The App Store gamble

October 08, 2008

The past month or two has seen a lot of controversy over rejections in the Apple’s iPhone App Store. Apple has pulled not just “joke” apps which don’t have any quality or substance behind them, but seemingly legitimate applications like Podcaster and Nullriver’s NetShare.

I haven’t done any iPhone development yet, but I am thinking about porting a version of my OS X application Runner’s Log. By its nature Runner’s Log is a pretty tame application, but this news still concerns me. Is it possible it could fall under the ‘duplicate functionality’ clause the Podcaster was rejected for? The new iPod Touch has Nike+ software (which is definitely a competitor) built in, and it’s certainly possible it might make it into the iPhone eventually. What if my version of Runner’s Log could upload data to a website the same way Nike+ did? What if it could read Nike+ data as well?

Now, this is enough to bother me, but I’m not really concerned about it. I think the chances of Runner’s Log being rejected are honestly pretty low, if at all. But what if instead, you imagine Hulu as an example. Hulu is NBC’s flash based online TV service, and it seems to me there’s no reason they couldn’t create an iPhone app similar to YouTube if they wanted. Except, of course, that it would be a direct competitor to TV show sales in the iTunes Store. It wouldn’t exactly be duplicating iTunes, but how would Apple handle that?

Hulu has NBC behind it, so maybe it’s not fair to compare them to the typical indie developer shop that doesn’t have its own lawyers or high-up connections with Apple. The point I’m trying to make though, is that there are plenty examples of perfectly reasonable applications that could potentially fall victim to Apple. This is an area where Apple needs to be more upfront, either by providing a comprehensive list of what will and won’t be allowed, or through more communication with developers before the development process begins. Software companies big and small can’t afford to spend three, six months (or longer, in many cases) when there’s a possibility the application won’t even have a chance to pay off in the end.

The App Store is new, probably still overwhelmed with requests, and I have no reason to believe the process won’t continue to improve over time. Right now though, this is not a good situation to be in.

Marc Charbonneau is a mobile software engineer in Portland, OR. Want to reply to this article? Get in touch on Twitter @mbcharbonneau.