Blog Post

The Darker Side Of iPhone App Development

I’m in the middle of building an iPhone app (for eventual distribution in the App Store) and, given what happened recently with NetShare, I took a moment to step back and see just how much control Steve & Co. have over the potential livelihood of iPhone developers. It turns out, being part of the iPhone Developer Program is a bit like tuning in to the Outer Limits.

Apple Controls The Horizontal

The iTunes App Store is the main venue for developers to purvey their wares to the masses. Apple has complete control over what gets in and when an app gets in to the store and whether it stays in the store (e.g. NetShare). Despite all the hard work that may have gone into developing a killer application, Apple may reject it outright or significantly delay the release. And, because there is no competition (jailbreak/ does not count), there really is no recourse.

The same is not true in traditional app development & distribution as you, the developer, have much more control over where you can sell your app and when you make releases available.

Apple Controls The Vertical

If you manage to get into the program, there is another way to get your app into the hands of iPhone users via a deployment method that allows for performing limited distribution (ostensibly for engaging beta testers). Apple could effectively kill this venue (and also the App Store venue at the same time) by simply revoking the certificate of the developers of the application. Since Apple forces all legitimate iPhone apps to be signed, if the certificate is on the “revocation list” no apps signed with that certificate will run anywhere. This would come as quite a shock to your paying customers.

This code-signing is an integral part of the development and deployment processes. Apple has not made it easy to get right and it is easy to see why they chose to go this route: control.

Feature Blackout

Finally, there appears to be a “kill switch” lurking within – at least – the API that allows access to iPhone location information. This URL: is embedded into the firmware and contains, for now, an “empty” file of blacklisted iPhone applications:

	"Date Generated" = "2008-08-10 04:34:00 Etc/GMT";
	"BlackListedApps" = {
		"com.mal.icious" = {
			"Description" = "Being really bad!";
			"App Name" = "Malicious";
			"Date Revoked" = "2004-02-01 08:00:00 Etc/GMT";

This appears to be a separate means of ensuring “bad” applications cannot “play” on Apple’s turf, but there is no mention of this anywhere in official Apple documentation (that I have found). Developers have no real idea what their app can do to get on or, more importantly, off this list (though it may have something to do with abuse of location data information, given where this URL is found in the firmware).

While this entire article dances on the perimeter of the NDA, it would be interesting to get even some anonymous perspectives on how you feel about iPhone development, especially if you have developed for other, more open, platforms before. If you started developing, but then abandoned it due to the associated headaches and requirements, definitely let TAB readers know you story.

30 Responses to “The Darker Side Of iPhone App Development”

  1. For those app developers that don’t know Objective-C and Cocoa Touch and don’t want to outsource development, check out localbeacon (an iphone app builder) at Great for those who want to build just one app or developers interested in white label. Full integration of Twitter and Facebook.

  2. Apple really does appear to have a monopoly over the mobile app industry as of right now. But this is basically because their system for developers is better. Apple has focused on making developers rich (with a great revenue sharing model) while other phones like the Google Android has focused on making Google richer. So if developers don’t like what Apple has to offer, they are more than welcome to take their skills elsewhere, although other avenues may not be as lucrative.

    • Check out LocalBeacon is easy and you can be up and running in a matter of minutes. You can make your own apps, or if your interested in making this your business we can do a white label. You don’t need to do any programming. We’re small enough that we would love to help you get started!

  3. I’m interested in developing apps for the iPhone, but I don’t have a Mac. Can I develop iPhone apps with a Windows Vista Box? Will I be able to sell them on Apple’s Store? If not, what is the “cheapest” configuration of a Mac that I can get away with?

    [email protected]

  4. Al Meier

    Wow folks… This is amazing, you have people that want a 100% hackable platform, and believe that they can always develop code better than any Apple developer or OS developer… Imagine if you could HACK into the GSM code stack, and completely cripple the entire local GSM network… wouldn’t that be a cool task? No… There should be restrictions and guide lines…. I’ve been in the business for 36 years… IBM protected the machine language Assembler because it gave programers access to the kernel functions, or course, people complained that IBM was being restrictive.

