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Apple: You Can’t Use Images of the iPhone on the iPhone

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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.

11 Responses to “Apple: You Can’t Use Images of the iPhone on the iPhone”

  1. jbelkin

    Again, you have to blame the trademark process & laws as they stand now. If you do not protect your trademark, trade dress, etc … eventually it will used against you that it’s “common” and you lose protection so you have to err on the side of caution.

  2. Richard Lomas

    How stupid.

    I’m surprised they are allowed to call their apps “iphone apps”…

    After all, the word “iphone” is in there and surely you don’t want people getting confused and thinking that an iPhone app is for use on an iPhone!

    Jesus Apple. Worry about something that frickin’ matters….honestly….

  3. Olternaut


    Fine. Let them protect their brand. But bloody hell at least TELL THE DEVELOPER WHY AND WHAT EXACTLY was BEING REJECTED instead of having the poor developer sit there like a fool wasting time trying to figure out EXACTLY what was wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I totally understand Apple’s point of view. It’s about brand protection and consistency across the board. Otherwise you would have hundreds of representations of the iPhone sprouting in the apps, leaving the users dealing with multiple representations of the iphone. What they should do is release an icon that developers could use.

  5. Gazoobee

    I disagree with your assertion that Apple “… can’t really get by on the assumption that these are growing pains with the app review process.”

    There is still a flood of applications coming into the store, there are still people reviewing them at Apple who are not developers but simply “reading from a script” and making decisions that may not be the same as other reviewers and all these decisions still need to be reviewed by others before anything is final. It seems obvious that these kinds of things will still happen from time to time and I see nothing unusual in this at all.

    The kind of bad press Apple is getting over these things can be put down solely to the ungrateful developers who post about their problems before the review process is even over. If you look at most of these kinds of stories (about app store rejections), and go into any *detail*, you will find that almost every single one of them is eventually admitted into the store, and that the only problem was with the *initial* rejection, or that the initial rejection actually *did* make sense etc. It’s the DEVELOPERS blogging about their problems before they are even officially problems and spreading that sh*t around the net that is causing the furor.

    As an aside, you should at least mention (if you know about it), that Apple has applied for a Trademark on the iconic iPhone shape and appearance. This was done way back before it even came out. Trademarks are different from copyright in that the company is forced by law to constantly defend them or lose them. If Apple did not complain about people making iPhone icons, they would lose the Trademark and anyone who wanted to could use iPhone images in their products and advertising.

    To me, this is just developer-produced sh*tstorm in a teacup number (insert number here), and only worth a big long yawn.

  6. PiperSon

    While I agree that this is silly – maybe there is a reason for it… perhaps the new iPhone isn’t going to look like the icon? Shouldn’t really be cause to reject it though…

  7. While I agree with your point, realistically, these sorts of inconsistencies are unavoidable. Some people are just better than others at finding things like random copyrighted images, and so rejection rates/reasons unavoidably will vary. What Apple needs to do is find the right balance between fairness, thoroughness, and expediency. Overall, they’re doing an excellent job…these sorts of cases are the outliers.