or lack thereof), and App store bully-boy tactics are getting a lot of media attention.

    And THAT damages the Apple ‘brand’ as a whole.

    I don’t own an iPhone nor an iPod touch. Therefore I am not the market for any of the apps on the App store at all. I am Mac owner and iTunes user though, and the current App store fiasco is leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

    Just because iPhone owners are locked into contracts NOW, doesn’t mean that they will necessary renew thier contracts if other viable options present themselves.  And Android handsets are closing the tech gap fast.

    If all the top developers abandon the App store, then sure in-house developement will continue, but Apple already reaslied that that’s not a broad enough creative base, - otherwise the app store would never have been opened to 3rd party Developers in the first place.

    The App stores current bad press probably will not have a negative effect on the current version of the iPhone -  as was pointed out people are locked into contracts - but if Developers figure out a way to either self distribute, or leave the platform all together, then Apple might look back and remember this was when thier short sightedness shot them in the foot.

    faintdreams had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 8
  • Absolutely awesome article. Sums up all my own thoughts perfectly. Nice work, Chris. smile

    Aayush Arya had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 36
  • Just a word to the commenters thinking this is somehow a pro-Apple piece, it isn’t. It’s just a sad acknowledgment of the fact that Apple has too strong a fan base and they won’t give up on the company, no matter how many times it screws them over.

    Aayush Arya had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 36
  • “perhaps if the developers boo SJ at the next keynote, it may do more”

    As Steve Jobs is someone who obviously revels in his status, maybe a dent or two to his ego would be the catalyst to change, rather than anything else.

    barrowman had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 15
  • “Since iPhoners can only get their apps from the App Store the answer is obvious. Apple doesn’t have to worry about missing some great third party app because only Apple sells them.”

    As you point out in your last statement, this is a glimpse of the world if Apple owned the OS market.  It ain’t pretty.

    On to Android and more open skies I hope.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • my memory tells me that apple had some sort of approval process for apps in the early days of the mac too. Altho I do remember hearing that third hand and never was able to verify it.

    Something ion the scratchy film in my memory is saying it wAs related to the GUI… And using it properly. Dunno. Anyone?

    If they did tho, look where it got them.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Sep 25, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • I thought to myself, “Now what?” Everything I’d be interested in running I already have on my Mac AND my PC.  Photoshop, Maya, After Effects.  Some of that either doesn’t run on Linux at all or costs the same as it would for one of the other two platforms.  Firefox?  Already got it on two other platforms. 642-467||  642-583||  350-050||  642-062||  642-185||  642-533||  642-627||  642-357||  642-359||  642-654||

    john had this to say on Aug 26, 2011 Posts: 22
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