Friday, April 16, 2010

Apple's iPhone review process: It's not a walled garden, it's a prison

Apple's recent decision to forbid usage of cross-compilers and intermediate development platforms for iPhone OS application development has been widely covered, as has been Apple's decisions not to approve new apps or to remove existing ones for a variety of content-related reasons. Yesterday, I wrote about Apple's decision not to approve an app by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore because his cartoons disparage public officials. As the Columbia Journalism Review put it, that's the job description of an editorial cartoonist.

The iPhone OS environment is looking less like a walled garden and more like a prison, where Apple carefully screens everything and removes anything that it deems offensive or dangerous. Whether through hubris, paranoia or internal miscommunication, Apple is making decisions that are starting to backfire in a big way. The company may have had good intentions originally--insuring that applications met minimum performance and UI standards, and that truly salacious content didn't get into the App Store--but the decision-making process has gotten completely out of control.

It's a lot easier to say "no" than to say "yes"; the personal cost to the reviewer of approving an app that's found to be offensive is likely to be much greater than rejecting the app in the first place. So, a lot of perfectly good apps get kicked to the curb in order to avoid risk.

I'm sure that Mark Fiore's app will get approved, just as other cartoon apps that were rejected initially got approved after Apple was sufficiently ridiculed, but the fact that this keeps happening indicates that Apple's review process is broken. My opinion is that the entire process needs to be turned on its head: Apple should be looking to approve applications unless there is something functionally wrong with them (in other words, they simply don't work.) It should use the comments feature in the App Store as a guide to identify apps whose content is offensive, and even then, Apple's position should be to protect free speech.

Apple's app approval process is completely out of control, possibly because it's simply overwhelmed by the volume of submissions. If that's the case, Apple should fix the process, whether that means adding reviewers, changing the review criteria, or inviting community participation into the review process. Apple's increasingly draconian rules on development platforms and content are the biggest threat that Apple currently faces, not any competitive products or services. If the iPhone platform runs into trouble, it'll be Apple's doing, not Google's, RIM's, Microsoft's or anyone else's.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Post a Comment