Widget Apps Get the Axe in Latest App Store Purge

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It feels like it’s been a while since Apple has implemented a new policy which resulted in the wholesale removal of a whole slew of applications from the App Store. But don’t worry, they remain vigilant, as many unlucky developers discovered yesterday. The newest target of Apple’s wrath are so-called “widget” or “dashboard” apps.

I was made aware of the situation by Gehan Dias of Appwolf, a development studio which has been working on a widget-type app called Mashboard. Mashboard sort of emulates what I think the iPhone’s home screen should look like anyway, in that it provides a wealth of information from multiple sources, more like the Android home screen. In fact it looks quite like a desktop, which is apparently what Apple took issue with.

Steve Jobs said as much in a brief email exchange with the developer of another widget app, one called My Frame that allows you to overlay photos on your iPad with other things, like weather, sticky notes, etc. Like with Mashboard, the problem was showing more than “one thing at a time,” according to a phone call Appwolf’s developer had with the Apple app review team.

A ban on all (or most) sexually explicit applications? That makes sense. Apple doesn’t want to tarnish its squeaky-clean reputation, and it’s even admirable that the company is interested in keeping the App Store as family friendly as possible. In that case, a new rule was possibly justified, even if developers felt the rug was being pulled out from under them. This instance of retroactive rule implementation is far more suspect, and far harder to justify.

I have a couple theories about why Apple decided to implement this new policy, and about why it chose to do it now. The first is not that thrilling, and involves Apple doubting the intelligence of its users. With official multitasking just around the corner, it’s possible that Cupertino believes widget-style apps could confuse end users into mistaking these apps for the actual iPhone home screen, or in not being able to tell what’s running and what isn’t.

The other scenario, which is actually kind of exciting from an end-user perspective, though not for developers necessarily, is that Apple is planning on introducing its own dashboard implementation on the device. We haven’t seen it in iPhone OS 4 betas, but it could be a new feature tied exclusively to the next generation iPhone hardware that’ll be unveiled at the WWDC keynote next week.

Whatever the reason, it clearly isn’t fair, especially since Apple is keeping very mum about how to go about resolving the problem. Appwolf is investigating the way in which another developer got its own Desktop (that’s the actual name) app back in the store, and it appears to be the floating widget aesthetic specifically that Apple has trouble with. Even if Apple is implementing its own widget interface, there’s no need to quash the efforts of others to get consumer attention.

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