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Behind 10 eyebrow-raising App Store rejections

Apple's application approval process has prompted questions from many developers, with grounds for rejections ranging from objectionable material to similar functionality.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
7 min read

Frustrated programmers have highlighted what they believe to be double standards, strange policies, and flip-flopping among Apple's App Store guards.

Several developers whose applications have been rejected from the store, which hosts third-party software developed for the iPhone and iPod Touch, have published their correspondence with Apple.

Apple's rejections of apps accused of infringing a patent or copyright make sense to most industry insiders. But some App Store rejections have raised quite a few eyebrows.

In an attempt to highlight--and perhaps make some sense of--a few of the more questioned rejections, I've compiled a list of those that caused me to scratch my head.

The shock starts here


CastCatcher is still in the App Store. R7 Developers
CastCatcher Internet Radio was enjoying its placement in Apple's App Store until the company decided to release version 1.3. The new iteration was rejected by Apple for a strange reason.

Apple wrote in a letter to CastCatcher's developer, Amro Mousa, that the application's update was rejected because it transferred "excessive volumes of data over the cellular network." Mousa was a little perplexed by Apple's decision to suddenly deny the application access to the store, considering that the new version of the app didn't transfer more data than previous, approved versions. Worst of all, Mousa said, his app was using the same amount of data as competing streaming-radio applications.

Current status: Eventually, Mousa and Apple were able to reach a middle ground, and new versions of the application were allowed into the App Store. CastCatcher 1.4.4 is currently offered in Apple's store for $1.99.

Eucalyptus, an e-book reader app, was denied access to Apple's App Store after the company found that it allowed users to read the Kama Sutra. The ancient book on sexuality was downloaded from Project Gutenberg, which the app used to acquire books.

In a letter sent to Eucalyptus developers, Apple said that the app was denied because it gave users access to "objectionable" material. If the developers removed the Kama Sutra from its book listings, Apple would have allowed the app into the Store.

Current status: After having some discussions with Apple, a Eucalyptus developer wrote on the company's blog that Apple had relented and would allow the full version of the app, Kama Sutra and all, into the App Store. It's currently available for $9.99.


Freedom Time
Freedom Time takes on former President Bush. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET
In a political statement, a group of developers created an application called FreedomTime, to count down the days left until former President George W. Bush has been out of office.

The app featured President Bush on an analog clock as it counted down until President Barack Obama's inauguration. When users clicked on the President's body, it played so-called "truthisms," clips from speeches President Bush had given about leaving office.

Apple rejected the application on the grounds that it was "defaming, demeaning, or attacking political figures." That's an App Store no-no, evidently.

Current status: FreedomTime is still not available in the App Store. In its place, a Web site has been built to countdown the number of days former President Bush has been out of office.

Google Voice
Google Voice is an application that allows users to to assign a single number to their home, office, and mobile phones. It was denied access to Apple's App Store, along with already-approved third-party applications that used Google Voice to work.

In one fell swoop, a Web firestorm erupted. Journalists started questioning why Apple would reject the app. Consumers felt disenchanted. And the Federal Communications Commission decided to investigate.

Current status: The events surrounding Google Voice's absence from the App Store are still unclear. AT&T says it was not involved in an approval decision, and Apple said it didn't actually reject the application from the store. In a statement, the company said its review of the app is still under way. It doesn't look like this will be over any time soon.

Prior to the release of the iPhone 3GS, one of the most requested iPhone features was tethering, or using the phone's wireless connectivity to connect another device to the Internet. Nullriver's NetShare application provided the modem-like functionality last year.

Nullriver's NetShare app was here and gone. Mac-Addict

At first, the application was made available in the App Store for $9.99. But Apple promptly removed the application from its store. NetShare's removal is suspected to be related to wireless carrier AT&T's agreement with Apple over use of its data network.

Current status: Nullriver's NetShare is not available in the App Store and will likely never make its way to the store. Internet tethering is a feature that's built into the iPhone's latest system software and will be made available to AT&T customers later this year, meaning that NetShare would be duplicating existing functionality--another App Store no-no.

Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor has embraced technology and the social Web unlike many other artists in the music industry. Perhaps that's why it was so shocking that his band's iPhone app update was denied access to the App Store for, what Apple called, "objectionable content."

The objectionable content Apple was referring to came from "The Downward Spiral," a 1994 Nine Inch Nails album, which was played in the app. That album contains explicit mentions of sexual activity.

Although that might be enough for some to agree with Apple, it's worth noting that the same exact album, unedited, was already available in the iTunes Store.

Current status: The Nine Inch Nails update was eventually allowed into the App Store after Apple realized its double standard. The full, unedited content is available in the Store.


Ninjawords is (finally) in the App Store. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET
If there is a record for the number of times an application can be rejected by Apple, Ninjawords might have a shot. The dictionary app was denied access three times due to "objectionable" words users could find in its dictionary.

After Ninjawords' developers worked out some design issues, which Apple requested, the company rejected the application again, after finding that the dictionary contained vulgar words that "could be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod Touch users."

Ninjawords' developers were desperate to get their app into the store, so they removed as many objectionable words as possible within a reasonable time frame. Their app was rejected again for containing fewer, but still some offensive, words.

Current status: The application was allowed access to the App Store after removing any word that might be construed as objectionable. It's currently on sale for $1.99 in the App Store.

Podcaster was an app that allowed users to download their favorite podcasts without using iTunes to do it. After submitting the app to the store, Podcaster developers received notice that their app was denied access because it "duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes."

The rejection led to outcry on the Web, as comparisons were drawn between software bundled with Mac OS X and those applications that users can install on their Macs that mimic or improve those bundled applications. To some, there was no difference.

Current status: Although Podcaster is still not available in the App Store, a Podcaster-like application called RSS Player Podcast Client currently allows users to download more than 10,000 podcasts. That said, it doesn't let users search for podcasts through the app (another Apple request). It costs 99 cents.

Pull My Finger
Catalog this under the Apple-needs-to-find-humor-in-apps-to-accept-them category.

Pull My Finger was sophomoric, for sure. The app allowed users to "pull its finger." When they did, it played a sound mimicking flatulence. Apple blocked the application from entering the App Store because it had "limited utility" to the community. It seemed believable. But when one considers that the store is filled with absurd applications, Pull My Finger might have fit in quite well.

Current status: After realizing that it allows at least several useless applications into its store, Pull My Finger was eventually accepted and offered in Apple's Store. It's currently on sale for 99 cents.

South Park
"South Park" might be an extremely popular animated television show, but it just doesn't have what it takes to make it into the App Store.

Apple didn't reject the South Park iPhone app once; it rejected it twice because of "potentially offensive" content included in the app. The application featured several clips from the long-running show. Boing Boing reported that Apple did tell South Park's creators that it might eventually allow the application into its store, since its policies have evolved in the past. According to the company, it didn't originally allow explicit lyrics into iTunes, but it now does.

Current status: It's available on your television, and it has won an Emmy, but you won't find "South Park" on your iPhone because of its "offensive" content. Yikes.

South Park
South Park won't see the App Store. South Park Studios

Lessons learned

Although this is just a short list of many applications that have been denied access to the App Store, there's a common thread among the rejections: Apple wants nothing to do with apps that can be found "objectionable," have functionality similar to Apple-built features, or might conflict with a contract it has established with AT&T or other partners.

But in the end, determining what Apple will allow into its App Store isn't an exact science. Developers want better direction from Apple on what types of applications will get approved for--and remain in good standing with--its App Store. Until the parameters are clearer, and the approvals and rejections are consistent, they will continue to face the risk of seemingly arbitrary rejection.