    I for one am glad someone is over-seeing the iPhone applications, I have high expectations of my iPhone as a tool that accesses the GSM network, and safe guards my data. I’m glad I don’t have to buy “tools” to verify that “hackers” haven’t figured-out a method to steal information, de-stabilize my GSM connection or high-jack my Mobile-Me.

    I do have issues about people complaining about Steve Jobs / AT&T rights and charges. If you’re reading these notes, you obviously have an above average intelligence, and more likely are able to write applications for a career. No one forced an intelligent person to buy an iPhone, sign-up for an iPhone developer account, or spend your evenings and weekends developing code.

    Look at the near thousand of FREE and for FEE application on iPhone… I would be willing to bet that if you develop a successful application and Apple feels the application is of value, and is well behaved, then you get paid, and potentially well paid for your efforts by the thousands of iPhone subscribers that purchase your wares.

    I’m sure you or your company don’t want to be know as developers of code that purposely “CRACK” an iPhone or leak personal information into the wrong hands….
    Unless that is your plan… To that I say what a waste of talent and resources…

    Steve Jobs’s team developed a desirable and innovated mobile device… Does it do everything, have hundreds of megabytes of storage, is it wide-open, totally free, nope…
    Nor would you if you had the talent and resources to build your own version of an iPhone.

    Oh, by the way, I’m NOT kissing-up, and I don’t work for Steve or AT&T… I just want people to stop complaining so much and being so negative about any rules or guidelines that THEY didn’t create… Lets just look at the iPhone as current technology programmers can develop cool applications that people are willing to pay for…

    Peace everyone…. Turn that negative energy into a new, well behaved application that makes you a successful application developer… and all those features and ideas… send them to Apple as well thought out design features, and you might make a positive difference.

  5. Steve Says Your Noses Are Giving Him a Wedgie

    It amazes me how you suckers rush to defend profiteers who cripple your hardware. $30/month…$360/year…just to use the Internet connection I’M ALREADY PAYING FOR?!

    Why don’t you stick your noses even higher up the cracks of both Apple’s and AT&T’s CEOs?

  6. Microsoft was sued for doing that exact same thing with IE.

    I just wish I had the capital to do it myself as I’m very disappointed in the way they have crippled the iPhone.

    The *only* reason I can see to limit things is because the mobile carriers would balk at a phone that could bypass their network (with something like VoIP) and would not sell it to their customers… however I didn’t buy the phone in order to bypass my carriers service, I bought it because I wanted a good innovative phone OS.

    I was mortified to learn how it had been crippled and can’t even do the basic set of things my little Nokia could… in fact I just took it for granted that those features would be available.

    Now I’m a bit miffed and think its high time someone took Apple to task.

  7. Falkirk wrote: “Many of the things which people point to as “flaws” are not really flaws but are, instead, trade offs.”

    You’re wasting your time, Falkirk. This is an Apple hate site. It’s about killing Apple sales.

  8. It has been confirmed 100% that the infamous blacklist that was found is *not* a kill switch. It’s part of the CoreLocation module, i.e. is a blacklist of apps that are not allowed to use your GPS. This is a security feature. Think of the potential maliciousness the wrong person could commit given your nearly exact physical location. Apple has merely built in the ability to disable just such a thing if it happened to break into the wild. Nothing more, nothing less.

    This was all revealed last week (, so stirring the pot here again seems like little more than an attempt to get pageviews. Heck, I guess it got me here, but I hate this type of irresponsible gossip-spreading.

    Agree with Apple or don’t, but you do realize that you don’t *have* to use an iPhone, right?

  9. This is a process people like me — who lack the Coding Gene — look at with a great deal of envy. For all the problems, there is a real chance that millionaires are going to be made here. Keep that in mind.

  10. I think the restrictive nature of the App store is the perfect way to go. It keeps the junk out so you don’t ever have to bother about whether this certain app is going to junk your phone. Plus, all of them are in one place! So there’s no question of an app being left out cause of poor pagerank. App store rocks, and you know it.

  11. Really?

    Do you need hits that much that you keep mining the NetShare App story?

    Null River knowingly developed an application in direct conflict with the terms of use for AT&T/App Store. I’m not saying I agree with the rule, but Null River knew full well during development that this app would get pulled, and it did. They tested the waters and now we know Apple will indeed enforce its terms of use.

