Chicago (IL) - Apple is relaxing some App Store rules to make room for a broader range of official applications for the iPhone. The download store now has applications like iFart Mobile and Pull my Finger that do exactly what their names suggest. However, porn and sexual content is still off limits, at least officially, as the iBoobs software was kicked out. Most developers greeted the much more liberal approach to approve applications, but some believe Apple should make even more changes – especially to allow the sale of third-party software that competes with Apple's own applications.
Since Apple rolled out its App Store a little over five months ago, it has become a smash hit with developers and users. According to Apple, users have downloaded more that 300 million applications from the App Store. While there are more than 10,000 applications available, many users would like to get official access to some products Apple has not approved for sale. Some developers have issues with Apple’s somewhat inconsistent interpretation of its own approval rules - which, however, is not really that different from what is done at more traditional download sites on the Internet: Most major software download sites have always approved applications at their own discretion. Also, Apple has to consider the interest of its carrier partners like AT&T that have been guaranteed that there will not be official VoIP applications that run over a cellular network and there will be no applications that occupy too much bandwidth.
The list of prohibited application categories also includes pornography and content that is generally described as "inappropriate."
Farting now ok
Apple recently relaxed its rules to open the App Store doors to a new breed of tongue-in-cheek applications such as Pull my Finger and iFart Mobile. Both deliver realistic fart sounds that have names such as "Air Biscuit", "Jack the Ripper", "Splatter" or "Quack". Some may argue that these programs have no real purpose, but who really cares if there is enough demand? The iPhone user base responded to these offerings and the results are stunning.
InfoMedia released the sales numbers of its iFart Mobile software. The $0.99 farting application was in the #1 slot on the AppStore's Top 100 sales list at the time of this writing, ahead of games like Tetris, Sim City and Bejeweled 2 as well as popular entertainment applications like iBeer. Setting the price to $0.99 certainly helped, but InfoMedia claims it was the combination of clever marketing that really pushed the application. Cash-wise, iFart Mobile raked in nearly $10,000 in the first day of its release - that is after Apple’s 30% cut. Not bad for a farting application. But then we also know that such applications have always been popular. Some Internet veterans may remember the early days of fart.com that posted sounds and allowed its users to download the files. In the late 1990s, the site was among the most successful sites on the Internet in terms of traffic.
Porn still a no-no
Pull my Finger has a similar concept as iFart Mobile, but has a different execution. Apple banned Pull my Finger previously citing its limited utility but ok'd it when the new rules kicked in. "Apple told me that they are going to start approving a whole new 'genre' of apps, and that Pull My Finger will be the first to be accepted in this genre," the developer told MacRumors. The new rules, however, do not mean that pornographic content will become available as well. For instance, Apple dropped the iBoobs application because "objectionable content." Needless to say, the ban boosted iBoobs, which can be found on Cydia, an unofficial installer that lets users of jailbroken iPhones install sanctioned applications.
It is clear that the App Store and the iPhone itself will need some upgrades to make the sale of even slightly pornographic applications available since many teenagers own an iPhone. And even then, a pair of boobs in approved applications may expose Apple to lawsuits, especially in sue-happy nations such as the U.S., while we have no doubt that violent games will have no issues to get an easy approval down the road. Don’t expect porn to be available through the App Store anytime soon. However, users who are willing to go great lengths to download pornographic content to their phone can do so - without Apple’s consent, of course. It is no secret that adult film producers are embracing the iPhone with video streaming. In fact, companies such as Digital Playground are once again years ahead of the mainstream movie industry in leveraging this new platform.
Alternative browsers and media players? Dream on.
While Apple’s new rules opened the doors for casual entertainment and humorous content, applications like Nullriver's modem tethering program NetShare or Podcaster, a software that lets users download podcasts directly to their handset using Wi-Fi (bypassing iTunes in the process), are still not allowed. Developers generally welcome the new App Store rules as a first step in the right direction, but they still believe that it is a long way to go until users can pick an alternative media player or a third-party browser like Opera Mini or Mozilla's Fennec to replace Apple's Safari that comes with the iPhone.
In addition, the iPhone developer community maintains pressure on Apple to provide more details about the general approval criteria so developers can make better decisions about their investment into the development of an application.
Yet Apple can only be partially blamed for this situation. The company should be credited for delivering a unique and simple user experience that sets the iPhone apart from the competition.
Apple is rightfully concerned that too much freedom might work against the platform and its quality. Analysts tend to agree that Apple should not replicate total openness of Google's Android Market, stating that market powers alone will not keep garbage software from appearing on the App Store: Centralized quality control certainly makes sense. If we look at general download sites on the Internet, their expansion and increasing openness diluted their quality with software that, in a worst case, even brought spyware to huge distribution platforms. Today, many sites are also having a much closer look at what is posted and what not. If Apple continues to scrutinize every application, there is a much better chance that threats such as spyware are kept from users and their iPhones.
Although the App Store has been open for half a year, we at TG Daily believe that Apple should be given some time to find the right balance between what can be offered for download and what not. The fact that the store rules are changing is a sign that Apple is learning and is willing to change. Although Apple is unlikely to remove all barriers - and replicate Google’s Android Market strategy - we have little to complain about the App Store at this time.