Rhodri Marsden: Why does Apple block some iPhone apps and not others?

Cyberclinic
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The Independent Tech

A few weeks ago, Jamie Montgomerie submitted an iPhone application he had developed, Eucalyptus, for inclusion in the App Store. It allowed you to read, via a stylish interface, any public domain book on the Project Gutenberg website, from "Pride and Prejudice" to James Joyce's "Ulysses" and many others besides. Unfortunately for Jamie, however, Gutenberg's catalogue also contains a translation of the Kama Sutra; providing access to this was enough, apparently, for his application to be rejected. No matter than you can access the Kama Sutra any number of ways on the iPhone already; no matter that the language therein rarely gets fruitier than "his lingam" or "her yoni"; no matter that apps given the green light include a virtual pissing game, and another giving you the ability to send your friends a cartoon turd. Jamie wrangled with Apple for weeks, and a resolution in his favour only appeared to transpire when publicity surrounding the rejection became overwhelming.

But for every story with a happy ending, many rumble on miserably. There are many reasons why Apple would want to vet the software it sells – quality control, customer security and so on – but endless complaints from developers about double standards, inexplicable and arbitrary rejections and endless waiting times suggest a cash-strapped, ineffectual council in former East Germany rather than a cutting-edge multinational.

You may think this is all pretty parochial stuff. But last week Apple rejected Google Voice, an internet telephony app developed by the search giant, with the reasoning that it "duplicated functionality" already within the iPhone. But other internet telephony applications have already been approved, and the largely-held belief that this is merely corporate scrapping has led to an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission. More fascinating is the music-streaming Spotify application, submitted for approval last week and now awaiting a decision by Apple that's being watched by anyone interested in music and technology. Spotify seem breezily confident that it will be accepted, but many industry observers don't share their optimism. "If you're able to listen to any track from a colossal library for free via Spotify on your iPhone," they ponder, "why would you buy a track from iTunes ever again?"

The iPhone has become so ubiquitous that you can't imagine users deserting it for other platforms such as Google's Android. But if that's where talented developers are guaranteed not to have their hard work blocked at the final hurdle, that may just be where increasing numbers of people will start heading.





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