    So back to your point of a 1984 draconian app store, No developer who abides by the few rules of the platform need fear the wrath of Jobs and can safely develop on their free IDE and publish to the almost free App Store, with free advertising and free distribution.

    Please site some examples of apps that were pulled because someone at Apple just wanted to have some fun, as if some engineer randomly shuts off apps just because he’s trying to stay awake on the midnight shift.

    Please keep to real stories and don’t write headlines solely to drive readership. I know its the internet, but journalistic integrity is still nice from time to time.

  12. From what I’ve read, everyone is blowing the blacklisted application thing out of proportion, making it into something it’s not. It’s a list of application’s on your phone that you’ve stated you don’t want to have GPS tracking enabled; it’s not a kill switch. If you start an application on your phone that has GPS tracking enabled, you will be asked the first time if you want to enable that or not. If you don’t it will get added to the blacklisted applications.

  13. Seriously, this is no different than developping for a console device (e.g., xbox 360, wii, ps3).

    Firms like Sony or Nintendo gives a lots of constraints to the developers (i.e., about quality of content, playability). It’s really tough and Apple is very loose in comparison.

    You’re not yet used to it :)

  14. Falkirk

    While I think it’s important to point out flaws in Apple’s new App store, I think it’s also important to keep things in perspective. Many of the things which people point to as “flaws” are not really flaws but are, instead, trade offs. Apple provides the iPhone with a rich operating system and the tradeoff is that developers have to restrict themselves to creating applications using only sanctioned API’s. Apple guarantees that the iPhone is stable and not susceptible to virus attacks and the trade off is that Apple gets to review and reject developers applications. Apple provides a simple, cheap and incredibly accessible way to review and buy applications and the tradeoff is that there is no other way to distribute iPhone Apps and there for no competition to the one and only App store.

    Are the tradeoffs worth it? Hell yeah. Today Steve Jobs announced that the App store was pulling in 1 million dollars a day. And that’s counting all the value that’s coming from free Apps. Minus Apple’s cut that’s $700,000 in income PER DAY that didn’t exist 30 days ago.

    Does the App Store have flaws? Absolutely. Is it broken? Absolutely not.

  15. I have been working with iTunes Store Support for a week, but have not been able to resolve the infamous “Authorisation Loop” error, so thought I would share and vent my frustrations here. :)

    I upgraded to recently and since the upgrade none of the $1,000 worth of songs videos and TV Shows purchased and downloaded will play in iTunes or our Apple TV.

    When I click on a song, movie or show, we receive the message “This computer is not authorized…”.

    I than put in the password and receive the hopeful message: “Machine Authorization was Successful”, but the songs, videos and shows still don’t play. When you click on the title again it again re-asks for “authorization”.

    I have tried all of the suggested fixes and set of instructions received from iTunes Store support and the support website, including:

    * De-authorising, re-authorising
    * Re-installing iTunes
    * Removing the SC folder
    * Re-building the iTunes Library
    * Re-building iTunes Preferences
    * Creating a new user acount and installing iTunes
    * Installing iTunes on a different computer with a different operating system
    * Re-installed songs from a backup
    * Updating iTunes Store Account Information
    * Scanned for viruses
    * Updated Windows
    * Consulted a psychic
    * Had my laptop exorcised
    * and many more

    .. of course every time you do most of these things the Apple TV is wiped and spends hours re-syncing with iTunes over my wireless network which adds to the frustration.

    I have been a loyal shareholder and customer to Apple and iTunes and was even in the process of purchasing iPhones for the family, but this most recent set of issues (this is the second time by the way for us to go through this exact problem) is becoming very aggravating – beyond what I can put up with.

    Having invested well over $1,000 in Apple, and having also upgraded my internet connection to cater for more download limits, we have decided to ditch our Apple love affair, and move to a much more reliable and robust on-demand entertainment delivery system – like the new Foxtel Cable HD On Demand.

    Apple – you have absolutely received the very last dollar from me.

  16. keidalgrim

    Isn’t this a bit like proclaiming the sun is bright and really, really hot? I mean, there’s nothing like stating the obvious. Steve in his magnificent beneficence has all the control; therefore, Apple will always be a limited endeavor.

    If (and/or when) he ever contains his ego and releases his death grip on his baby, then — and only then — will Apple see potential for real growth. And I wish he would, because I really want to like Apple.