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On Farting iPhones: Where should Apple draw the line?

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Since the App Store’s launch back in June, I’ve had mixed feelings about the overall level of quality of the applications for sale. Knowing that Apple has control over what does and does not make it in to the store initially had me with the mindset that they should indeed do a bit of quality assurance. If they already said they’d control the floodgates, then I just assumed they should make sure only quality stuff made it through the door.

But yesterday, news of an interesting event sort of shifted my mindset on things.

The basic gist of the story is that a completely legitimate application was submitted to Apple for inclusion in the App Store, only to be reject:

We’ve reviewed your application Pull My Finger. We have determined that this application is of limited utility to the broad iPhone and iPod touch user community, and will not be published to the App Store.

Yes, Apple rejected an app that turns your iPhone in to a farting machine. Watch the video and you’ll see there is plenty of “utility” in this application…infinitely more than something like a beer simulator or a glowing ruby.

But arguing over whether farting or beer drinking with your iPhone is really not the issue…though that would certainly be an interesting conversation. The real issue here is where can Apple consistently draw the line? And should they even draw a line at all?

Apple lets just about anything in to the iTunes music store as well as the Downloads area of So why would they opt to have such a stronghold on the App Store?

The Arguments

One argument for Apple controlling things more tightly is that they’ve got the iPhone’s image and experience to control. The idea being that letting any Joe Blow put together an app and then have it available on the iPhone could, indirectly at least, have an effect on the end user’s overall experience and perception of the iPhone and Apple. Unfortunately this argument got thrown out the window pretty much on day one. The number of seemingly pointless/junk apps was overwhelming (ie. 3 different flashlight applications). So if this is Apple’s argument, it’s lame and clearly not something they’re sticking to.

Another argument for tight control over the store is security. With GPS capabilities and most people having a high concentration of personal data on a phone, Apple doesn’t want anything in their store that could potentially compromise someone’s personal safety or cause some huge number of lawsuits. In general, I do agree with this. There’s no reason Apple has to let applications with security risks in to their store. Unfortunately a number of applications that have been rejected doubtably were “security risks.”

The most interesting argument though is this issue of “limited utility”, the reason the Pull My Finger app was declined. Citing limited utility as the reason for declining an application is about the equivalent of not allowing a band’s album to be sold in the iTunes music store because Jobs thinks the band sucks. I think most people would agree that regardless of their like or dislike of a band, it would be ludicrous for Apple to decide what music should or should not be allowed in the store. Which is the same thought process I’ve now had for the App Store.

Regardless of the fact that I think having three flashlight applications or four different beer simulators is just plain pointless, I do not think Apple should play gatekeeper to what people will find utility with. If someone is willing to pay $1,000 for the I Am Rich application, they should be allowed to. If I want 18 different farting noises on my iPhone, why on earth should I not be able to? Who is Apple to decide that a farting iPhone has limited utility? (If that isn’t an interesting question…I don’t know what is)

On top of Apple controlling what the end-user can download, the people that are more directly affected by this are the developers. With no clear or consistent set of guidelines for what can and cannot make it to the store, developers are taking quite a gamble with their time and resources to develop something that could possibly get flat out rejected by Apple. In fact, some developers are already backing out of developing something for that very issue.

So while Apple’s intensions of keeping the apps in the store useful may be pure, they are also keeping potentially great ideas from ever getting developed at all.

So what is the answer here?

While I disagree with Apple rejecting apps for limited utility, I agree that dozens of the same simple applications would hurt more than help. So instead of letting the App Store become a free-for-all of flashlight wielding, beer drinking, fart machines, Apple should let developers release applications on their own that can be downloaded from anywhere else the same way apps for OS X can be downloaded anywhere.

If it’s legal trouble they are worried about, they could easily throw some Terms together that the end-user has to agree to before they install the app on their iPhone.

Your thoughts?

I’m really curious what you guys and gals think. What are reasons for and against Apple controlling apps? What are some solutions? Let me know in the comments.

21 Responses to “On Farting iPhones: Where should Apple draw the line?”

  1. I believe my app might have been the first app like this rejected by Apple. My biggest complaint with Apple rejecting my app relates to the fact that Apple has no issues with selling music with very explicit and vulgar language. In addition, Apple sells and rents movies that would be considered unacceptable by some individuals. I believe users should have to the right to choose and not have Apple make that decision for them. If Apple wants to protect their users, add content ratings to the apps. I have a list of users wanting to buy my application so my only resort at this time is to use adhoc distribution which I plan to do.

  2. Sorry! … baked beans for lunch.

    In all honesty – without access to the pertinent particulars as to why Apple have taken this approach – imho it is absurd for Apple to expurgate in this fashion.

    Apple may well radiate a sense of urbane sophistication, but they do not have a mandate to qualify social behavior across the community.

  3. The only reason to draw a line (putting security aside for a second) is to stop the store becoming awash with useless apps so that you can’t find the good ones. It gives the impression of apps being a folly, no better than email forwards and not a reason to buy an iphone.

    Suitably hidden at the back, out of the way, I don’t see the harm – well, except for the horror of hundreds of kids playing fart sounds on the bus but that’s besides the point.

  4. Edgar Brown

    There are obvious problems with letting all applications in, but deciding what should get in and what shouldn’t has multiple problems (including liability). To make life easier for themselves, Apple could let the users set their own policy.

