Since last year, Apple has allowed all iPhone developers to request 50 promotional codes for their application when first added to the App Store, a policy that makes it easy to offer free applications for trial, review or a competition. It allows easier initial promotion of an app, removing the need for a more complicated process of ad-hoc distribution or offering iTunes gift cards.
A few weeks ago, Apple stopped offering promotional codes to developers of applications rated 17+. This decision sparked controversy, with developers angry that they were no longer able to easily offer promotional copies of their software to reviewers.
The change was particularly difficult to stomach for many developers due to the already ambiguous interpretation of the 17+ rating. According to Apple, the guidelines for this rating category are as follows:
Applications in this category may also contain frequent and intense offensive language; frequent and intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence; and frequent and intense mature, horror, and suggestive themes; plus sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs which may not be suitable for children under the age of 17.
Although the statement seems fairly definitive, in practice, various other applications are being awarded a 17+ rating. For instance, any app that offers access to the Internet also falls into the 17+ category as it could be used to access objectionable content.
Various news agencies picked up on the change, putting pressure on Apple to re-consider its decision. It seems that Apple has responded and, unusually, reversed the change in policy to now offer promo codes regardless of age rating. The Unofficial Apple Weblog is reporting that various developers have this functionality re-enabled, though no official comment has been made by Apple.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
To date, the approval and rating system for the App Store has remained somewhat of a mysterious frustration for many developers. Although it is understandably difficult to operate a consistent process across the thousands of applications submitted, developers have voiced frustration at the lack of dialogue with and information coming from Apple.
As John Gruber eloquently expressed:
I can imagine that for the developer on the other end the experience must be like that of speaking to a wall. A monolith.
While no official comment has been made by the company, this turnaround — seemingly in response to developer criticism — could mark the beginning of an improved back-and-forth process. It will be interesting to see whether, as the App Store grows, developers and technology publications find their voice valued by Apple to a greater degree.