Blog Post

Oh For Pete’s Sake Apple, Will You Pull Your Head Out?

I see Apple (s aapl) let Ninjawords in the App Store. Good for it. But there’s just one little thing

Apple censored an English dictionary.

A dictionary. A reference book. For words contained in all reasonable dictionaries. For words contained in dictionaries that are used every day in elementary school libraries and classrooms.

Apple, a dictionary? Are you insane? Not only should it not have been censored, but it’s ridiculous that it would have required a 17+ rating anyway.

This article is not about Ninjawords, except that it shows how yet another ridiculous rejection makes Apple seem more and more out of control, because it really has no handle on the process whatsoever. With hundreds of apps to review, and pressure from developers who want approval yesterday, they’ve lost control.

People are calling for written app approval guidelines, but it can’t be just that. I’ve seen numerous process breakdowns where the procedures were just fine. A written document only goes so far; the thing must be implemented. Two builders will not construct the same house from the same blueprint. One may be excellent, the other shoddy. It’s about people, too. For example, common sense would not allow app rejection based on a standard dictionary, yet here we are.

Aside from procedures, it’s a lack of control over the personnel. How else to explain similar apps getting in and others not? Or the same app getting in later with no changes? Different folks are interpreting the rules differently, with little oversight, and with varying degrees of “customer service.” (Here’s a hint, Apple: When a developer is trying to get their app approved, they’re your customer. Treat them like one.)

So what can Apple do? There’s no silver bullet to address this — we’ll see more silly rejections before this gets better — but Apple must act fast, because it’s falling apart. Personally, I think it’s time Apple personel had a meeting like they did after the MobileMe rollout debacle. I don’t know when or where that meeting took place, but I’ll bet it wasn’t pretty. It was probably downright ugly, but it was necessary.

Just like that screwup, these problems can’t be fixed in a week or two, so Apple shouldn’t try to pretend it can. When it came clean with MobileMe, Apple said it would take four months to make it a service it could be proud of. We need a realistic ETA for the App Store as well. Apple must perform whatever management shakeup/changes are necessary, communicate them to the user base and development community, and then start getting it done. Apple is just embarrassing itself.

23 Responses to “Oh For Pete’s Sake Apple, Will You Pull Your Head Out?”

  1. AppleRejectionProccess

    Apple’s Rejection Process is what it should be called, not approval process. I am so sick of my hard work and time getting rejected over and over.

    Im ditching ios, going over to the Android platform, and im taking my friends, family, customers and clients with me.

    You have wasted my time, taken my money, insulted me and now you have lost another developer for your platform. I wont ever code for another apple product ever again.

    Good luck with that jobs.

  2. UPDATE: Phil Schiller responded to Daring Fireball’s article regarding Ninjawords:

    While the response was specifically about Ninjawords, and Gruber was able to point out other inconsistencies regarding dictionary apps, I wholeheartedly agree that Schiller sending a lengthy response is a great sign.

    What I wanted more than anything out of this issue:

    – Real visibility at Apple’s executive level.
    – Real communication from Apple, not just the blanket one-line comments (or silence) we’ve been getting.

    With Schiller’s response we got both. This is indeed a good sign.

  3. M. L. Hunt

    Funny post on slashdot that sums up the entire situation pretty neatly, in my view.


    After bricking unlocked iPhones, kicking applications off the iPhone store that might even slightly compete with iTunes in the far future and charging developers for the privilege and filing a wave of patents on basic well-known computer science, Apple Inc. today filed a Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission declaring that it was openly adopting Evil(tm) as a corporate policy [].

    “F*** it,” said Steve Jobs to an audience of soul-mortgaged thralls, “we’re evil. But our stuff is sooo good. You’ll keep taking our abuse. You love it, you worm. Because our stuff is great. It’s shiny and it’s pretty and it’s cool and it works. It’s not like you’ll go back to a Windows Mobile phone. Ha! Ha!”

