Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Censorship and the iPhone Application Store

One of the complaints I've heard from many people about Apple's approach with the iPhone SDK is that they have retained an awful lot of control over what developers can do with it. You have to be approved by Apple to get a developer certificate, all your code must be signed with that code certificate to run,and your applications must be reviewed by Apple before they can be sold.

While I understand why Apple is doing this (sort of),  I still think it's a valid concern on the part of us developers. This is a "Big Brother" level of control that Apple is demanding over us, and I think it's going to stifle development and annoy some of the most stalwart supporters of the company. I don't think people will refuse to develop for the iPhone as a result, simply because the iPhone has such huge potential and offers a rare opportunity to be part of an emerging market, but I do think it will have a negative impact.

I certainly understand Apple's stance against malicious applications. What I don't understand is why Apple is including content restrictions. Why is Apple requiring iPhone applications to be family friendly, but yet is currently selling thousands and thousands of songs with explicit lyrics, and movies with nudity. Why can they peddle Natalie Portman's naked derriere on iTMS, but the same content as part of an iPhone application would be inappropriate? Or would it? 

And that's the big issue I have: it's arbitrary. There are no guidelines for developer to follow, no parameters defining what really is okay and what is not. Apple could simply say "no" for no good reason, or even to stifle competition the way Microsoft is known to do. I'm not saying they will, and I hope they don't, but they've given themselves that much lattitude. 

The restrictions against "illegal" and "malicious" software I understand, as well as the restrictions on those that use too much bandwidth or have privacy implications. But "porn" and "unforeseen" are both incredibly vague categories and basically say "whatever we don't want to let you put on there".  Certainly, my idea of what constitutes porn and for example, James Dobson's idea are probably radically different.

I have no problem with certain constraints being placed on me in exchange for getting ready access to iPhone users, but I want to know what those limitations are before I invest countless hours in developing an application.


Seth Weintraub said...

Hi Jeff,

Re: your comment on my Computerworld post. As I said in the last paragraph, it is a perception thing. People hear all about iPhone hacking - it is bad for branding...

terry said...

What do you know about iphone restrictions on developing mapping applications? I saw somewhere apple prohibits mapping apps that allow route optimization for truckers and the like. Can you comment on that?