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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Banned by Apple" A Status Category

This week Apple banned another third-party iPhone application from distribution through the Apple Apps Store.

Podcaster is an app like Diggnation On The Go and Mobility Today, that allows iPhone owners listen to podcasts directly on their phone. Apple banned Podcaster because, as they explained in a letter to the developer, it duplicated the functionality of the podcast features in iTunes.

Let's make it absolutely clear that Apple in all its developers forums and public announcements of the rules governing placement in the apps store, namely software that could be called: “Porn, privacy, bandwidth hog, unforeseen, malicious, illegal,” that "duplicated the functionality of iTunes" was not one of those rules for developers to follow.

Alex Sokirynsky, the developer of the rejected application, found Apple's explanation confusing since many small applications available for the iPhone duplicate and expand upon existing functionality of the iPhone.

A host of applications that do calculator functions, weather apps, expanded notes, calendar, etc. would confirm Sokirynsky's observation. Other bloggers and computer publications speculated that Podcasters function of allowing iPhone users to download multiple podcasts directly to the the iPhone and iPod Touch by-passing iTunes was of greatest concern to Apple.

Expressing outrage with this reasoning, blogger John Gruber accuses Apple of anti-competitive behavior stating: ""Let's be clear: forbidding 'duplication of functionality' is forbidding competition. The point of competition is to do the same thing, but better."

In my estimation, Apple has made a bad decision by banning Podcaster. First, Podcaster cost $9.99 and wouldn't likely gain much pentration that Apple would notice a shift in its podcasting traffic on iTunes.

Coming as the next in a line of developer rejections -- NetShare (an application that allows you to use the iPhone as a modem) Pull My Finger (an silly app that makes 18 sounds of flatulence) and "I am Rich" (a $1,000 application with a picture of bling) were all pulled by Apple over the course of the past few months -- banning Podcaster has raised the ire of Apple iPhone developers.

From an end-user perspective, Apple's ban of Podcaster undermines the demarcation between legit reasons for keeping Apps out of the App Store and anti-competitive behavior. Apple has every right to protect users from Apps that crash or unstable, apps that don't play well with either the operating system or other apps, and apps that do nasty, unwanted, and unintended things to its users. But what Apple has done with both Podcaster and NetShare is increased the level of suspicion and cynicism about its corporate behavior.

And now the developer community is expression anger at Apple for their capricious actions. Apple's apps bans bring more attention to the applications than they deserve. And the ban creates ill-will among a developer base Apple certainly wants to cultivate rather than alienate. These developers might easily run to another platform such as Android to build their apps.

On its face, with a ten buck download charge, Podcaster is not a winner but Sokirynsky now enjoys the status of being "Banned by Apple."

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