    Steve Ballmer of Microsoft was incensed at the news. “Our evil is better than anyone’s evil! No-one sweats the details of evil like Microsoft! Where’s your antitrust trial, you polo-necked bozo? We’ve worked hard on our evil! Our Zune’s as evil as an iPod any day! I won’t let my kids use a lesser evil! We’re going to do an ad about that! I’ll be in it! With Jerry Seinfeld! Beat that! A**hole.”

    “Of course, we’re still not evil, we said so,” said Sergey Brin of Google. “You can trust us on this. Every bit of data about you, your life and the house you live in is strictly a secret between you and our marketing department. But, hypothetically, if we were evil, it’s not like you’re going to use Windows Live Search. I mean, ‘Bing.’ Ha! Ha! I’m sorry, that’s my ‘spreading good cheer’ laugh. Really.”

  4. M. L. Hunt

    So…Apple approves a dictionary app only after censoring it? On a device that has full internet access?

    What’s Apple going to do next, hardcode a ‘naughty words’ filter into Safari?

    I guess maybe defining naughty words is a core Apple functionality that they couldn’t allow NinjaWords to duplicate. LOL.

  5. Saratoga Sam

    What’s next? Online shopping is banned because it conflicts with iTunes store (if it decides to branch out)? If Microsoft had to approve every application for Windows, I am sure everyone would be asking the govt. to investigate, etc but if it’s the media-darling Apple, hey, what’s a restrictive/assinine env. or even a suicide stop you from spending your money?

  6. Maybe Apple should screen the Apps to make sure they don’t contain harmful code (viruses, trojans, key-loggers, …) give them the appropriate age rating, and let us worry about the rest.

  7. Just to make my position clear:

    – I’m not considering leaving the iPhone for something else as a result of this, and in fact I disagree with people who do.
    – My primary concern is these “nickel and dime’ rejections that I believe are every bit as likely the result of bad decisions in a bad system than any conscience effort to effectively administer an approval policy.
    – I do believe there’s been “whining” in the past, but you’d have to shut your eyes not to see we’re getting more and more cases of this (i.e., there doesn’t seem to be an improvement).
    – Whatever their process is, clearly it’s not scaling well as they get flooded with more apps for review.

    In a manner of speaking, the App Store is a victim of its own success. Had there been no App Store, no way would there be 65,000 apps and over 1.5B downloads. No way. That’s the “good” (the INCREDIBLE good) we have to weigh against the “bad” situation we’re in now. The latter is fixable.

    I’m saying the issue is not going away without a concerted effort on Apple’s part. I know they’ve admitted mistakes, and rescinded past rejections, and made other changes. That’s all good. However, those were all after the fact, and even with the tinkering the silliness continues. This pattern of “Oops, our bad, we fixed it”, is getting old. They need more sweeping changes to prevent it in the first place.

  8. If you don’t like it, don’t buy products that access the App Store. There’s lots of complaining about the App Store screening process, but as far as I can tell nobody is actually willing to protest with their wallets.

    • The whole “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” mantra is great in theory but sucks in practice. For that to work a good number of people would have to care. Frankly, only developers care about this.

      The hundreds of thousands of regular users who spend the occasional $1 to buy a useless app do not care in the slightest. They’re not even the target of the app in question!

    • Oh yeah, I remember that slogan: “America, love it or leave it!” How ’bout a better option: let’s stay and try to change it. Stuffing our wallets back in our pockets and going to sulk in a corner doesn’t seem like the right way to get the message across. But if a horde of iPhone users spoke up and said “This is censorship, Apple, ‘cmon, get with the times (America, Freedom, democracy, etc. etc.)” I think they would listen. In my (patchy) memory, they have a history of 1) doing the wrong thing, 2) getting slapped upside the head with reason, 3) relenting and doing a more right thing.

    • Oh yeah, I remember that slogan: “America, love it or leave it!” How ’bout a better option: let’s stay and try to change it. Stuffing our wallets back in our pockets and going to sulk in a corner doesn’t seem like the right way to get the message across. But if a horde of iPhone users spoke up and said “This is censorship, Apple, ‘cmon, get with the times (America, Freedom, democracy, etc. etc.)” I think they would listen. In my (patchy) memory, they have a history of 1) doing the wrong thing, 2) getting slapped upside the head with reason, 3) relenting and doing a more right thing.

      one more thing, re: Nobody’s comment – “The whole “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” mantra is great in theory”.
      It’s only great in theory if you’re trying to quash the product. In this case we’re trying to support the product. I don’t see any logic in punishing other products.

