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Apple to Podcaster: No App Store for you

Another rejected iPhone application has developers wondering if Apple ever plans to explain exactly what is allowed on the App Store and what isn't.

Back in March, Apple executives Scott Forstall, Steve Jobs, and Phil Schiller said Apple would approve all iPhone applications but didn't say very much about the criteria they planned to use.
Corrine Schulze/CNET

Apple's App Store policies are really starting to frustrate application developers.

Over the weekend, a good old-fashioned Internet-style kerfuffle arose over Apple's decision to reject Podcaster--an iPhone application that lets people download podcasts directly to their devices without going through iTunes--from the App Store. The developer of the application said that Apple told him the application "duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes," apparently making it unfit for the App Store.

This has been a persistent question hanging over Apple's decision to vet every single iPhone and iPod Touch application sold through the App Store, the only official source of iPhone and iPod Touch applications. How will Apple choose to wield this power? The rejection of Pull My Finger and I Am Rich didn't cause as many waves as the execution of NetShare, but the exact parameters remain a mystery.

Back in March, the company said it would prohibit applications that took up a lot of bandwidth, or delivered porn, but they have never explicitly stated what is permissible and what isn't. And without any guidelines, developers have no way of knowing whether their application will be included in the only official market for iPhone applications until after they've done all the work on it.

I can't help but be reminded of the Soup Nazi, brought to life by Bill Gates' new best friend Jerry Seinfeld. Watch the clip if you don't remember, or were in grade school when that came out, but if you didn't order soup from the Soup Nazi in the exact right way, without asking any questions or voicing concerns--procedures that you were somehow just expected to know--no soup for you.

On Friday, Fraser Spiers, creator of Exposure, lashed out at Apple's lack of explicit policies regarding iPhone application development. "Apple's current practice of rejecting certain applications at the final hurdle - submission to the App Store - is disastrous for investor confidence. Developers are investing time and resources in the App Store marketplace and, if developers aren't confident, they won't invest in it. If developers - and serious developers at that - don't invest, what's the point?"

It's understandable that Apple might want to control the development of iPhone applications with an iron fist, given that the company attempts to control absolutely every last detail of its activities with an iron fist. And there are benign reasons for wanting to control application development so tightly, such as ensuring quality and security.

But in another example of what we've seen so far this summer, Apple's recent mistakes involve communication, or the lack thereof. If the company would just come out and explain to developers what type of applications will be rejected, and why, developers could make a conscious decision about whether to invest their time and money in developing their application.

Instead, Apple is giving developers a choice: they can take the risk of guessing whether their application will pass muster, or they can steer clear of developing any application that might infringe on Apple's current or future plans; without knowing what those might be, of course. As Harry McCracken put it (via Daring Fireball), "Way back when, if software distribution for the Mac had been handled via a Mac App Store with a don't-duplicate-Apple-products policy, Photoshop might have been refused distribution on the grounds that it was too similar to MacPaint."

The end result is that Apple's attempt to control third-party development might be re-encouraging the growth of the jailbreaking market once again: iPhone OS 2.1 is already open to jailbroken applications.