    Set a ‘quarantine’ section for applications. Apple could set a policy such as ‘any iffy application goes into the quarantine section’. If a user wants to look into that section all the customary warnings should pop up, then people can evaluate and download the applications, rate them, and if they are deemed ‘worthy’ (by the users) could automatically show up in the real store. They could extend this to a full rating system in which user’s evaluation tags the application into specific categories (e.g., childish pranks and jokes, or useless but fun for a while). That way developers could not complain to Apple for their placement, it is their own users setting the policy (and each user can set their own ‘tag threshold’)

    This policy could be extended to ‘any application that remains quarantined for a month is deleted’ or even ‘it costs $30 a month to keep an application in quarantine after the first month’. Better yet, extend this to the whole store, ‘if your application is not downloaded more than 100 times a month it has to cost at least $1, and if it is not downloaded more than 10 times a month after that it goes into the garage sale section and you have to pay Apple to keep it there unless you are evaluated 4 stars or above’.

    In short, Apple should 1) allow everything, or almost anything, in (i.e., a very clear policy for developers), 2) allow the users themselves decide what is ‘worthy’ of being in the store, 3) allow for the different threshold of ‘worthiness’ of each individual user, 4) set a real cost for the developers to keep crap present in the iPhone store, 5) make sure that really valuable applications that are useful for very small communities can remain in the store.

  5. With the large number of iPhone apps, looking through them for one that you need would be very difficult if there are thousands of worthless junk apps. These apps will lessen the experience and make the app store less valuable to us too. I don’t need to wade through piles of crap to find what I need, and I don’t even need one app to flip a coin. I can just borrow a penny at the WaWa counter if I don’t have a coin. Toss them out!

  6. @Josh Pigford: “So while Apple’s intensions of keeping the apps in the store useful may be pure, they are also keeping potentially great ideas from ever getting developed at all.”

    Are you even remotely suggesting that Pull My Finger! is somehow useful or great? Seriously? And you would consider the usefulness of a phone that farts to somehow improve the Apple image? Or improve a person, a community, or somehow elevate society in general?

    Or are you merely indicating that Apple should have published standards so developers know what Apple deems as “appropriate” in their definition of community standards for the iPhone/Touch ecosystem.

    In this case, the developers of Pull My Finger! could have just spent their time knitting a pair of socks as opposed to creating a useless (at best) and offensively juvenile (at worst) program.

  7. I think the bright spot for all those criticizing Apple’s discretion is that when they start their own tech company, produce their own mobile device, and create their own App Store, then they can make their own policy regarding what apps appear in the store.

  8. @Constable Odo: That’s just it, why do you get to decide who “needs” it? And if it’s a question of “need”…how is an app that simulates a glass of beer somehow more “needed” than an app that farts? See what I’m saying?

    And telling someone to get jailbreak their iPhone or just go buy some other phone is hardly a solution here and is a cop out in relation to the discussion.

  9. @Matt: Everyone that comes to this site would agree that an iPhone isn’t as big of a deal as those things you mentioned. This is an “apple” blog. We write about things related to Apple…not war, politics, income, shelter, food, life and death. You can make that statement for anything pretty much any body says…it really adds nothing to the discussion.

    So, back on topic. No comments about war, politics, income, shelter, food, life, or death. :)

  10. Constable Odo

    The App Store has been out a month or so. Who says that Apple may never allow apps to be sold from other sites eventually? They’d have to make up some sort of license agreement. Why is a farting application such a necessity. I agree it’s amusing and harmless, but who really needs it. The App store gets laughed at for even allowing a dozen Flashlight Apps. I hate censorship, but I’ll go along with Apple in pulling any app they want. I’m sure in time Apple will formalize guidelines, but I’m sure you won’t be happy with that either. You want what you want and think everyone should go along.

    If you don’t like Apple’s controls, then jailbreak your iPhone and beg for the developer to download it from his site. You’ll play with the Farting App for a day and then forget about it. The App store is doing very well, better than longer established WinMo sites. What’s with the griping that Apple is stifling developers. It’s almost guaranteed within a year there will be about 10,000 apps available for download. Give Apple a chance to get some controls in place. Keep the App store free of crude or tasteless apps until the year-end holidays are past.

    It’s their site to do whatever they want. Why don’t you go buy a WinMo phone and download anything you please. Wait and see if there are any problems when the Google and Microsoft online app stores open and see if they really allow anything to be uploaded. They’ll run into problems for sure

    I grew up during the harmless ’50’s and ’60’s television era and those were good times. Those show’s scripts were really controlled, but people still enjoyed them.

  11. Apple has to draw it somewhere, trouble is SOMEONE will always have an issue with the ‘line’.. There is no definitive answer that will suit everyone. However, in the grand scheme of things, what software is available for the iPhone REALLY pales to a myriad of far more important things to worry about, War, Politics, Income, Shelter, Food, Life and Death.

  12. Its quite simple actually. Leave the voting/reviews in place. Allow users to drill down in a category by stars, i.e. 1 star, 2 to 3 stars, 3-4 stars, 5 stars only, etc. Let the users decide whats good. Look at, (sure its a little corrupt) and follow their steps by allowing the community to weigh in.

  13. Apple spent a fortune in developing the iPhone, and along come juvenile minds and want to populate it with lame apps. Apple says no; I don’t see a problem with that, particularly the American penchant for body functions as a source of entertainment. It’s lame in the extreme.