    • M. L. Hunt

      “…as far as I can tell nobody is actually willing to protest with their wallets….”

      Perhaps you are not allowing for the possibility that there are millions of people who are voting with their wallets by not buying Apple hardware in the first place, rendering the proposition of boycotting the app store a moot one. I know I won’t do business with them, and I know a lot of people who feel the way I do.

      Besides, if you’ve bought an iPhone or Touch and haven’t jailbroken it, wouldn’t boycotting the app store hurt you and the developers much more than it would hurt Apple?

  9. The fart apps come to mind on when I reflect on the Apple approval process for apps.

    The bloggers were bitching when they were rejected and now these apps became the butts of jokes referring to as the craps in the Appstore.

    Just because the bloggers think some apps are heaven sent then they must be accepted otherwise pressure will be applied by their collectively barking and bitching. And some even resort to boycotting, lol.

    I believe Apple is listening as they did regarding the hardware issues, give them time they will sort it out, by the way, Apple is run by human being and they do make mistakes. I don’t know maybe in this world of ours only tech bloggers don’t.

  10. As far as I can tell, Google doesn’t reject – or even actively review – Android apps (although they do reserve right to remove apps if there are user complaints).

    Volume of devices and profile of advertising much lower for Android than iPhone, but I don’t recall a single instance where there was public outcry about “bad” apps in the Android Market.

    How upset would we really be if Apple just accepted everything?

  11. David Pruett

    Simple process changes can make a big difference. Since we do not know what their process is, we assume there are a lot of individuals scanning the apps and determining which pass and which fail. Since there seems to be no consistency in the failure scenarios, we assume that each reviewer has the power to fail an app.

    Simple solution – for all recommended fails, a higher level, and possibly more senior and trained, review panel would decide the final fate of the failed apps. That would allow better training for a smaller group and since one set of people saw all fails they would eventually settle on a consistent policy which could then be sent down to the lower level reviewers to implement. Thus reducing their work load.

    I agree, unless Apple resolves this nonsense they will continue to look like rubes.

  12. I think that there has been way too much whining about Apple’s policies regarding approving or rejecting apps, but this does show that there is definitely a problem with their process.

    That being said… What if Apple had approved EVERY app that had been submitted. Wouldn’t we also see a lot of complaints about that? It’s a double edged sword for Apple. Damned if they do… Damned if they don’t. It’s always been that way for Apple. When I worked at Willow Bend, customers came in and complained about every aspect of Apple’s software, and hardware design. We could never please everyone. One man told me that he would never use an Intel Mac because it wasn’t a “real Mac”. That’s when I told him that Macs have had Intel chips in them for a very long time before Apple’s use of Intel processors. Intel makes more than just processors. He was dumbfounded, but stuck to his guns… at least until I saw him in the store a few months later buying a new iMac :)

    • I completely disagree. I don’t call it “whining” when it consistently happens to good apps while there is a constant influx of fart apps and tip calculators.

      It’s not just a case of being damned if you do or don’t. We all live in that world, not just Apple so it’s not an excuse. It’s not about pleasing a few customers but the sound-minded majority. They are censoring words in the dictionary. They are censoring words that already exists in Apple’s own dictionary app on the Mac. They’re giving mature ratings to apps that access the web when Safari is on the phone. This is insanity because it is not based on any measure of reasoning or logic and it is happening everyday now. The worst part is that Apple doesn’t even acknowledge that there is a problem.

  13. I agree. Apple’s secrecy in this situation is frustrating and disenchanting. I would love to see them be more open about the app store approval process. I would LOVE to have a google voice app on my iphone, but if Apple came out and gave us the specific reason all the apps were pulled, I’d be more likely to say, “Ok, I understand. I’ll just use the web app”. But this generic bull about it duplicating features just frustrates me even more.