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In a move that at this point honestly shouldn’t come as unexpected, Apple (s aapl) recently rejected an update to the popular app Instapaper that allows storage of web content for offline viewing at a later date. The reason for the rejection? The icon in the middle of the bottom menu bar in the screenshot posted below. Yes, it does look familiar. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would argue that it doesn’t resemble an iPhone. But you’d think that, since the app has been developed for the iPhone, using a representation of it in the interface wouldn’t cause much of a stir.
Well, it did. Enough of one to warrant a rejection of the update by Apple. And this isn’t the first time the iPhone-likeness has gotten a developer in trouble, either. Pocket God, which owes its popularity at least in part to the weekly content updates from developer Bolt Creative, was also blocked at the beginning of April for similar reasons. Obviously, this was more than a minor inconvenience since it completely threw off Bolt Creative’s update schedule, which is the main selling point of their app.
Apple didn’t point out exactly what had caused the rejection in the case of Pocket God, but it did refer to the use of copyrighted images. Bolt eventually decided that it must’ve been an image resembling an iPhone that they’d introduced in an options screen, but Apple didn’t just identify the offending graphic right away, which would’ve been too easy.
I haven’t seen the image Pocket God used that caused their rejection, but Instapaper developer Marco Arment has posted screenshots of the icon that he used to inspire Apple’s wrath. It’s exactly the same as one used for FileMagnet, another (approved) iPhone app currently available. I’m sure the icon is identical because Arment got it from Joshua Keay, the guy who designed it for FileMagnet in the first place.
The problem then appears to be one of consistency. Depending on who’s looking at your app, and on what day, you may garner a rejection when on any other day, you’d slip through unnoticed. Whatever standards Apple has adopted in-house as the criteria for rejection, they obviously need to be looked at again to establish better, less ambiguous, and more consistent standards. As they stand, it must be like asking three different people to draw a house, and getting three completely different images back. The task for Apple is then to pre-determine the nature of the house so that they get consistent results back when they ask different people to go out and draw the same one.
At this point, Apple can’t really get by on the assumption that these are growing pains with the app review process. This kind of multiple standard really undermines the fairness of the app store, especially when the only thing at issue is the use of an image that resembles the device the app is being sold for. If you want to maintain your tyrannic control over apps, at least show us you’re a just and consistent tyrant.