The iPhone App Store is broken

iPhone App StoreWell, maybe not broken, but definitely showing some cracks.

The iPhone App Store is a great concept. One central place to get all applications for the iPhone; everything is there, and only there, available right on your iPhone.

But is it everything? Of course, Apple rightly filters out malware and illegal applications... but they have caused some controversy of late by refusing entry to generally useful applications. Worse, they've rejected a couple of apps recently because they "duplicate existing functionality".

One such is a podcasting app, which they say duplicates the iPod app... but seems to have offered other benefits. Another is a Gmail reader, which apparently is more convenient than using Apple's Mail or Safari to access Gmail.

Notice something in common there? Both rejected apps would have competed with Apple's own apps. Yet Apple has no problem with dozens of flashlight and sudoku apps. So it seems to a plain-and-simple anti-competitive move on Apple's part. That is not playing nicely, and potentially illegal. Governments tend to frown on that kind of behavior.

Why do I care?

I haven't written any iPhone apps yet... but I'd like to, in due course. I've written up a rough design for one new app, and would likely want to write companions for some of my Mac apps, like Dejal Simon. However, episodes like these make me and many other developers hesitate to begin, or continue.

Writing software is hard; it can take months to write even a relatively small application properly. What if we come up with a great idea, spend months of time designing, developing and polishing it, then submit it to the App Store, only to have it rejected based on some unannounced policy, or whim? That would be a huge waste of time and effort, which makes developers like me concerned about whether it's worth starting.

What Apple needs to do is provide a clear, detailed description of the iPhone App Store policies, and stick with it. Perhaps offer a contact point for discussions early on, to ensure that an app concept is worth pursuing.

And preferably make the policies as open as possible — none of this anti-competitive behavior. If someone writes an alternative email app or web browser, let them release it. If it is superior to Apple's, it will flourish, and everyone will benefit (including Apple, via their sales cut). If it isn't any good, it'll fade into obscurity.

It's really in Apple's interest to do this, to ensure developers put the effort into building quality apps for the platform. Apple, the ball is in your court. Make it right.