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Apple Approves Podcaster App, Provides Another Ray of Hope

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It was the rejection heard ’round the world when Apple’s (s aapl) reviewers rejected the user-favorite Podcaster app, citing as the cause the fact that it duplicated functionality provided by Apple’s own software. That proved to be the case, but only after Apple released the 2.2 iPhone firmware update, which brought direct podcast downloading support to Apple’s handheld devices. Podcaster was a standalone third party app that allowed the same thing.

Now Apple’s singing a different tune, though it took some change from the Podcaster developers to make that happen. They recently approved the App, now available under the name “RSS Player” (App Store), and with some of the original functionality removed. RSS Player is Podcaster minus their podcast directory, which is apparently the bit Apple took particular offense to. So, while you may not be able to find feeds with the app, RSS Player will let you subscribe to any cast feed you like, and there’s no built-in 10MB download limit while using 3G, as there is with Apple’s app.

While the people behind RSS Player clearly made some concessions, Apple seems to have softened a bit as well. While it may be a product of the same kind of thinking that allowed fart simulation and bikini babe apps into the App Store, this latest reversal of fortune, along with the recent influx of browser apps, represents a relaxation of the rules that could actually provide real benefit to iPhone and iPod touch owners in the long run.

I’m curious about Apple’s motivations behind these changes of heart, for the simple reason that if we figure out what’s driving acceptances, we can use that information to make sure that other promising apps don’t get blackballed. At least part of the reason apps get belatedly approved appears to be public outcry, so it seems that the Apple community has been acting correctly in raising a stink whenever an undeserving app gets shot down.

There are other forces at work as well, including resistance to Apple’s constricting rules from developers from major players like Google (s goog), who defied Cupertino outright in developing their Google Mobile app for iPhone. Last but not least, a willingness to make changes on the part of developers seems to be appreciated, which is fine as long as those changes don’t undermine the original spirit of the app.

I think we should push further where Apple has shown lenience to really open up the App Store. They’ve shown they’re open about browsers, but they still require those apps to basically be Safari at heart. The next step is to get them to relax even further, paving the way for Firefox Mobile and more. Likewise with RSS Player. Any way to get more media on the iPhone beyond the purview of iTunes counts as a win in my book, but its just a start. Good job Apple, but don’t think we’re leaving it at that.